Every year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign either introduces a new theme or continues an old theme that focuses on one area of gender inequality.
Why do we need 16 days of activism in Malaysia and why should we care? After all, don’t women have equal opportunities here?
Because in 2019, girls as young as nine (maybe younger) are being married off in Malaysia. Despite years of public outcry and the issue making the headlines time and again, seven states in Malaysia refuse to ban underage marriage.
Because Malaysian women are still unable to pass on their citizenship to their children in the same way Malaysian men can.
Because women are still being told what they can and cannot wear.
Because marital rape is still not regarded a crime in Malaysia.
Because domestic violence continues to be a scourge in our society and far too many people think it’s a family affair. It’s not. It is a manifestation of dangerous notions that a man has a right to hit his wife or that the victim must have done something to provoke her attacker.
We need to keep talking about gender inequality because even though close to 60% of degree-level graduates are female, women in Malaysia still earn less than men for doing the same job.
Women still face discrimination in applying for jobs and also at the workplace and activists are lobbying for laws that protect their rights (to be accorded the same opportunities as men) in the workplace.
In the World Economic Forum Gender gap survey 2018, Malaysia was placed 101 out of 149 countries – below the global average.
We scored well for education attainment between genders but were placed 84 in economic participation of women, 83 for health and survival, and 131 for political empowerment.
We have made gains over the years, much credit to the various civil society and women’s groups which have pushed if not demanded for change.
These dissenting voices have pushed for laws that safeguard women and children’s rights.
But there’s much more to be done and we need to stand together to demand that every citizen, regardless of gender, has equal right to life. That children are protected and older persons too.
Inequality has to be addressed and fought against because it’s the root cause of violence against women.
As long as men perceive women as lesser than them, they think it’s their right to bully and brutalise them.
Doing nothing would be to trivialise violence and condone inequality. And we Malaysians are better than that.
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