Written by Najwa Wira
Under the scorching hot sun, a group of women and men came together on 11th March to march for women’s rights in Kuala Lumpur. Armed with colourful and bright placards, they marched together in solidarity towards furthering their cause to fight for women’s rights. This includes women’s right to own their bodies, right to equal treatment and also the cause of ending domestic violence. The march was inclusive and diverse, and ranged from the fight against domestic violence to advocating transgender rights. This march could be a step for a more progressive Malaysia, but some netizens beg to differ. It received backlash in addition to some favourable feedback from the netizens. Some people questioned the motives and argued that it was pointless. “What is the point of this march?” one questioned, while another commented that it was an “utterly rubbish” march.
The march was criticised as being too westernised. From the many causes that were raised in and by the march, the question that arose amongst Malaysians was: is it a fight for Malaysian women or is the march merely regurgitating the cause of western feminists? The critics commented that it is too US-centric as some of the causes are against the teachings of Islam, such as transgender rights, and that the Women’s March was organised to just keep up with western trends. They pointed out that there are many other ways to champion women’s rights and that women in Malaysia are not discriminated in any way. The supporters defended the causes as essential rights and pressing issues that need to be addressed, calling out the people who opposed this march as sexist and not understanding the basis of feminism. Clashes of opinions and debates happened on social media with many notable figures and NGOs, like Marina Mahathir, Daphne Iking, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sisters in Islam (SIS), and All Women’s Action Society (Awam) giving their own two cents regarding the march.
While many engaged in respectful discourse, some people took advantage of this heated issue to insult and spew derogatory remarks to the participants, making social media a hostile place for the participants. This activity, known as ‘trolling’, resulted in the ‘trolls’ attacking and body-shaming the participants, not to mention relentlessly campaigning against them on social media as well. Using a designated emoji which is the raised fist, feminists came together to defend participants of the march and speak out against ‘trolls’, not to mention celebrate the men and women who participated in the march.
The Women’s March in Kuala Lumpur has revealed the many facets of women’s rights and position in Malaysia, from the view that women will never become leaders to the view that women have equal rights to men. It is not surprising to see the many conservative views with sexist undertones among Malaysians, as there’s still a long way to go and more steps need to be taken in order to make Malaysia a more progressive nation. However, based on the recent march, it can be said that it is better to have a cause tailored to Malaysian issues to better suit the plight of Malaysian women than to emulate everything that western feminists fight for. The recent march was not the first march to champion women’s rights and certainly will not be the last.