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Malaysia’s Rampant Sexism Taints Its Government

Rape victims would have miserable lives without husbands, explained Malaysian Member of Parliament and former syariah court judge Shabudin Yahaya. In the same sitting, Yahaya suggested that these women marry their rapists.

“Patriarchy. Sexism. Rape Culture,” said an article for CNN – all words that describe Malaysia and its rampant culture of sexism that has gone unchecked for years.

The country’s ingrained prejudice against women goes as far up as Malaysia’s Prime Minister and Parliament. On countless cases, members have been quoted on record, in conferences, public events and parliament sessions, saying things that shamed women, blamed them for the high rates of violence that exist in the country and boasted on how they were essentially of lesser value than the man.

In a parliamentary debate in 2007, MP Bung Mokhtar Radin thought it completely appropriate to compare the parliament’s leaking roof to opposing MP Fong Po Kuan’s period. He proceeded with bullying comments to undermine her stance, saying she leaked every month. The response from attending members of parliament? They laughed along.

At a town hall meeting a few months prior, in response to a young woman’s inquiries on his efforts to reduce street crime, Malaysian Minister of the Federal Territories Tengku Adnan chose to both objectify and victimize the women instead of answering the proposed question. In terms of women’s safety on the streets, Adnan replied, “It’s because you’re so beautiful. The next time you go out, wear shabby clothes.”

The source of Malaysia’s persistent problems with misogyny, despite the overwhelming amount of voices going against it, could be the encouragement of sexism from major Malaysian leaders. A CNN article commented on this incident specifically, saying that this message and those plentiful like it, send “[a] signal to the masses that it is the fault of the victim for being attacked. This is wrong and has to be called out for what it is.”

In April of this year, despite the legal marriage age in Malaysia being 18, former Syariah Court judge and MP Shabudin Yahaya objected a proposed ban on child marriage during the tabling of child sex abuse laws. As reported by CNN, he said that 9-year-old girls were mature enough and that 12-year-old and 15-year-old girls with the bodies of 18-year-olds were “physically and spiritually mature.” These comments came shortly before his rape comments.  

The only backlash in response to these comments came from mostly women and some female MPs of the total 23 seated in parliament, reported CNN.

Having only 23 women MPs out of 222 MPs, a mere 10 percent, sets a clear precedent for the types of inequality that floods all levels of Malaysian society.

In terms of Malaysia’s misogyny problem, bullying, victim blaming, rape culture and blatant sexism, not only make for unequal and anti-progressive environments, but they are also a major reason why large numbers of women in Malaysia don’t participate in Malaysian government, politics and leadership roles.

At a press conference, non-governmental organization, Perak Women for Women’s (PWW) vice-president Sumathi Sivamany said, “As long as we have gender biases, Malaysia won’t move along. [Women] will continually be oppressed and if it worsens like how we are seeing in recent days, we will simply regress instead of progress.”

“Why can men get away with such sexist remarks? Because they hold the power. Malaysia has the dubious distinction of scoring highest in the Hofstede Power Distance Index. In other words, Malaysia is the country in which the least powerful members of society most accept and expect the unequal distribution of power,” said CNN, “This means leaders can say anything knowing they will most likely not be challenged.

“You see this in Parliament, in the workplace and on social media,” said reporter Animah Kosai. In Malaysia, this inhabilitating sexist culture taints all societal institutions, including the home.

The solution, as proposed by CNN? In such a drastically sexist society, in order to enable change, men need to step up too, and New York Minute Mag agrees.

“When there is big imbalance between the genders, misogyny thrives, Kosai said, “We need male champions for gender equality.”

Featured Image by Khairil Yusof on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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