KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — As the country grapples with Covid-19 restrictions, women’s rights advocates have decided to improvise and move their annual International Women’s Day (IWD) march completely online and to be held virtually.
Dubbed the Women’s March KL 2021, this year’s instalment will take on a slightly different approach and would be driven by hashtags and posts on social media in place of the usual gatherings, speeches, and placards.
“With the current pandemic and conditional movement control order (CMCO), we are unable to organise the International Women’s Day march in KL which has taken place since 2017.
“However, this does not mean we cannot remain visible, vocal, and loud about our demands for gender equality and our human rights,” said the Women’s March MY KL committee.
A press release issued by the committee also encouraged those who can gather in small numbers to have a march of their own within their neighbourhoods, while adhering to physical distancing rules.
“You are also encouraged to share your demands with the Women’s March KL 2021 organising committee using the tag #WMMY2021 or #WomensMarchMY.
“If you are able to observe the SOP and still get together with your community and in your neighbourhood in creative ways, do it! Even if it means flying a flag (or your placard) from your window.
“Don’t forget to take lots of photos and tag us! Stand with us and make your voice count!” read the statement.
The organising committee also called on Malaysians to tag their fellow Members of Parliament, Federal Ministers, to break through and have their voices heard.
“So on 8 March 2021, we encourage everyone who wants to see gender equality and human rights as defined by the United Nations become a reality in this country, to be loud and proud about our demands and to contribute where you can to ongoing struggles.
“Let us use whatever means of communication to be visible and vocal in expressing what we want from our government, including tagging the minister or ministry in-charge, tagging media, and tagging your MP,” the group encouraged.
Additionally, as part of this year’s virtual march, the Women’s March KL committee also called on Malaysians to donate to causes they find worthy while revealing a special fund aimed at supporting the hard work of health care frontliners has been formed as part of this year’s programme.
“This year, you are encouraged to donate to any and all worthwhile causes you see fit, but we are making a special call for cash donations to support the hospital workers who are still struggling for their equal rights as workers to get wages owed to them according to the law,” they said.
Donations can be made to the KPSPSHKSM account in Public Bank, using account number 20806100057762.
The annual march has had its fair share of controversy over the years, with organisers and even some participants being subject to police investigations.
Some were probed for breaching public assembly rules, while a few were investigated for supposed sedition, particularly in 2019, with the probes later dropped.
In terms of their demands, the organising committee stressed that their seven requests from 2020 remain relevant today, asserting repeated violations of women’s rights and rampant abuse during the ongoing pandemic.
Among their requests include putting an end to violence based on gender and sexual orientation, a ban on all child marriages, calling for the right and freedom to make choices over one’s own body and livelihood, equal pay for work of equal value, and for the administration to legislate the Gender Equality Act.
The committee is also pushing for the government to declare a climate crisis exists and to formulate a national plan to mitigate its effects and for equal participation between men and women in the public and political circle.
These demands, the committee said, remain ever more relevant amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which they claimed has reared the discriminatory nature of the government and ‘state actors’ towards the rights of the people.
Abuses cited by the committee include incidents of sexual harassment by policemen at roadblocks, apparent neglect and failure by the Women, Family, and Community Development Ministry in prioritising the rights of women and girls, encroachment and deforestation of Orang Asli and Orang Awal lands, while also bemoaning the lack prosecution of against perpetrators of sexual harassment and blackmail.
“Most of all, we saw how our vote was ignored and the interests of a few trumped the welfare of the many.
“Instead of the government working for the rakyat’s welfare, we have seen greater efforts to tell us that we cannot give critical feedback to the negative developments we have witnessed in our country,” said the committee.
Creative alternative to keep tradition alive
Weighing in on the improvised rally, veteran women’s rights advocate and former head of the Women’s Aid Organisation, Ivy Josiah, said taking the rally online was a creative alternative to making sure the tradition is kept alive.
“Despite the pandemic, the online Women’s March is a creative way of keeping the demands alive.
“The organisers are creating a platform for everyone to be visible and loud in expressing what we expect from the state,” she said.
Josiah then related her experience attending the last March held in 2020, saying it was a vibrant and inclusive event that saw many younger men and women making their voice accounted for in their fight to end violence against women, demands which she said are ever relevant today.
“In keeping with the United Nation’s theme for IWD; ‘women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world’, the online march is a rallying cry to include girls and women in decision making as equals,” she said.
Josiah also expressed her wishes that Malaysians will be forthcoming and generous when donating to the fund for hospital workers.
Also commenting was Subatra Jayaraj, the former vice president and current ordinary member of the All Women’s Action Society (Awam), who lamented how the pandemic has managed to magnify any ill-treatment and violence against women, underscoring the need for greater awareness.
“We encourage everyone to come together in solidarity with the #WomensMarchMY, online or in your own creative ways.
“Our demands are now more important than ever in holding power to account and highlight women’s voices in the national Covid-19 response,” she said.
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