I am a Malaysian woman who benefited from feminism and I contribute to this nation along with my other female counterparts in our daily roles as mothers, daughters, women with careers and businesses, volunteers and forming roughly 50% of the fabric of this nation.
Published: 26 November 2014
I was brought up by my grandparents in this tiny little town in Penang. My grandparents emphasised education during my formative years, and never once was I subjugated to gender-based discrimination when growing up. With the exception of helping out with the dreaded task of putting those curtain hooks in during Raya, (apparently this is a female-specific task), I received the same treatment and support that my brother had from my family.
I have always had access to my Atuk’s library of books. While my grandmother was never formally educated, nothing gave her more joy than hearing of the excellent results her grandchildren were getting at every stage of our education. She would scold us if we didn’t do our homework, and cook for us her famous rendang with pulut kuning when any of us achieved straight As or graduated with honours; often also cooking enough to donate to the local masjid.
In short, my grandparents and parents did not clip my wings simply for being female.
I shudder to imagine if the reverse was true, of a parallel universe where I am treated differently just because I am female, where I have no right to vote, or receive education besides the traditional roles of cooking and providing for the household.
Where I would be escorted everywhere I go by a male muhrim; where I am not allowed to drive, to work, to have a career, to earn a living; where I would to be married off the minute I reach puberty, at the tender age of 9 years old, to an elderly man whom I have never met before in my whole life.
To have marital relationships with this man at an age where I barely have enough on my chest to fill up a bra! To be forced to have children simply because that is my role: that the definition of my worth is how I please my husband and how many sons can I bear.
Note that I say sons, as girls are just a burden to the family until they can be married off for a specified amount of dowry. That is, of course, dependent on how her physical appearance conforms to what is wanted by the society.
In some societies, fairness and a good hip is applauded; in others, one needs to be skinny. And always, always a virginity check is the utmost important aspect to determine the purity of the bride and the honour of the family. But what scares me the most is in this parallel universe: I cannot read nor write. I would miss out on all the beautiful works by Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Harry Potter; never mind the exciting discovery of science with works by Watson and Crick or Curie, Barré-Sinoussi and other notable female scientists.
In this parallel universe, Malaysia as we know now it technically cannot exist, as 40% of the voters in the 1959 election were ethnic Malay women. Malaysia as a country would lose 50% of its capacity for the workforce, mainly teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, NGO leaders, activists, to name a few. Worse, education at home is non-existent, with the mother not able to educate her children simply because she herself cannot read or write. What kind of society would we see then?
Thankfully, that universe is not a reality.
Malaysian women had always been inspiring both at the national and international stage in fields as diverse as public health, HIV-AIDS, advocacy for human rights, and nanotechnology. When I was growing up, the Malaysian economy had always been synonymous with Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and women leaders were aplenty on the world stage – the names Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto told that young girl in Penang that she can aspire to be that scientist she always wanted to become, because, hey, she can be anything she wanted to be.
I am grateful for feminism. I am grateful that I was and am allowed the same equitable rights to education; to vote for my country; to expect equitable wages and healthcare; and social, economic, and cultural rights. I am a Malaysian woman who benefited from feminism and I contribute to this nation along with my other female counterparts in our daily roles as mothers, daughters, women with careers and businesses, volunteers and forming roughly 50% of the fabric of this nation.
Imagine how wonderfully successful this nation can be if every single person is given those same rights? Shouldn’t that be a utopia we all should strive for? – November 26, 2014.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.