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Transsexual a 'great shame'? What about our hypocrisy?

We refer to the Malaysiakini report M'sian transsexual fighting deportation in UK to be punished .

The All-Women’s Action Society (Awam), the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Seksualiti Merdeka wish to register our grave concerns at statements made by Immigration Department Director-General Abdul Rahman Othman as well as the manner in which the story was reported.

We question why Abdul Rahman Othman singled out Ms Fatine as having ‘brought great shame upon us’, allegedly for immigration offences, when just over a year ago the Malaysian government took a far more lenient approach to Malaysian over-stayers in the United Kingdom.

We recall that the then-home minister Syed Hamid Albar indicated that in addition to cooperating with the British government’s voluntary repatriation scheme, the Malaysian government would not impose further penalties on returnees.

We note that Fatine has done her best to comply by British law. That she was singled out as an alleged ‘shame’ amongst the approximately 20,000 Malaysian overstayers in the United Kingdom suggests that the threat of severe penalties is based on the fact that she is a transsexual person.

We caution that such threats constitute a violation of her rights to non-discrimination and security of person.

What is truly shameful about Fatine’s situation is what it reveals about our prejudices. Discrimination against transsexuals in this country runs the gamut from violence to official restriction on changing their gender identity or photos in their documents.

This discrimination is further perpetrated by how they are portrayed in the media. We are deeply disappointed in some members of the press and in the authorities for referring to Fatine as a ‘he’. Fatine clearly identifies as a woman.

Whether she is pre-op or post-op is entirely irrelevant to her gender identity. It is disrespectful and hurtful to refer to her by anything other than her chosen gender.

Fatine has a right to be treated with dignity and to equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, these rights are rarely respected by the Malaysian authorities and by society at large in their treatment of transsexual persons.

We remind the authorities that Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender. In addition the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), which Malaysia ratified in 1995, obliges the government to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women.

The Malaysian government has a responsibility to ensure that all public authorities and institutions act in conformity with this obligation, including the Immigration Department.

We strongly urge the government and public institutions to lead the way in changing societal attitudes, laws and public policy by honouring their human rights obligations.

The writer is president, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) for and on behalf of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Seksualiti Merdeka.

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