Hundreds of women marched in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday (Sunday) in protest against the country’s “toxic politics”. They dressed in purple, the colour worn by the suffragettes and other women’s rights advocates around the world.
The women demanded an end to what they say is a “rising tide of toxic, violent, and sexist politics” in Malaysia.
The protesters included Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, who is the wife of the former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad; her daughter Marina Mahathir; Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (pictured left), who is president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party, or PKR) and wife of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim; Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is a PKR vice-president and the Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai; the president of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society, Ambiga Sreenevasan; and the chairwoman the Bersih 2.0 Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, Maria Chin Abdullah.
Noor Farida Ariffin, who is a spokeswoman for the G25 Movement of Moderates, called for the rejection of candidates in the forthcoming general election who were sexist.
“Bring back civility, she said. “We do not want people who are poisoning society.”
Ariffin, who is a retired judge and former ambassador, says that many sexist comments have been made with impunity in parliament.
She also points to an incident in May this year when a prominent film producer, David Teoh, was slapped by an actor in front of the prime minister, Najib Razak.
There is a spread of toxicity among Malaysians, Ariffin says, and it is becoming the “new norm”.
The toxic political culture has spread across the country in the public domain, online, and via the media, Ariffin says.
“We as women do not want corruption; we do not want political violence; we do not want gangsterism,” Ariffin told women yesterday. “We do not want racism; we do not want sexism to be part of our culture. We must restore the dignity of our people.”
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said: “Women are mothers and women know how to educated their children … We want our country to be like how we educate our children. We want a brighter future.” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail urged people not to give up, and called for unity “regardless of gender.”
Ambiga Sreenevasan said that, for her, the march was about “making a statement that we object to the violence that is being shown in the political arena”. There was also violence against journalists, Sreenevasan said.
Sreenevasan (pictured left) also points to the sexism in parliament. “We are very concerned that our leaders are setting a very bad example for the next generation.
“We do not want the next generation to get used to this kind of politics where violence, sexism, and racism are tolerated.”
There were many violent incidents during the 13th general election, Sreenevasan says. “Our concern is that the 14th general election must be violence free.”
Many of today’s speakers were young women like Shafiqah Othman, who said she was speaking not just on behalf of women, but for everyone in Malaysia.
Shafiqah Othman said the women’s protest was a response to all the toxicity in Malaysian politics; “to say that we have had enough of all the violence and threats that are being directed towards people.
“People have been scrutinised, silenced and, in the worst cases, have become victims of physical violence.”
“Together,” Shafiqah Othman said, “let’s go against dirty politics.”
In her speech, Siti Hasmah Ali said women wanted peace and stability in their lives.
“However, we can see that there is violence against women, and it is a violation of our human rights.”
Women also needed a sustainable economy, Siti Hasmah Ali said. Domestically, she said, Malaysia was having many problems and she was concerned about the future generation. “It is our duty to ensure a sustainable and peaceful future for Malaysians.
“As Malaysian women, we are against toxic politics. It is our role to prevent it seeping into our bodies.”
Speaking to reporters after the rally ended, Maria Chin said violence against women was still rampant in Malaysia. The issue of child marriages, she said, had yet to be resolved and laws in the country were increasingly repressive.
She said the march was to show that women were united against the current state of Malaysian politics.
There are only twenty women MPs in parliament in Malaysia, Maria Chin points out. This is about 10 percent of the total, whereas in neighbouring Indonesia more than 25 percent of MPs are women.
Maria Chin said that the women’s march made her feel hopeful. “As long as the young people and the women come forward to speak, I think we have hope in this country.”
Nurul Izzah Anwar says the main communication avenues are dominated by men. “In the mainstream media women don’t get coverage; we don’t get much support or space so it is very challenging for us to get our message across.
“This march is one way to attract attention, to make sure that people understand that women’s issues are at the forefront of our campaign.”
Women’s issues, Nurul Izzah Anwar says, must not be relegated to the sidelines.
“Today we have sparked an awareness among women that they are valuable; that they have the power to dictate the future of this country.”
Nurul Izzah Anwar (pictured below, centre) said she was encouraged by the diversity of women present at the protest march.
It is important, she says, to have such unity, and to inspire women to take action. “At the end of the day, they have to be the vocal voice to raise awareness for change. It can’t just be the sole domain of the men.
“Women are the ones carrying the burden of the economic crisis in Malaysia, the petrol hikes, the reduction in the quality of education, and the cuts in subsidies for health care and education.
“They are the ones facing this on the ground and they must be sure that the government of the day changes its faulty, flawed policies.”
There must, Nurul Izzah Anwar says, be a continuous wave of change and local programmes specifically geared to women.
“Enough with male-centred events. We need to talk to the women; the mothers, the career women, the housewives; ordinary women, young and old; those are the ones we should be engaging with, and that’s what we are going to do.”
Fatimah Bah-sin, from Pahang, spoke out for the indigenous people (orang asli) of Malaysia, and called for protection for those communities, their land, and their culture.
She urged politicians to think about the people, not themselves. She said that, in the past, there was less corruption and dirty politics. “Politics are getting dirtier; that’s why we are here.”
Nalina Nair said: “Today we are all here representing ourselves. We want to go beyond party politics because, if we don’t, we’ll never get together and make substantial change.
“We may be from NGOs or political parties, but today we all stand as women against toxic politics.
“Women are just sick and tired of the sexism, the racism, the corruption, and the kleptocracy that are going on and we really want to say something about it, and to say it out loud and proud.”
Estimates of the attendance at yesterday’s march ranged from five hundred to one thousand.
Malaysia’s prime minister is embroiled in financial scandal. He is accused of siphoning off huge amounts of public money for his own use, but denies all wrongdoing.
In June this year, the United States Justice Department announced the filing of civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of approximately $540 million in assets “associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund”.
The department said that, combined with civil forfeiture complaints filed in July 2016, seeking more than $1 billion, and civil forfeiture complaints filed earlier in June seeking approximately $100 million in assets, the case represented the largest action brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
Assets now subject to forfeiture in the case total almost $1.7 billion.
The Justice Department says that, according to the complaints, between 2009 and 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates.
“1MDB was created by the government of Malaysia to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and its funds were intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people,” the Justice Department states.
The Acting US Attorney, Sandra R. Brown, stated: “These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead were used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed.
“The misappropriation of 1MDB funds was accomplished with an extravagant web of lies and bogus transactions.”
Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, and businessman Jho Low have been named in the civl lawsuit, while “Malaysian Official 1” has been described as Riza’s “relative” and a powerful politician in Malaysia.
Last month, the Justice Department filed a motion to stay the civil case on the grounds that proceeding with it “is likely to have an adverse effect on the ability of the government to conduct a related federal criminal investigation”.
Threats and violence
Before the Bersih 5 demonstration in November last year, there were horrific death threats against Maria Chin and her three sons, Ambiga Sreenevasan, and Bersih 2.0’s secretariat officer Mandeep Singh.
Last month, several youths lit flares and threw chairs and shoes at Mahathir Mohamad, who is now chairman of the Pakatan Harapan (Pact Of Hope) opposition alliance, when he spoke at a forum in Shah Alam.
Support independent journalism that digs deep.
All the content on this website currently remains available to be read for free, but you can donate or take out a paid subscription using the Paypal or GoCardless buttons on the top right-hand side of this and other pages.
Changing Times brings you a unique and panoramic perspective on issues rarely covered elsewhere. Just $5, 5 euro or £5 a month from each of my readers will ensure its sustainability.