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Date [ 2015-02-28, 05:24 ]

This feisty lady continues to carve her own niche on the Malaysian landscape.

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) Ramani Rathir  = You have hit the headlines gain by being barred from giving a talk at a public university. So how did it go at the private college? Did the university students attend? What was to be your subject and why did it get you barred?

Actually I have been disinvited from speaking at public universities five times. Each time the students invited me and then at the last minute the administration of the university stepped in and told the students to disinvite me.

In this last case, when the students invited me, I told them of the previous cases and asked them to check with their university administration so that we wouldn’t waste time and effort on it. And sure enough….they were told they were not allowed to invite me. I don’t have the same problem with private universities however. I go and speak to them on many different topics, depending on what they want me to talk about.

Your columns in local newspapers too have been ‘spiked.’ Why do you think this happens?

When you look at how long I’ve been writing in the Star, over 20 years, I haven’t been spiked that much, maybe three times. But they’ve all happened fairly recently and almost always during the prelude to a general election.

You have been involved with AIDS for a very long time. How will you describe the current situation of AIDS worldwide and in Malaysia too?

I stepped down as President of the Malaysian AIDS Council almost ten years ago in 2005. So am rather out of touch with what is happening in the HIV world. If you were asked to describe your position as a Malaysian personality, how will you describe yourself?

Outspoken obviously. I guess there are so few Muslim women who speak like I do, so people think I’m an oddity. Hence the constant demonization of me.

You would like Malaysian women to be empowered – has this happened, if not how far more do our women have to go?

I think Malaysian women have always been empowered but not always legally literate. So the women’s groups in Malaysia have done much to make women here understand their rights in the law, and to push for laws that would protect women better. Obviously it has not been easy and part of the reason is the entrenched patriarchy which is not just part of the Malaysian male mindset but also the female. Many women do feel that religion says that women have a lower status than men. So our job at Sisters in Islam where I am a board member is to make women aware that this is not true and that religion is not the reason for it. In fact if we understood the Quran better, as well as looked at the history of Islam, women have not only led but have been praised for their leadership.

Based on this, do you think it is high time Malaysia had a woman as the next Prime Minister? If it can happen in Thailand and South Korea, why not here?

It is high time but it is not going to happen soon. One of the reasons is that we don’t have direct elections for the Prime Minister. Following the Westminster model, our Prime Minister is the leader of the largest party in Parliament. Getting to be party leader is the hard part.  The system is just stacked against us. It’s the same in the opposition parties. The only woman there is the wife of the party president.

Going a step further, will you now be entering politics? Or is it that you do not want to be labeled as ‘Like Father, Like Daughter’?

No, I’ve said it many many times, I’m not interested in entering politics. As I said the system is stacked against women. I’d have to be an independent candidate because I don’t want to join any party and independents don’t get very far. Plus I’m no longer young and I think entering politics needs energy. The only thing that might make me change my mind is if they brought back local elections. I wouldn’t mind being mayor of KL!

Malaysia seems to be coming more radical where Islam is concerned. Your comments?

I don’t know if radical is the right word but certainly it is becoming conservative. This is a product of politics more than anything. The religious bodies are getting more assertive and constantly trying to extend their powers beyond their constitutional jurisdiction. And nobody is jerking back their leashes so they are getting away with a lot. Only NGOs and individuals such as those in the G25 are raising the alarm about this, and facing censure because of it. The religious authorities actually think it is seditious to question them so anyone who criticizes them is accused of being anti-Islam, anti-Malay and anti-monarchy.

Transgender/cross-dressers – the heat is being turned on them. Again your comments?

Again this is politics. People think transgendered people are homosexual. They are not always but they are the most obvious ‘other’ group and therefore are so easy to pick on. But there has really been an increase in violence against them because Friday sermons and various preachers often stigmatise and demonise them and so they become fair game to the sort of people who like to pick on weaker people.

My stand has always been that, whether you like them or not, they are still Malaysian citizens and there is nothing that says they are not entitled to enjoy the same rights in our Constitution as anyone else. The Appeal Court ruling for the transgenders caught by the Negri Sembilan religious authorities affirmed their citizenship rights.

 Are you satisfied at where you now are or feel there is still more to be accomplished?

I’m never satisfied with where I am now, no matter how exhausted and fed-up I get with everything. There are many things I want to do but not everything has to be big or life changing. You have visited many countries, so how will you rate Malaysia as she currently stands, with any of them?

I still think Malaysia is a great country and most people are good decent people. If they were given more say, instead of the politicians and religious leaders who claim to speak for them, I think they’d be fairer and less judgmental. That’s the way most Malaysians have always been.

 Would you like to add anything?

I think that Malaysia is at a critical point in its history when it really has a choice of either becoming a forward-looking progressive country or regressing to become an inward-looking conservative country. I’m afraid, with poor leadership, we will, by sheer default, go backwards and everything we’ve all worked for all these years will be destroyed.


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