A few days ago I participated as the moderator in a forum called Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM). This took place after our “Solidarity4AzmiSharom” rally in UM on the 10th September 2014.
The forum was one of the post-rally programmes aimed at creating continuous awareness on the selective prosecution of citizens in this country using the Sedition Act, as well as promoting the larger concept of academic freedom.
An interesting issue I raised to one of the panelists at the forum was the unequal representation between male and female elected representatives in the Student Union. Despite having a female majority population of students in campus this does not translate to the same number of female elected representative in the Student Union.
So what is deterring female student participation in campus politics and student activism? Could it be because of the male-centric nature in the history of student activism in Malaysia itself?
We heard legendary names of student activists such as Anwar Ibrahim, Hishamuddin Rais, Khong Kim Hoong, Syed Hamid Ali and others but where are their female counterparts?
If you remember a few years ago, Soh Sook Hwa, a female student activist from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) was charged for campaigning for Tian Chua, a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate in the 2004 General Election. She was fined RM200 by the university and she subsequently appealed to the Minister of Higher Education (now Minister of Education) but without success.
Soh applied for a judicial review of the university’s decision which went up to the Court of Appeal but was rejected due to the amendment of S15 of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) back in 2012. She failed to obtain leave from the Federal Court to pursue her appeal there. As such, her trial was brought to a halt.
Soh managed to graduate from USM and is now active with Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), continuing her strive for a better Malaysia.
I believe there is no shortage of talent when it comes to women participation in student activism or even student politics. What is bizarre is the number which does not tally when it comes to proportionate representation based on gender.
Is there a lack of media coverage on the activities of female student activism?
Personally I don’t think so because back in 2013 Bawani K.S became an overnight sensation after the “Listen Listen Listen” video got viral on social media.
Where is our Kak Listen today? She is now an elected representative in the Student Union of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) as well as the Youth Chief for PSM. Take that for Girl Power !
The media is not totally foreign in highlighting women’s involvement in politics. For instance, Emma Watson, the United Nation’s (UN) Women Goodwill Ambassador’s “game-changer” speech recently.
I can assure you I am no feminist (according to the average-man-on-the-street’s definition), so why am I advocating for gender equality now? The answer is simple. I firmly believe that the need for meritocracy and equality should triumph above all. The lack of media coverage on female student activism and student politics in Malaysia does not reflect this.
Perhaps, it might simply be a status quo issue originated since the time men start to walk on this earth. There is a stereotypical belief that women are inferior to men and are suppose to stay at home to cook and take care of the family while men are responsible for putting food on the table. This is probably why women are expected not to be bothered about things like politics or activism.
However that does not guarantee that men are perfect in every sense and immune from making mistake and being incompetent. The participation of more women in student activism and student politics would be able to provide a strong competition to their male counterparts. If a female student leader can do a better job than a male student leader, I see no reason why we should not replace the male student leader with his female counterpart. I can’t help but be reminded of Dato’ Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the almost would-be Mentri Besar of Selangor who did not qualify because she did not fulfill some criteria and someone else was appointed in her place. Let us pray that gender is not one of those criteria.
It is time for the old status quo in a male dominated society be changed to make way for a society that values meritocracy and equality encompassing gender, race and class. We definitely need more women in student activism and to hold positions as student elected representatives. If we can succeed in doing so we would be able to bring a whole new “game-changing” scenario to student activism and student politics. The “game-changing” scenario I meant is the empowerment of young female student activist to step up and increase their participation in student activism and student politics.
With young female leaders taking leadership roles in varsity level we will soon be able to see the same in society in general, be it in politics, business or government.
I write this article in the hope that it can change the perspective of student politics and student activism. The manifestation of Dyana-mania after the Teluk Intan by-election earlier this year showed us that young women leaders can be a breath of fresh air in the world of politics which is often related to dirty politics, character assassination and corruption. I think that student activism and student politics needs a new breath of fresh air too.
*The writer is the Secretary-General of Progressive University of Malaya.