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Twitter Is a Battleground for Muslim-Malaysian Women

A 15-year-old Malaysian girl was forced to delete her Twitter account and seek help for emotional damage after being attacked on social media for expressing her dream of becoming the country’s first female prime minister. A number of the criticisms aimed at her were for not wearing a hijab in her post.

Juana Jaafar, the women’s rights advocate who followed the girl’s case, says this instance is just one of many that displays the way Malay-Muslims are specifically targeted for the way they dress in public.

“We are seeing a trend where Muslim women are targeted in a different way, especially when it comes to how they present themselves … Certainly if you have a Malay name, you become immediately visible.”

Jaafar believes that it is Malaysian culture, rather than Islamic beliefs, that encourage such scrutiny. “There are hadiths that talk about respecting privacy,” she says.

A similar example of online violence occurred when Maryam Lee, a 25-year-old Malaysian woman, decided to quit wearing her hijab. She says the harassment was much more than just an inconvenience.

“It’s not just about people not liking your views,” she says, “it’s about people bulldozing your entire existence, your self-esteem.”

Things only got worse for Ms. Lee when she publicly identified herself as a feminist.

“When you give language to a [movement] that questions the status quo,” she says, “they get much more insecure.”

Another Malaysian Twitter user, Nalisa Alia Amin, was harassed for expressing her anti-patriarchal and pro-LGBT views.

“People who couldn’t stand my views have attacked my appearances, especially my body since I’m on the chubby side,” she says.

BBC News reports that users would “zoom into hyper pigmentation on her thighs and plaster those screenshots across social media, or post her photos next to an animal for comparison.”

Unfortunately, the insults have no limit. Another girl, Arlina Arshad, was abused further after she publicly expressed the way her harassers had led her to thoughts of suicide. People called her an “attention seeker” and went so far as to say that “even if stabbed, you couldn’t go past her fats [sic]”.

There are currently no laws in Malaysia that protect women from online violence, a phenomenon which continues to proliferate. Its perpetrators are protected both by anonymity and by governmental agencies that encourage similar censorship.

Still, every day there are brave young girls who take to Twitter to express themselves through the hordes of hate they encounter – and nevertheless, they will persist.

Featured Image by Vin Crosbie on Flickr

Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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