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Our country’s progress is our progress, too

 | September 13, 2017

Sunday's Women Against Toxic Politics march saw women from every race, age and background making a stand for equality in Malaysia.

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Chants of “Wanita bantah!” and “Hidup wanita!” filled the air as about 1,000 people gathered along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman for the Women Against Toxic Politics march on a sweaty Sunday evening.

The crowd, dressed in various shades of purple, swelled and heaved, spurred on by the sound of drums and a myriad of reasons for marching against poisonous policies and people in power.

Dozens of placards and hand-made signs waved in the air, dominated by a huge banner declaring “Wanita bantah politik toksik!”, making it the most women-empowering scene Malaysia has seen in ages.

There was an atmosphere of hope and defiance, compounded by the presence of prominent figures such as Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, her daughter Marina Mahathir, G25 spokesperson Noor Farida Ariffin, Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah, and others.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad also joined the crowd in solidarity, waving and stopping every now and then to take pictures with marchers.

But perhaps the most beautiful and encouraging thing about the march was the sheer variety of women who turned up to make it a success, as well as the men who came to march in solidarity.

Women of every race, age, background, sexual orientation and ability waited in the heat for the march to begin, chatting and chanting with one another, exchanging experiences and advice. All were there for a common cause: to call for Malaysia to become a more equal place.

Women Against Toxic Politics defines “toxic politics” as political violence, threats against individuals, racist speech, sexist behaviour, hate among the people, failure of government bodies to ensure the safety of the public generally, and failure to uphold the Federal Constitution.

The march was a rallying cry against institutionalised discrimination, and women turned out in droves because we were tired of sickening political agendas that are used to create division among the people of Malaysia.

A group of disabled women in wheelchairs from the Beautiful Gate Foundation were celebrated at the event, as they represented a minority that’s particularly sensitive to negative changes.

The organisation’s executive director Sia Siew Chin told FMT, “Disabled women are the most vulnerable group. Anything that happens to normal, able-bodied women affects us twice or thrice as much.

“So we’re here to represent and speak up for our community and our rights – and as women, we want to have equal rights for everyone.”

Also present was Fatimah Bah-sin, who came all the way from Pahang to represent the indigenous people. She spoke powerfully about protecting the rights of the Orang Asli, as well as Malaysia’s natural resources.

“Without the forest, I wouldn’t be here. Without the forest, there would be no Orang Asli. And there would be no peace among the people of Malaysia.”

She railed against the government’s abuse of natural resources, linking it to corruption, and added, “Politics is getting dirtier; that’s why we are here.”

Many of the people I spoke to, were passionate about ending a popular stereotype – that women aren’t or shouldn’t be interested in politics. Whether they were marching for women’s rights, LGBT rights, disability rights, or Orang Asli rights, every single person there wanted to show just how invested we are in the state of this country, and how loud our voices can be. One placard held high summed it up succinctly: “Women [are] pissed off with all kinds of ‘toksik’ bullshit”.

Anabel Andrew, spokesperson for women’s rights organisation Gerakan Pembebasan Wanita (GPW), told FMT, “We walk because as women, we’re told we can’t be political. We walk because as women, we deserve to have our voices heard. We walk because equality is necessary for us to move forward.”

I watch as a young family marches, a mother, a father, and three daughters decked out in purple. This is the kind of example we should be setting for the generations that will come after ours.

Know and exercise your rights, fight for yourself and the well-being of others, get involved because at the end of the day, this is your country – its progress is also yours.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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