Stand with Ain

Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam is no stranger to Malaysians. She kickstarted the #MakeSchoolASaferPlace campaign that exposed patriarchal normative standards within the local education system.

Rape ‘jokes’, period spot checks and sexual harassment all became forefront discussions recently. Ain had also suffered from sexual harassment threats and cyberbullying alongside praises for her courage.

Among the numerous hurtful comments made towards the activist are about her appearance, her age, and of course, the age-old argument that feminism is a Western liberal ‘propaganda’ that is ill-suited for Malaysia.

A woman is no stranger to such criticism.

Various examples surface whenever a woman helms a key position in any industry – from politics (where the misogynistic and patronising bullying culture is most amplified) to sports and music.

This leads to a dangerous future for all Malaysians, regardless of gender. The most obvious risk posed to women is that it’s detrimental, both to their physical, and mental well-being.

Online threats can turn into real-life hate crime based on the discrimination of gender (e.g., femicide, stalking, sexual harassment and so on). Alternatively, it will affect the emotional well-being by imposing stress onto women, caused by the constant fear and anxiety from the public audience.

For men, it poses similar threats but in a different manner, where they are discouraged from showing behaviours that are ‘feminine in nature’. The constant pressure to act masculine would hinder them from speaking about the lived experience of sexual harassment towards them.

This socio-cultural bias would then undercut the efforts of criminal justice policies, by limiting remuneration; and social and administrative justice to women alone – when in fact, sexual and gender-based violence’s main causal factor is an imbalance of power relations as the perpetrator and survivor can be of the same gender group.

Furthermore, this dangerous cycle would continue to create a divisive and polarised culture among Malaysians. One faction belonging to “Western feminist propaganda”, and the other, from the “true Malaysian culture”.

If we insist on following distinct directions, gender equality will remain concentrated in certain areas of socio-economic standing, which can lead to survivors falling through the cracks.

I #StandWithAin, and I also want to pose a challenge for all Malaysians by asking if a future of divisive culture is what we want.

Are we comfortable with cyberbullying another of a different view when we cannot tolerate the same response for ourselves?

Can we honestly admit that when our mouths speak “equality and care for all”, we are saying, “but just for people like me”?

Do we stand on the side of change, or on the side that enforces harmful power relations?

If Malaysia were a jobseeker in an interview, what would be our answer to, “where do you see yourself in five years?”

Will Malaysia be a gender-equal nation?

Various women leadership conferences, commitments to international conventions and speeches are useful because they serve as a guide and expression of the need for accountability.

But for as long as Malaysian leaders, especially those in the Cabinet, do not express a collective stand on this issue so that we have a clear action plan, this nation will stand to lose more than it can count.

In the words of Amanda Gorman, in her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’:

“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.