Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What ails Malaysian women?

Beware the internet trolls

On March 8, International Women's Day, social media feeds were filled with posts in celebration of women and their achievements. However the internet is far from a "friendly" place for Malaysian women.

If comments and posts on social media serve as a mirror of the society that we live in, despite enjoying more independence and being successful at what we do, we remain "oppressed" by a deeply entrenched misogynistic culture.

In short, women in Malaysia are not respected and treated as equals - to this day. Several issues that flared up on social media over the past year serves as proof of the discrimination that women have faced, and will continue to face as long as patriarchal attitudes persist.

From the gymnast who was critised for wearing an outfit which showed the "shape of her vagina" to a retired senior civil servant and journalist who received threats for voicing out their opinions on Islamic laws, Malaysian women have not been spared from vicious sexist attacks by keyboard warriors’.

Gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi won six medals at the SEA Games, but what was supposed to be a celebration turned into a storm of controversy when a photo of her posted on Buletin TV3's Facebook page resulted in a barrage of comments on her "revealing" leotard.

While the criticism against Farah Ann can be described as silly and trivial, the criminal threats levelled against G25 spokesman Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin and BFM journalist Aisyah Tajuddin speaks of a culture where violence against women remains a serious issue.

Following a press conference where Noor Farida called for a review of Syariah laws on khalwat (close proximity), animal activist Sharul Nizam Ab Rahim threatened to break into her room and rape her in a Facebook posting.

In the post which has since been taken down by Facebook, Sharul Nizam said he wanted to break into Noor Farida's home, lie on her bed and "try" her. 

Based on the events of the past year, it appears that men become aggressive when faced with women who question cultural and religious norms. Take the case of BFM presenter Aisyah Tajuddin who appeared in a satirical video on the implementation of hudud in Kelantan. Internet trolls threatened to rape her, burn her alive or shoot her in the head. 

 So how should an independent, outspoken woman deal with social media bullies?

Making the internet a safer place for women is not the responsibility of a few; all of us have a part to play here.

 Make an effort to report abusive account owners to the social media administrators, the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

The authorities won't investigate until official complaints have been made.

In the case of Sharul Nizam, Facebook temporarily suspended his account after receiving numerous complaints and police said they would track him down after reports were lodged by several non-governmental organisations.

So the next time you come across such cases of cyber bullying, don't just be outraged, make an effort to take action! It's a long haul, but we will get there.