JUNE 24 — In 2021, Malaysian schools were rocked by a powerful online movement spearheaded by a 17-year-old named Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam.

The #MakeSchoolASaferPlace campaign exposed the prevalence of sexual harassment faced by students, predominantly girls.

Ain’s story, along with countless others shared online, ignited public outrage and forced a national conversation about the need for reform in educational institutions.

The high internet penetration rate in Malaysia (97.4 percent) coupled with the widespread use of social media platforms (83.1 percent) has empowered women to challenge traditional media gatekeepers and advocate directly for their causes.


One study indicated that Malaysian women are increasingly becoming aware of gender-related issues due to their exposure to social media.

Women activists previously relied heavily on mainstream media to highlight women’s issues. However, these efforts were hampered by a lack of visibility and representation, as traditional media platforms were often heavily regulated and censored.

Various digital tools apart from social media platforms are employed to raise awareness, influence policy, and provide support and care for those in need.


The power of digital activism

Online crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe and SimplyGiving, and petition and campaign platforms like Change.org allow individuals or organisations to start petitions and garner support which can be used to pressure policymakers.

Malaysian women’s digital activism can be categorised into individual efforts and collective efforts, with both playing critical roles in influencing the socio-political landscape in Malaysia.

Individual efforts in digital activism are often driven by personal experiences, beliefs, and motivations in raising awareness about a specific issue. The impact of individual activism on digital platforms can be profound as people can resonate on a personal level, fostering greater empathy and solidarity.

Collective efforts involve organised groups in response to specific issues. This often comes in the form of grassroots movements that arise due to specific issues and rely on the collective energy and passion of the members of the public.

There is a small number of women-specific grassroots movements in Malaysia that tackle various issues, including environmental protection, political empowerment, and citizenship rights.

However, movements such as #Undi18, Family Frontiers, and Klima Action Malaysia are often led by women and have seen substantial female participation.

This digital activism has yielded significant results.

#MeToo provided an opportunity

The #MeToo movement, gaining worldwide traction online in 2017, provided a window of opportunity for Malaysian activists.

They managed to push the government to provide better legal protections for the victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence and ensure adequate punishments for the perpetrators. This eventually led to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act finally gazetted in July 2022.

Besides addressing sexual harassment, women activists have also used digital platforms to shed light on issues of statelessness and citizenship.

Family Frontiers is an example of a grassroots movement championing the right of Malaysian mothers to get equal treatment in seeking equal citizenship rights for their children born overseas.

In August 2022, Family Frontiers filed an appeal at the Federal Court against the Malaysian Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the High Court’s decision of granting Malaysian women equal rights to confer Malaysian citizenship to their overseas-born children.

It also has an active presence on social media highlighting the movement’s activities, live-streaming press conferences, and sharing content on issues related to statelessness and citizenship.

Online harassment persists

Despite the digital space providing women with the freedom to voice their demands, women occupying the space are still subjected to numerous challenges such as online harassment, doxing and sexism.

Online harassment is a pervasive issue as female activists are often subjected to targeted abuse, threats and cyberbullying.

For example, Malaysian women activists found themselves as the target of cyberbullying after the 2019 Women’s Day March. Activists who spoke up on issues that are considered sensitive, taboo, or challenge the status quo found themselves to be the target of online bullying and doxing.

In 2024, organisers of the Women’s March were summoned by police for organising the event, a move seen as part of “repeated cycles” of investigations against peaceful assembly.

Government censorship poses another significant challenge as the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act are frequently used to silence dissenting voices.

Women activists may find themselves at risk for posting content that is considered harmful or seditious. This creates a climate of fear and leads to self-censorship.

Despite these challenges, the rise of digital activism by Malaysian women marks a significant shift in the nation’s social landscape. It demonstrates the power of online platforms in empowering women to challenge the status quo and demand change.

As Malaysia’s digital space evolves, this trend is likely to play an increasingly important role in shaping the country’s future. — Creative Commons by 360info

* Rabi’ah Aminudin is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, at International Islamic University Malaysia. She mainly looks into the role of identity and politics in public policies.

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