KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — Some 300 people from all walks of life gathered outside the Sogo mall on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman at 10.30am today to take part in an annual march to commemorate Women’s Day.
The event called Women's March Malaysia's destination was the historic Dataran Merdeka, which was about 1km away.
Along the way, they chanted for changes to Malaysian policy and law. Among their demands were equal pay as men, the end of child marriages, and social protection for “all oppressed genders” — which were part of their nine demands.
The blare of flood alarms accompanied the 20-minute walk and seemed to coincide with every stop the demonstrators made to address pedestrians around them.
“They're trying to drown out our voices, so we’re going to be louder than the sirens,” one of the speakers for the march, R. Shalini, announced through a megaphone.
More than 30 police officers were on duty keeping a close eye on the demonstrators but the march was peaceful.
“We’re fighting not only for us, but also for her rights,” one participant who gave her name only as Aissa, told Malay Mail, and gestured to her one-year daughter inside a baby stroller.
“We shouldn’t compromise on our values just because we’re older now, or we’re a mom,” the 33-year-old lawyer added.
She was accompanied by a 34-year-old man who gave his name as Ikram who said he was there as women’s issues were a matter of concern to him as a father and a husband, “but also more importantly”, as a citizen of Malaysia.
Multiple women attested to feeling supported and empowered by the show of support from like-minded individuals at the event, while also from having an outlet to voice out their grievances.
“And it's quite fun,” said 25-year-old Joe.
This feeling of support was also extended to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, as well as to refugees in the country.
There were chants of “everyone is welcome here” and “refugees are welcome here” during the march.
Engineering students, 21-year-old Praveen and 22-year-old Harshini both said that the women’s march felt like a safe and empowering space, especially as LGBTQ-centric events are often prosecuted and stigmatised.
“I’ve known what it feels like to be dehumanised by authorities,” said Harshini, who stated that she was at the Shagrilla Halloween show that was raided last year by Islamic religious authorities.
Women at the march said they felt favourable towards the openness to other segments of society.
“I think this should be a space for everyone, I think if you don’t support all women, then you’re not supporting women,” said Odie, a 24-year-old film industry freelancer, who was sporting make-up depicting the bruises of a physical assault victim.
“Or like if you support women, but only if they are pure Bumiputera, or pure Chinese, or pure Indian or pure biological cisgender women.
“But I don’t think it should be like that,” she said.
Kirath KS, who was part of the volunteer group that organised this year’s march, said she was proud of the turnout and outcome of the march this year.
In a statement last Friday, Women’s March Malaysia listed their nine demands, which included the protection of “bodily autonomy”, the banning of child marriages, elimination of violence against oppressed genders and sexual minorities, as well as enhanced protection systems and more safe public spaces for oppressed genders.
It also asked for constitutional and legislative reforms for gender equality, equal political participation of oppressed genders at all levels of governance, the ensurement of decent work standards and living wages, and the declaration of a climate crisis together with an action plan.