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

Malaysia women's march meets disapproval from religious, political authorities

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


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The crowd supported activists' speeches at the women's march in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 9, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

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.

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


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

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.

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."

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


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.