Persecution of Ambiga Sreenevasan, Maria Chin Abdullah and female detainees are signs of a state that preys on women

Ambiga Sreenevasan

BERSIH 2.0 has been an inspiration to me both as a woman and an activist. I am amazed by the amazing resilience and courage women of Malaysia are capable of. BERSIH 2.0 is led by the illustrious Ambiga Sreenevasan, former Bar Council President and Maria Chin Abdullah, a formidable women’s rights activist. Both have proven time and again their commitment to making Malaysia more democratic and fair. However, I have also become greatly alarmed by the persecution of women and blatant gender discrimination practiced by the state. These have become very apparent in the BERSIH 2.0 crackdown where the state is the principal perpetrator of violence against women.

Ambiga and Maria have been vilified by mainstream media and male politicians through vicious attacks to their reputation, gender and ethnicity. Nevertheless, they have emerged stronger and garnered the support and respect of fellow Malaysians. For instance, the Deputy Prime Minister in his speech on 4th July 2011 ordered Ambiga to call off the rally before her audience with the king. This clearly reveals male dominance and an assumption that women should adhere to the advice and orders of men. In the case of Maria Chin, her organization was subjected to political targeting by the police who fabricated links to communism by producing a poster of Shamsiah Fakeh as evidence. Fakeh’s contribution to this nation is immeasurable but she has often been evoked as the “other” who was capable of great chaos and destruction. The same insinuation is made of BERSIH 2.0 by the ruling government which is predominantly male.

The same parallels can be drawn in the manner male voices are projected above the female voices. The mainstream media has been a hand-maiden of the state in suppressing the voices of Ambiga and Maria. Their statements are often misinterpreted and undermined in order to give credence to louder male voices. On the other hand, Home Minister Hishamuddin is often quoted by the same media issuing threats and warnings to silence any form of challenge to the authority of the state. Unfortunately the same space and attention is not available for Ambiga and Maria, their voices are relegated to alternative media which has a small circle of influence.

Finally, I would like to highlight the mistreatment and abuse which have been inflicted upon the female detainees of the BERSIH 2.0 crackdown. There were accounts of the female detainees being ill-treated by policemen as reported in a Malaysiakini article when they had to change their clothes in the presence of male police officers and subjected to physical violence. These women were denied of their dignity and rights as women and political detainees. Increasingly, the targeting of the female body and subjugation to male authority are prevalent in the BERSIH 2.0 crackdown.

This does not augur well for the majority of the female population Malaysia which is still ignorant of the state’s insidious design on women. Women cannot speak out against injustices or stand up for democracy because they are violently silenced when they do. Women need to become aware that the state does not have our best interests at heart and we cannot allow it to act with such impunity. It is time for us to tell the state, that it has to stop preying on women!