To my Australian comrades,
Here’s a chance to learn more about how to use social media for social good:
To my Australian comrades,
Here’s a chance to learn more about how to use social media for social good:
The Joint-Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)* will be hosting the “Aiyoh… Wat Lah?! Awards” today, aimed at highlighting sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and/or transphobic statements made by those in authority and published in the media. Yeah so, big deal right?
Politicians have been saying silly things for years now, why should we pay attention now, you ask? Perhaps it is worth remembering that, judging from what’s happening around the globe, now is the time to act for change. Malaysia itself is in the midst of a catalytic period that might just hurtle us to the path of greater freedom. But more than that, it is far more worth remembering that we tend to overlook the power of words. Words are powerful beyond our estimated beliefs, and if we ignore this, we rule out the fact that a person’s life can change with a simple statement. Words can disparage the human spirit, and torture minds weary from self-doubt.
Fear and ignorance a lethal combination
Abusive remarks, as well as the ignorant remarks recognised by the Awards are part of a deeper problem that can be explained by the statements itself**. These phobic statements are called such because they come from a place of fear. The person making the statements understands the world from a perspective of fear, which perhaps could translate to a fear of the unknown. This fear stems from ignorance – from refusing to step outside one’s comfort zone. As fallible human beings, we are twitchy and anxious outside our comfort zone, striving to minimise the displeasure by quickly running back behind our imaginary barriers. Fear coupled with ignorance can be responsible for impending our ability to critically reason and if there’s something Malaysians are scared of, it’s definitely critical thinking. This system certainly recognises the power of words, as they’ve banned over a thousand books in the past 30 years. They clearly do not want us to arrive at any decision based on our own capabilities and reasoning.
Broken public institutions: our schools
In Malaysian society, critical thinking is almost a crime which brings us to a pertinent issue facing our beloved country: the atrocious state of the education system. An elderly man I spoke to told me his teacher paid for his school fees because he so badly wanted the young boy to have an education – this is what education was like in the 1960’s. Teachers cared about their students back then. Now we have teachers who hurl racist slurs at their students with absolute disregard of the consequences. There is a growing concern from various parties, not just the Opposition like the Najib administration will have you believe, about the state of our education system; we are limping behind, lagging and sore like a wheezing alcoholic getting on a bus. The current regime has a lot to deal with in the education portfolio yet there seems to be no steady reform and they seem perfectly happy to chug along in what they describe as “the best education system in the whole world.” There was a buzz a month ago when it was announced that Najib and members of his cabinet were meeting representatives from the State University of New York to learn about a reform program called Strive; but of course ministers were quick to say that the module will be altered to suit ‘local preference’. In Malaysia, this could mean anything, and you can be sure reforms won’t come easy. My own knowledge of WW1 was embarrassingly sparse when I came out of high school. In college, I sat and listened, stupefied that my knowledge of world history was so shallow. Malaysians, let us take a moment to thank Dr. Mahathir for the one thing he did right which was to leave the Internet to its own devices, in his overzealous quest for Vision 2020.
But how do we learn?
So it is obvious that a serious revamp in education is what we direly need, but I think we need to take a step further back from the picture and think about the ways in which we relate to each other. It cannot be said enough that education does not only come from formal schooling. It starts in the home, with the child’s parents. It continues at school, as well as outside of the school compounds, extending to interactions in our wider circle. Friends, friends of friends, your mother’s friends, the man down the road, the women who sell you kuih-muih early in the mornings, our politicians, our newspapers – there are so many ways in which we learn things and un-learn things. Isn’t life itself one long learning process? It is also about the questions you ask, or don’t ask. How do you and I relate to each other, and how do we relate to ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves? What voice is it that we listen to in our heads, is there a voice? Is it a voice of reason? Fear? Are you even aware of the voice that is constantly talking, chiding, goading and nudging your sense of self?
The voice within
“You’re not stupid. You came to seek for help. You are brave & powerful for taking this step. You are not stupid.” For a domestic violence survivor, this is a powerful statement and one that literally throws open a window of light for them. It can take years to decide to leave an abusive environment – it is not as easy as it looks. DV survivors come out of an extremely hostile space; where the pain is not simply manifested physically. It is the threats and the bullying in the form of abusive words that finally shatter the already broken spirit. If you keep being told that you are stupid, you better believe it’s going to eat at your self-confidence. Sometimes the scars don’t heal for years; with the help of a counsellor, DV survivors learn to stop replaying the abusive voices in their heads. The healing process starts from within. The power of what you tell yourself cannot be underestimated.
Assuming accountability and taking responsibility
So if what we tell ourselves is so important, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says, right? Unfortunately it does, because as you now know, words do hurt, and they do matter. We need to hold these public figures and institutions responsible and educate the public about expecting and adhering to a higher standard of behaviour. It is about taking back the power from these oppressive institutions and holding not just them, but each and every one of us accountable for the consequences of spoken words.
*AWAM is part of the JAG group and has been vocal about violence against women for 27 years with no signs of stopping. Which is why we are also going to be part of an exciting campaign at KDU university this coming Thursday. KDU is the proud host of the “Your Words Hurt” campaign and has invited AWAM to be part of this. We stand in solidarity to be aware & mindful of the words we say to each other, the words we say to ourselves and the words we use in our everyday lives.
**The statements will be released later today after the awards show. Keep yourself posted here for updates. Follow AWAM on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/#!/AWAMMalaysia I speak as an individual, but I have no qualms about shamelessly promoting AWAM’s agenda of non-violence & equality 😀
We discriminate not only because we hate, but because we fear. As long as we fear, we will be too afraid to ask the right questions.
Not long after I started work at a women’s rights organisation, I was alerted by a friend that friend whose husband had taken her kids. This is how I learnt about the broken system in Malaysia and authorities who are quick to wash their hands off anything that smells of domestic problems. It is has also been a journey of miracles as I’ve met many wonderful people along the way; it is reassuring to find people willing to help despite the faulty administration and folded layers of bureaucracy in this country.
This is the story of Ana, a foreigner in Malaysia who has not seen her kids in 18 days.
*Ana was 23, finishing her MBA and dreaming about the faraway future, not unlike any other young girl when she met *Satya nine years ago. She thought he was charming and they shared a devotion to the same religion. Satya sent her elaborate bouquets and heralded grand promises.
“He told me he would give me a good life,” said Ana. She did not anticipate the life of horror that awaited her. To her surprise, Satya flew to her country fairly quickly to marry her. She didn’t think much of the rush, and willingly agreed. Ana left behind her own country, unhappy parents who didn’t approve of the match and an unfinished MBA to be with Malaysian-born Satya, who is six years her senior. Things began to unravel pretty quickly on the plane ride back to Malaysia. Her new father in law kept telling her how much they loved their son and started giving her a tutorial on how to take care of him.
“It’s like they were obsessed with him,” recalled Ana. She was given second-hand clothes to wear and strict instructions not to leave the house, much like a maid. She quickly learnt that her husband was prone to having terrible mood swings and a penchant for violence. He often broke things around the house, in fits of anger. By the time Ana wanted to leave, she was pregnant with her first child.
“I forgot my miserable life when my son was born,” said Ana, with a smile on her face. Her son became her priority and her family was complete when she gave birth to a daughter four years later. Her relationship with her husband worsened however and he was continually violent and disrespectful. Despite moving to another house, her in-laws still harassed her with frequent visits.Satya often took the kids to his parent’s house. It felt like he didn’t trust her.
One day, after a particularly horrible fight, Satya punched and broke her nose. He took her to the hospital and lied on her medical forms, stating that she ‘fell down’. Luckily, the doctor in attendance was suspicious and didn’t believe Satya. The doctor urged Ana to make a police report but Ana was too scared. She kept silent, falsely believing that she was protecting her kids from the misery of a broken home. Also, Ana didn’t want to give up so easily. She was determined to make her marriage work and did not believe in separation as an answer to their problems.
Eighteen days ago, Ana discovered that her husband had taken her children away, without explanation to her. In fact, he waited until Ana dropped off her 7-year-old son to school and went in on the pretext of a family emergency to retrieve him. Satya had already taken their 3-year-old daughter while Ana was dropping off their son.
Ana has been distraught with worry, fear, anger and frustration. As a foreigner, Ana’s hands are further tied as she cannot converse in Malay and has limited contacts in Malaysia. One can only imagine her frustration while trying to converse with government officials and the police who usually speak Malay. In despair, she sought help from friends she made at her son’s school. In contrast to that, her husband’s father is a well-connected man who has not hesitated to act in favour of his son.
Ana has approached the police, the welfare office and her embassy; all three institutions have been slow in acting on this case. The welfare office was efficient; even calling the husband on the spot and recommending a lawyer but it is disappointing to note that the Malaysian police have not taken swift action. She gave evidence to prove that she was still breastfeeding her 3 year old daughter but that did not jumpstart the investigation. It is important to note that the police and many other authorities tend to jump a mile at the mention of domestic violence/family issues. Yet, they jump at the chance of arresting petty criminals and gangsters.
Is it not a crime to take away children from their primary caregiver?
Whose responsibility is it to act on this? Ana has since filed another report, detailing the physical and emotional abuse, the constant threats hurled at her by her husband and father-in-law when she begged them for her kids and the kidnapping of her children. The police told her to pay good money and hire a lawyer. I wonder what they tell people who don’t have good money.
Perhaps you will want to ask Ana why. Why did she stay in an abusive relationship? But we are not here to judge, we are here to help Ana get her kids back safely. Ana has ample proof that her husband is not fit to look after the children but there are many things working against her because she has kept silent all these years. For instance, she cites abuse on many occasions but has very little evidence to prove these, save for medical reports, which she is trying her best to obtain right now. Without the reports, it is hearsay at best when presented at court.
Currently, Ana is pursuing a custody application to see her kids again. It is a long and weary battle, one that looks never-ending and harsh and she cannot do all this without support. We must be Ana’s support system, as caring citizens and as women and mothers who can empathise with her.
One cannot imagine a mother’s pain at being away from her children for so long, and without any contact whatsoever. Ana must be given credit for staying so strong all this while.
So I ask you again, who is responsible in a case like this? The police officer? The welfare officer? The embassy officials? You? Me?
Right now, Ana is being supported by a small group of people who are doing their best to help her get documents in presenting her case in court. Except for me, none of them work in a women’s organisation. On the first day I met Ana, she told me about an organisation that her embassy recommended her. She went in for a visit while the members were having a meeting. She said that not one of them came out to ask her who she was and if they could help.
Not one of them looked up to comfort a troubles woman and offer her words of hope? How is that possible? Have we forgotten to have a heart that goes beyond “I’ll see what I can do”?
As a foreigner, Ana faces a bigger hurdle in obtaining custody for her kids. Many foreign wives have faced a similar situation and without anyone to turn to, lose their kids to a heartless system that chooses to mind its own business. Her husband has refused to let her communicate with her children, yet he is allowed to keep them with him and his family, without the consent of their mother.Let the story of Ana be a lesson to us not to be complacent in the face of injustice.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
Find out the grrl code for our bodies.
Women’s bodies have been made fair game by the media and at this point, we’re pretty much out there for everyone to comment on.
Our thighs, our butts, our bellies, our faces. Then there’s the movie, TV, and music stars. There is a whole industry invested in the way celebrities look and it models for the rest of us what to worry about or be aware about. I still remember the comment made about some star wearing “mom” jeans. I’m a mom. I’m proud to be a mom, but I don’t want to wear “mom jeans.” They said she looked horrible. And who wants to look horrible? The media slander about women’s bodies and what we wear or put on those bodies affects us. It just does.
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I have always been a fan of the media – be it songs or films. As a teenager, I was huge TV fan, watching almost anything and everything – especially things I wasn’t allowed to watch. I consumed more than my fair share of movies and TV series, from Hollywood to Bollywood.
As I grew older, the realities that confronted me on my television screen became glaringly obvious. What kind of topsy-turvy world was this – where everyone is beautiful and happy endings are inevitable? Certainly isn’t a reflection of real life, although the industry claims to mirror the world as it is. Oh, that’s right. Patriarchal, condescending to women and stereotypical – I guess they stayed true to their word.
Sex sells. All these women I’ve sent overseas, all started out like you. Now they’re earning 10k a month, and having the time of their lives in Paris. I’ve seen this girls naked, they’ve trusted me with their nudity.
You can’t be difficult to work with, you should know how to be flexible. You can’t go into this with principles.
Have you noticed how the entertainment industry is rarely taken seriously and sometimes even, looked down upon? So when I told my parents that I wanted to sing, back when I was 16, it’s no surprise to me, in hindsight that they were visibly unhappy with the idea. I vowed to find a way to sing that wouldn’t compromise my beliefs and values, and still make Mom and Dad proud, without giving up my traditions.
Traditions, values, principles – what are all these compared to the riches I could earn. To the fame I could get. If I just do what I have to do, ignore everything and everyone, keep my eyes focused on the end goal – then I can do anything, and I will, without caring at what cost to myself, and my loved ones. Without caring about my dignity and my self-worth.
Because what is dignity and self-worth when it comes to money. What is right and what is wrong all fades away.
Is that what you would tell me?
If you want to be an entertainer, are you only successful if you sell yourself as an object of sex?
Is it worth it? To sleep with the director, just so you can get a small part in the new movie. Is it worth it, to give a blow-job to the photographer, who may or may not reject you because you decide to say no?
Are you telling me that all this money and fame compensates for everything else?
Are you telling me that you would tell your sister/cousin/niece to go in there, go make it big in the entertainment industry and do it exactly the way you did it? Would you?
How would you feel if your friend came to you and told you she had to sleep with a guy to get a part in a movie? Would you encourage her to continue? I find it so hard to believe that a person would ‘sell’ their bodies, for no other reason than they had to. Understand also that this is not coming from a moral high ground, these questions have come up in my own struggle to determine what is more important to me – my passsion or my values. Perhaps there is a way to balance the two. In my case, wanting to be a paid singer was the dream, which would have compromised my values and position against selling out to the ‘sex sells’ line. It is expected of girls lining up outside an agency’s office to take off an item of clothing, or at least to bare some cleavage.Sell: your body, your femaleness, your sexuality, your femininity. Be coy, make sure you don’t know all the answers. Let him lead, be polite, don’t say no if he wants it.It’s rude to allow your desires to interrupt his. Be flexible, ready for anything. Just do whatever it takes – to get to the top. Does the end justify the means? No. The answer is a resounding NO every single time. I can hardly believe that I almost fell for this, once upon a time – in my mindless pursuit to get a break for my singing.
There is no way in hell I can participate in this mind-fuckery AND stay true to my beliefs. You might argue that I’m too much of an idealist and I won’t be able to argue with you even then. But no means no. And I’ll be happy to be called an extremist, if that is indeed, what I am.
An industry that treats its workers as one and the same, no better than the last one that walked in, just another face.
An industry that will purposely break your spirit in order for you to think that you will never be good enough.
An industry that calls you ‘average‘ in a roomful of people dying to be the very same thing you are.
Such an industry is not worth it, at least for me. And I question anybody who tells me that it was, in the end.
Money and fame doesn’t buy you anything except for basic necessities; it cannot fulfill your innermost desires and wants. Taking the shortcut is simply going to diminish your self-worth and perpetrate the lies that are told in the industry, like the ‘sex sells’ shit they’ve been telling us for years. It is time to break our silence on this lurid nonsense and speak out against mainstream media, the entertainment industry and how girls are expected to be treated when they’re looking to make it big.
The next time you’re asked to ‘be sexy’, tell em that you already are. Then smile sweetly and give them the finger.
As a girl of 14, sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car, I remember fuming to myself when I heard him say “Girls can’t do certain things.”
“WHY NOT!”” I screamed at him silently in my head. So fueled was I by angsty teenage hormones and self-righteous anger, I actually scribbled down in pencil, a stanza about what I thought of his infuriating comment, right then and there in the car. Anger, when used positively, can be useful.
Fast forward almost 11 years later, and I still regularly fume to myself and yes, angrily pen down words of rebellion and oh, yes I will do exactly what you tell me NOT to do. I am a rebel, I cannot deny that. Perhaps it is this self-perception that led me to finding a voice in writing and activism.
I was first rudely awakened to the bitter world when I studied in Perth from 2008 to 2010. My interest in writing took me to journalism, and from then on, my path seemed to be one, not only of seeking the truth and reacting to injustice, but also one that aligned with my own journey within; of self-discovery and more rude awakenings.
I returned back to Malaysia, no longer the same girl I used to be, perhaps almost a woman, but that wasn’t important. There was more learning to be done. Almost immediately, I found a job and settled into a wonky routine of normalcy by day, truth-seeking by night. I spent a lot of time away from my home, from my family, still discovering who and what I was supposed to be. But I was restless, and bored of my own inaction. Hungry for an outlet for my rebellion, I attended a workshop on sexuality rights in town. It seemed to me that, like the black-dotted dominoes that shift and ultimately fall, the events that led up to me finding the event on Facebook was almost inevitable. My first encounter with a non-for-profit in Malaysia was this Facebook group called Eco-Warriors – a bunch of environmentally-minded people who not only believed in the principles of going green, takes the mindset one step further and plants trees to make Malaysia more green.
After that encounter, I kept a sharp look-out for similar events, which was when I saw this workshop, in August last year. My crazy, Facebook-stalking ways had paid off (yes if you need me to utilize Facebook for your business, I promise results!). I walked in, not knowing what to expect; certainly naive about who I was about to encounter. A bespectacled outspoken legal student, a spunky Indian girl with cool hair; people from all walks of life came to find out more about human rights.
Do we only start to question our rights when they are violated? This was a question that I came to, over and over again. Hearing stories of gross abuse, sexual abuse, violence, discrimination – how do you not care? How do you not feel like you should do something about it?
“Why should I care?”
“I’m not involved.”
“I’m not related to refugees – I don’t care about their plight.”
Does this line ever work: What if this person (the abused) was your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, niece, grandmother, aunty etc?
These were the kinds of things that were raised at the workshop, which turned out to be a great platform for many voices to speak, in a safe space. The right to freedom of expression was frequently mentioned and served as a sad reminder that even that is denied to Malaysians. Young gay Malaysians eager to express their sexuality quickly find out that any expression that is out of the norm is almost always met with disapproval and shunned by the general population. It is not in the ‘culture’ of Malaysia to express yourself, and I find this is true even for expressing feelings. Any attempt to express oneself is hurriedly slapped with the label ‘Western’ or gets written of as overdone. In fact, it is a very Malaysian thing to say a person is showing off when expressing themselves. The irony can’t get any funnier: political activism is considered illegal and activists often operate underground and keep a look out for authorities.
As you can see, the workshop really stimulated me and I looked forward to the subsequent events that would take place for the week-long Seksualiti Merdeka festival. So aptly-named, Seksualiti Merdeka translates to Sexuality Freedom – a freedom which I think they achieved, even for those few hours that they ran the workshop. There was a sense of solidarity, we-are-all-in-this-together. I looked around and saw smiling faces and pledged to go back the next day. Two days later, the festival, which started back in 2008, was deemed illegal and banned for promoting ‘seks bebas’ – free sex. I can only imagine how crushed the LGBT community would have been, and how outrageous this would look on an international level. The organizers of Seksualiti Merdeka are, at this very moment trying to appeal for the ban to be lifted. I will keep you posted on that one.
The festival turned out to be one of the many dominoes that led to my resigning my day job as a writer with an expat company and making a decision to work in the non-for-profit sector. I am currently waiting, with crossed fingers and toes, for this women’s organization to call me back about their vacancy as Programmes Officer. If I don’t get this job, consider me up for hire.
Part of this organization’s celebration for International Women’s Day was a march, and I had the opportunity not only to go, but to carry the banner right at the front of the line. Exhilarating, to say the least! It was a humid day, and we used the white gloves on our hands (signifying our call for clean and fair elections) to mop the sweat off our foreheads. Cars whizzed by, some tooting their approval, some staring straight ahead, refusing to look at our bright purple banners, as if caring was a disease. A bad luck sign like a black cat. One man in his boxy Volvo, tooted his horn, and with his own white-gloved hand, put his hands up with his thumb sticking straight up. We cheered him extra loudly as he drove by. I remember hoping he was a politician and that if he was then there is hope.
As we reached our meeting point, the Astaka field behind the ashram, our excitement died down – there was a referee confronting one of our fellow marchers. He was unhappy that his coaching had been interrupted. His voice was raised, and some girls started to boo him. One girl yelled out in Malay, “talk with a nice voice, and put on a nice face!”
It was probably wrong to boo him, but it was all in the spirit of the march. Just before the field, we merged with another group of marchers, and as if energized by each other, turned up the cries and rallying for and end to violence. A woman on the megaphone strained her voice until you could hear the hoarse ends of it, but she didn’t let off until we got to the field. The coach eventually let us pass (and it was all a misunderstanding; the field had been booked off for the march in advance) and we cheered, shrieking at the muddy grounds of Astaka, and running towards drier ground where the podium stood.
The leaders of the march had reached before us, and they introduced the crowd to a series of speakers. One particularly inspiring speech was by the Orang Asli women of Eastern Malaysia. Forgive me, for the name of their tribe eludes me now, but the expression on the woman’s face as she asked for justice will never leave my mind.
Determination, to fight for her sisters, to fight oppression, to remind the oppressors that they are NOT to be bullied.
Now tell me that I shouldn’t do what my heart tells me to. Because you know what? I cannot sit back and not do anything about what I’ve learnt in the past year, and what I’m still learning about now. And this is what my blog is about – telling you what I’ve learnt and how we can all put a stop to it. For now, please go read up on eco-feminism and get on Gender Across Borders to read their excellent post on this issue.
Did you know that women are collateral damage in most situations? Read about it here: http://www.genderacrossborders.com/2012/03/22/ecofeminism-is-the-movement-still-relevant/
To end on a feisty note, I can totally relate to this woman’s t-shirt, can someone get me one like that?
Translation of words on t shirt: CAUTION: WOMEN OVERSTEPPING LIMITS.
“There is poor, inadequate and suppressed awareness on fertility, adolescent sexuality and development. Some of them don’t even know why they got pregnant because they don’t know how their body works,” said Kitong.
Solid proof that education is absolutely vital; self-education even more so. How do we allow the younger generation of the world go about in life, unaware about the functions of their own bodies? Let’s teach them that our bodies belong to nobody but ourselves.