On 8 March, many parts of the world will mark International Women’s Day.
This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias. It’s a lot to imagine. But imagine we must if we are to set goals in the quest for a more inclusive society. Equally important are concrete actions accompanying these goals that could result in real change on the ground for women’s lives.
So how will we celebrate International Women’s Day, or IWD for short, in Malaysia? What milestones will we be celebrating for women in Malaysia? Let’s look back on all that women have achieved in the past year:
Citizenship Granted For Overseas-Born Children
A recent milestone was a High Court decision in September 2021 to allow Malaysian mothers who married foreigners to automatically pass their Malaysian citizenship to their children born overseas – a right already in place for Malaysian fathers married to foreigners.
In early December 2021, the government reiterated its intention to propose a constitutional amendment to allow Malaysian mothers with foreign partners to confer citizenship on their children born overseas and to get the proposal approved by the Conference of Rulers before the constitutional amendment is tabled. Things were looking up.
But then, we saw the federal government apply to stay a High Court ruling – a move which the Court of Appeal dismissed in December 2021.
On 23 March, the Court of Appeal will hear the federal government’s appeal against the High Court ruling.
So, while we celebrate the outcome of the High Court decision, things are still not smooth sailing for women on the ground. There is apparently still a lack of procedural clarity among National Registration Department branches and embassies or high commissions.
Loh Siew Hong Reunited With Children
Let’s also remember the persistence of domestic violence victim Loh Siew Hong as she journeyed to be reunited with her three children after a three-year separation.
She may now embark on a judicial review of the unilateral conversions of her three children if indeed they took place, allegedly in her absence and without her permission.
On this IWD, while recognising the bravery of women speaking out against injustices the world over, let’s also celebrate women who have spoken truth to power in Malaysia but now face lawsuits.
Women like 17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, who spoke out against inappropriate comments on rape in her school.
In August 2021, Ain Husniza shared that she received a letter of demand from a physical education teacher at the school where she previously studied, seeking damages of RM1mil for alleged defamatory remarks she made.
It was then reported in November 2021 that Khairul Nizam filed a defamation suit naming Ain Husniza and her father Saiful Nizam Abdul Wahab as the first and second respondents respectively.
Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam and her father, who are defendants in a defamation suit filed against her by teacher Khairul Nizam Sanuddin, will file a counterclaim against him.
Their lawyer SN Nair said they will also be naming the education minister, Selangor education director and school principal as defendants in the counterclaim, for alleged negligence in failing to protect her.
Nair also said he has filed a counterclaim on behalf of Ain Husniza and her father against the teacher and the rest for tort of intentionally inflicting emotional distress (IIED).
Abolishing Period Spot Checks
Last but definitely not least, female students have been enduring period spot checks during school to “prove” that they were menstruating to avoid Muslim prayers. This heinous act of breach of privacy whilst girls live in humiliation on school grounds had to be put to a stop.
Malaysian students have come forward to reveal the torment they face in public schools, including period spot checks, sexual harassment and public shaming.
It all started on 16 April, when Twitter user and human rights activist @TerryDieHeiden asked if period spot checks were still being practised in boarding schools.
Dulu few years ago saya ada tanya benda ni, tapi masih berlaku ke kat sekolah-sekolah dan asrama Malaysia? Tenaga pelajar check period dan private part pelajar?
It shouldn’t be done sebab invasive of privacy, should be reported to parents or authorities btw. pic.twitter.com/xCsfjpaHdP
— 🕊️ 💙💛 (@ConferWithTerry) April 15, 2021
These spot checks include female students showing their blood-soaked sanitary pads, doing swabs of their vagina with either cotton buds, tissues, or their fingers, or having a teacher, warden or school prefect pat them down at the groin area to feel if they are wearing a sanitary pad.
Education Minister Datuk Radzi Jidin paid a visit to a college in Kuala Lumpur following allegations that period spot checks had been conducted at the institution.
Let’s all hope for the safety and respect for girls all over. Such spot checks are simply a violation of personal privacy and are frankly, ridiculous.
As we mark IWD this year, we must have vision and faith that a better future is possible – and we must be willing to work for it.
Happy International Women’s Day. Dare to dream. Dare to believe. #BreaktheBias