Malaysia women’s march meets disapproval from religious, political authorities
Several hundred people marched in Malaysia's capital on Saturday (March 9) to mark International Women's Day in an event organized by activist groups and local NGOs and criticized by politicians and religious groups for its inclusion of LGBT activists.
Nadia Gideon, a Malaysian activist, participates in the women's march on March 9, 2019, in Kuala Lumpur. “There are so many issues that were talked about, but the LGBT issues were singled out because our government did not have an answer on how to end child marriage or how to raise minimum wage,” she said in a Facebook post after the rally received backlash. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (RNS) — In solidarity with women around the world, several hundred people marched in Malaysia’s capital on Saturday (March 9) to mark International Women’s Day. The march, organized by activist groups and local nongovernmental organizations, demanded greater women’s rights and called for a ban on child marriage, an end to gender discrimination and a monthly minimum wage of 1800 RM ($650).
The women and men who marched in Kuala Lumpur on March 9, 2019, brought up various issues women face in Malaysia today, from sexual abuse and child marriage to poor pay. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
The crowd supported activists’ speeches at the women’s march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 9, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
But the focus on women’s issues was often overshadowed by a backlash against LGBT activists who marched for an end to gender-based violence and discrimination against LGBT in Malaysia, where same-sex relationships are outlawed both by civil and Islamic law.
Cat Brogan, right, a 34-year-old poet, held a sign refuting the Malaysian tourism minister’s contention that LGBT people do not exist in Malaysia. “Marginalized groups, be they women, disabled, indigenous, economic or LGBT, need to work together to ensure fairness for all,” Brogan said. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Shika, a transgender musician and graphic artist, performs at the women’s march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 9, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Participants rally during the women’s march in central Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 9, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the Malaysian Islamic affairs minister, deemed the event “a misuse of democratic space.” “I am shocked by the actions of a handful of people today who abuse the democratic space to defend practices that are against Islamic teachings,” the minister wrote in a Facebook post after the rally.
Many of the female-specific issues raised by participants in the International Women’s Day march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were overshadowed by the fallout over LGBT issues and involvement. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
The minister’s comment was backed by similar comments from representatives of PAS, a conservative Islamic political party in Malaysia, and United Malays National Organization, the party that ruled Malaysia for six decades until last year. Several Islamic NGOs and student groups also filed a police report against the march organizers.
The march is an annual event organized by several Malaysian nongovernmental organizations and community groups. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
This group listed its demands on its banner: End violence based on gender and sexual orientation; ban all child marriages; ensure women’s right to make choices over their bodies and lives; pass a dignified minimum wage; destroy patriarchy; and build genuine democracy. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
A guitar at the women’s march bore a handwritten legend, “Death to Patriarchy!” RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Organizers of the march called for “reason, restraint, openness and respect by all parties who are currently launching a campaign of hate and aggression,” in a statement released to the press. “A healthy democracy relies on full and equal participation by all levels of society. We remind the government that it is their duty to defend this basic principle, in particular for those who are marginalized in society.”
Members of a Malaysian anarchist feminist group display their flags at the women’s march. The group promotes ending patriarchy and gender-based roles. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Marchers carry signs at the International Women’s Day march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 9, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Many of the women’s issues raised by participants in the International Women’s Day march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were overshadowed by the fallout over LGBT marchers’ involvement at the rally. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu