GE15: Women candidates soldier on in the face of sexism, lewd comments and harassment

KUANTAN: Just a week into campaigning for the 15th General Election (GE15) and some women candidates across parties are facing sexist, misogynistic comments and harassment from both the public and fellow politicians.

From comments on their appearance to belittling their abilities as effective leaders, such barbs against women have appeared across social media platforms.

When Wanita Umno information chief Datuk Norshida Ibrahim voiced her disappointment at the party's failure to field 30% of women in its line-up for the 15th General Election (GE15), some social media users made sexist remarks asking if she was "anti men" or "anti d***".

Another posted a meme in response to her statement, which said: "Woman talking", followed by an image of a volume dial turned down to zero.

Also targeted was Pakatan Harapan's Permatang Pauh candidate Nurul Izzah Anwar.

On Thursday (Nov 10), Twitter user @MaxTweetLimit commented on her tudung in a tweet that got a lot of attention from users.

"Nurul Izzah's Tudung Awning (sic) is never symmetrical and I think that is actually her trademark every day (sic) appearance. She'll do it proper (sic) when needed, of course," said the tweet, followed by four photos of examples of her asymmetrical head covering and one in an official photo when it was done “symmetrically”.

Although @MaxTweetLimit was called out by Twitter users for the irrelevant comments, many who came to her defence still focused on her appearance – that she was pretty whether or not her scarf was symmetrical.

Only a few focused on her abilities as a leader and her track record.

Kuantan incumbent Fuziah Salleh was also on the receiving end of lewd, harassing comments.

On Wednesday (Nov 9), during a livestream on her social media platform, a user told her, "You are old. Just stay at home and play with your man, makcik. No need to bother trying to be minister."

Fuziah's campaign staff lodged a police report and the Pakatan candidate said she was all right with it if people did not like her but she would not accept being harassed.

In another viral video shared on TikTok and Twitter, PAS central election director Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor could be seen belittling women as being incapable leaders during a speech.

"I don’t mean to look down on muslimat (women) but when you have constituents calling you at all hours of the day – in the day, at night, in the early hours of the morning – with all sorts of problems ... can women handle this? At 3am?

"We can only imagine a woman getting up at that hour with her hair all over the place," he said while laughing.

Muhammad Sanusi is also Kedah Mentri Besar.

Many netizens criticised Muhammad Sanusi's comments, calling him out for being sexist and labelling his comments inappropriate.

"It is women who can get up at 3am. We are the ones who wake up to feed our babies, change their diapers, look after them when they are sick at all hours of the day and night.... But when it comes to her being a YB, suddenly a woman is incapable? Why?” asked Twitter user @najwa_faizal, who goes by the handle LittleMissFarah.

User @airforground said: "PAS too has fielded several women candidates. So what is he saying about his own party’s candidates who are running?"

User @aidadiduuu said: "I don’t know what's so funny. People run to go to Parliament, make better policy frameworks to help the people. It's not only about waking up at 3am. Really shallow thinking here," she said.

Women's rights activist Meera Samanther said such comments were "a dangerous trend" that needed to be called out by politicians and citizens alike.

She also said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) must take action against such gender-based violence online.

"Sexist and misogynistic statements contribute to a larger political culture which dissuades many women from being involved in politics. As many as 127 women will be contesting parliamentary seats in GE15. It is time they are taken seriously,” she said.

"Patriarchal culture remains and has dictated for such a long time, in Parliament and out of Parliament. This dangerous trend needs to be called out by netizens and candidates.

"Candidates should not keep quiet. They must stand up and support their running mates. At a time when our tanah air is in political flux, both rakyat and leaders should be more concerned about the capabilities of the candidates rather than their sex or tudungs.

"MCMC must also play a role in being more proactive in preventing and addressing online gender-based violence," said Meera, who represents the Association of Women's Lawyers.

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