EARLIER this year, I was out with my wife and a friend when we saw two men smoking in a restaurant. My friend, a young woman, approached them and asked them to put out their cigarettes immediately. The two men seemed offended at being confronted by a young person and initially refused. But she stood her ground until they reluctantly complied.
Not only was I extremely proud of what my friend did, but I also began to wonder why I couldn’t be more like her and be able to call out wrongful acts and injustices when needed.
I am also inspired by Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, who rightly called out her male teacher for joking about rape during class. While the teacher’s actions were morally appalling, Ain’s revelation would not be shocking to many women and girls in our country. This is the same country where our male parliamentarians can make unpardonable sexist and sexually offensive remarks against their female colleagues.
In July last year, a man posted an Instagram video where he blamed rape survivors for causing the sexual assault on themselves through their clothes and behaviour. At the time the video was made, he was a teacher in Kedah.
We are also still outraged by the exposé that female students in this country have long been and are still subjected to the utterly disgusting and dehumanising practice of period spot checks, especially in boarding schools.
For her righteous act in exposing her male teacher’s conduct, Ain, who is still a minor, has been threatened with rape, called Satan’s spawn, subjected to cyberbullying and is now in danger of being expelled from her school.
These are the reactions of certain members of our society against her for refusing to normalise jokes about rape.
Ain reminded me of my friend, and both have inspired me to reflect on having the courage to do the right thing. I am embarrassed that a 17-year-old student was willing to put the security and normalcy of her life on the line in order to speak up for what is right. Now, because I strongly believe in what she is doing, I am showing my support for her via this letter.
I would not have done this in the past. Of course, I would be angry at the injustice, but I would just express my thoughts in private discourses because I did not want my life to be negatively affected.
Ain and my friend have shown me that I, too, can be brave and stand up for what is right.
We need to get all parents, teachers and our educational institutions (from the bottom to the top) to be gender sensitive. We need to inculcate gender sensitivity in our children so that they will not tolerate or normalise any jokes about rape, rape apologia or gender discrimination.
We have to also start shaming leaders who are sexist and sexually offensive. We must elect only those who are role models and can show exemplary behaviour for our society.
This is a huge task but it is not impossible. We just have to be brave and start somewhere.
AMIR AZFAR SHAHIDAN