LAST week, millions of people around the world marked International Women’s Day, while in Malaysia, a modest number attended #WomensMarchKL.
People commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8 for different reasons.
In the past, while living in Kuala Lumpur, I attended a variety of events, from talks to flashmobs. This year, I simply stayed at home and observed the march via the Internet.
If I had been in KL, I would have marched alongside all the inspiring women in my life – my mother, sisters, niece, friends and colleagues.
They have shown me three things: 1) The struggles of being a woman in a “man’s world”, 2) Their ability to persevere and rise against the odds stacked against them, and 3) That anything I can do, they can do just as well or better.
Most men will have seen the same things I noted above, but many have a different perspective.
All you need to do is go on Facebook or Twitter and look up that hashtag to see some really shocking and depressing thoughts being shared in the digital world.
There is no doubt that these people – men and women – do not see eye to eye with me.
I’m fine with this. After all, I’m a firm believer that everyone has the right to disagree with another person, and that there is value in diversity of views.
But this concept only works if people have the same respect for my opinions as I do for theirs.
When there is no respect, then there is bullying, judgement and hate. This is something that I was raised never to stand for, and I will speak up against it.
But this phenomenon of attacking those who disagree with you, or imposing your values on those deemed “weaker” than you, is not new.
History has shown time and again that this strategy has been used to help people maintain power.
Whether through colonisation, implementation of racist and nationalist policies, or not allowing women to vote – or drive! – these events are like broken records. And have taken or shattered lives.
But there has also been lots of good that have emerged – progress.
This progress comes in many shapes and forms. You see it in the women’s suffrage movements and the efforts to end slavery.
Multi-culturalism, so important to our Malaysian social fabric, is also a sign of this.
We now not only accept but celebrate inter-cultural relationships.
More people in the world are increasingly recognising the dignity of men and women irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identities.
The progress we enjoy now are the sum of parts of the contributions of all of man and womankind throughout time – from the man who discovered electricity to the women scientists who helped us get to space to the gay computer scientist who not just gave us the computer but used it to help win, and end, a war.
But with all these achievements, we must also remember never to take our progress for granted.
In some countries in the world, women’s place in society has regressed, people are discriminated against based on skin colour and cultural background, and science is being shunned.
Which is why, more than ever, it’s important for all of us to stand up, be heard and counted.
People stay silent for many reasons. But if you’re staying silent because you think things like this won’t affect you, think again.
If you’re staying silent because you’re scared, know that there are many who will stand with you.
The same way I will stand up for women each and every day of my life, and not just on International Women’s Day; the same way so many of them have stood with me my whole life.
After all, how do we progress further if we don’t let everyone – man or woman – be the best versions of themselves?
> Niki is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/news.