Women are on the rise — Ivy Josiah

MARCH 8 — International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019 will see women in Kota Kinablau and Kuala Lumpur marching tomorrow as we usually do to celebrate and demand for our rights.

We continue to demand; I believe that despite the many gains, it has not gotten better for women in so many areas.

I simply do not have the space to list them here but for more evidence-based information on much needed reforms, do read the comprehensive publication The Status of Women’s Human Rights: 24 Years of CEDAW in Malaysia. (https://wao.org.my/the-status-of-womens-human-rights/)

This year is special as, in my view, what stands out is that Sabahan women are taking a lead. Well, technically speaking they are starting at 8am to our 10 am in Kuala Lumpur.

I may be stretching the point but too often women’s groups tend to be Klang Valley-centric. 

When Sabahan women gather at Jesselton Point tomorrow to articulate their specific wants, they will be shining a light on Sabahan issues and national ones too.

Their demands include:

• Implementation of a compulsory curriculum on comprehensive sex education at all educational institutions and the workplace.

• Dedicated police first responders to identify persons harmed as vulnerable and immediately begin an investigation into the report of rape and sexual assault.

• Integration and implementation of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women) throughout the country and across all sectors.

• Safe public and private space free of violence, fear of violence and abuse, to encourage all genders to fully develop their potential and overcome barriers that prevent them from accessing their rights to education work and health care.

Protests and marches are not new to Malaysia and in fact it is even more crucial now as we shape a new Malaysia, as we witness politicians crumble in the face of extremism. 

I know for sure women can change the narrative; we have the imagination and vision for a more inclusive Malaysia where no one is left behind.

This is not just a tagline as we ourselves — on a personal and political level — have experienced and still experience intersectional discrimination of being a woman when ethnicity, economics, class, culture and gender intersect to pile up the multiple forms of discrimination.

It is equally key and poignant that we interlink our present initiatives to events of the past as our visibility and strength today is only possible because women had stepped up and demanded to be treated as equals.  

In 1985 when Joint Action Group Against Violence Against Women (JAG-VAW) now known as the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAGGE) organised the IWD ‘85 workshop and exhibition busing women from out of town to Petaling Jaya, it unleashed new women’s groups and a sustained campaign against violence against women and discrimination against women as a whole.

Kudos to the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Women’s Committee, Selangor and Federal Territory Consumer’s Association (Women and Media Section), University Women’s Association, and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

But lest we think that it all began in 1985, Malaysian women have spoken up against injustice from way back. Example: some 300 women from NCWO affiliates descended on the office of Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak one day in late August of 1974 to demand that the second marriage of the then King at that time be halted. They succeeded!

There are of course more initiatives by women during colonial Malaya.

IWD celebrations owe its birth to that time when women garment workers marched out of their factories in 1908 demanding for better pay and working conditions.

We have much to thank the labour movement for. Economic justice still escapes women and we remain poorest of the poor.

Our demand for a decent living wage of RM1,800 for all is possible and doable if we muster up the political will.

Lastly, I want to go one step further and propose that March 8 be declared a national holiday as surely women in this country deserve one day in the year to celebrate our acts of courage, leadership and determination, not only for advocating for gender equality but playing key roles in our historic win for democracy on May 9, 2018.

Every day women continue resolutely to make their presence felt, their demands heard and implement changes on the ground to make all our lives better. 

*Ivy Josiah is Secretary General, PROHAM and exco member, HAKAM.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.