LETTER | Historically, women have played a critical role in the struggle for independence and nation-building. Yet, these women were written out of our history until women started to reclaim these and put these back on the record. And just as these women were written out of our history, many women continue to be written out of their independence.
On this Aug 31, 2018, many are yet to enjoy “independence” as it was envisioned for the rakyat, with our independence and autonomy often attacked merely because of our gender.
It is undeniable that women make up the majority of the student population; that women make up a significant percentage of staff in offices, private or public; and that women appear to have significant purchasing power if we observe our shopping malls over lunch breaks and holidays.
However, these observable realities are often only at a superficial level.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) knows that there are many whose lived realities do not reflect the independence, self-determination and bodily autonomy women seek.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, patriarchy - the valuing of cisgender men over all others - is alive and well. Too little effort is being made to address how pervasive and insidious patriarchy is in the current administration and in our society. It is also disconcerting that many women who have survived in a patriarchal system reproduce and maintain such power hierarchies and discriminatory practices.
How many of us remember that when a couple gets pregnant, it is the mother who is automatically expected to stay at home to care for the infant? And as the years go by, it is the mother who falls into the role of taking emergency days off work should the child fall ill. She also sacrifices company trips, gatherings and promotions as she is expected to prioritise the family.
How many of us remember that not all workplaces are mother and child-friendly? In fact, the majority of workplaces do not have comfortable, or even decent facilities for nursing mothers.
How many of us remember that even though women are adequately qualified, they are passed over for jobs and promotions simply on the basis of their gender?
How many of us remember that there are struggling single mothers out there who need to choose between holding down a full-time job and attending to the needs of their young school-going children? And all those women who are forced to take on two or even more odd jobs just to make ends meet?
How many of us remember that even when women earn their own income and take up all responsibility for their livelihood, they are unable to make decisions over their own bodies and well-being.
How many of us remember that there are still school girls who are dangerously pushed into marriage at such a young age just to save face for the rest of the family.
How many of us remember how women’s testimonies are seen as less credible, and under-valued only because of their age, religion, race or gender expression and identity.
How many of us remember the fact that where caring for elderly parents and relatives are concerned, it is too often than not, the daughters of the family who sacrifice their job promotions and careers.
How many of us remember that there are those among us who live in fear of abuse and threats of death, just because they do not conform to society’s prescription of what ‘normal’ is.
How many of us remember that despite all of this, women are still subjected to sexual harassment and lewd mentalities of self-acclaimed moral police on a daily basis and there is almost no space for women to be free from such harassment.
You can be a child, a student, an employee, an artiste, a self-made/established businesswoman or even a politician, and you will still be judged by the sheerness of your clothes and the length of your skirt. Reports of violence against women in Malaysia continue to chalk up year after year.
The true sign of a gender equal society is one which does everything it can to empower those among us who need not only equal access to opportunities and resources, but equal control over these and most of all, equal access to justice when governance systems fail.
A long-drawn ask for equal access to justice is to ensure that all laws are non-discriminatory and that legal representation is assured in all legal systems. If we are yet to fulfill this “ask” and if we still have corporal punishment being meted out because of discrimination, how do we best move forward?
JAG remains keen to work with the Pakatan Harapan government to address these pressing issues that affect Malaysians from all walks of life. Please engage with us directly to fully appreciate on the ground lived realities of women and girls, and for a start to truly celebrate Merdeka this year, we ask that the Harapan government place an immediate moratorium on corporal punishment. Let us celebrate this year’s Merdeka by reclaiming our humanity.
The above is endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:
All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
Justice for Sisters
Perak Women for Women (PWW)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is a coalition of 13 women’s rights organisations in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.