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What if they were our daughters?

By Nadia Gideon.

Illustration by Veshalini Naidu

Two young women, with hopes and dreams and bright futures ahead of them, were whipped and shamed yesterday for attempting to have consensual sex.

As a mother of two, I am outraged. I am fuming.

I have a bold and outspoken daughter who speaks her mind. She fights for those who are bullied, especially women and marginalised communities. In a world where women already have so much to contend with — less pay, less scholarships, less investment in their businesses — I decided I was going to be the kind of mother who would ensure that my daughter could stand on her own two feet, financially as well as emotionally.

So I encouraged her to speak out and become a loud and proud woman. Some would say I am a bad Mom. But I am proud that I was able to give her an education. I am proud that I encouraged her to travel alone, to stand up when she was being bullied, to fight back when she was knocked down. Does she know what it entails being a Muslim woman? Absolutely. Does she know her rights as a woman? Absolutely. Will she be able to read the Yaseen and take care of my funeral arrangements when I am no longer here? You bet!

Yet, everyday of our lives, we have to battle with male views and what men think is best for a Muslim woman. Every day, strong, bold women are being persecuted because they dare to go against the grain, because they dare to voice out their feelings and speak up for others. And this is what I fear most. I wanted to prepare her for the dangers that might come from living in a misogynist society, but I fear for her still.

Politically motivated

There are politically motivated reasons behind the caning. I believe this with every fibre of my being. As the new state government, this political party decided to use the harsh and brutal punishment of caning to make a point. They know that the Malaysian grassroot consists of mostly Muslims and that if they are to prepare for the next elections, they need the support of these voters. They need to show voters in their constituencies that they are doing their jobs as promised. They know that if the current federal government make a stand against this, it would be political suicide.

But they are wrong. IN every sense of the word ‘humane’, they are wrong. It is wrong to think that whipping and humiliating two women because they were attempting to have consensual sex would be an example to others in their community. These archaic and barbaric laws have been repealed by developing and developed countries because they are inhumane. All the caning is going to do is to cause young people to be too afraid to be themselves. They will withdraw from society and this could cause them to develop long term mental health issues.

Women are being dealt the harshest of punishments by the state while Muslim predatorial men are defended by the same people.

When a man decides to marry a child bride, are they thinking about this small child? She’s 9, or 11, or 13, scared, unaware of what her future is going to be like. She has no idea that she is going to be forced into sex, she’s going to be physically and psychologically abused, and her parents are not going to be there to protect her.

They are not thinking about the outcome for her. Why? Because they are too busy trying to make everyone see how legit it is for the man. They are looking up phrases and teachings from the Quran and the Hadith to ensure his safe passage into heaven. So that he may live his life guilt free, knowing that he has every right as a Muslim to keep acting out this perverted act on a child. They are looking out for him. Not the minor, not the sweet young child. How can this be good for both the child and the man?

So yes, I believe it is different for women. Not in the Quran, but in how it is being practiced in this country.

It is our fight

For those of us who think this does not affect us or it’s not our fight — I am afraid you are mistaken. These incidents are happening now. We might choose to ignore the signs. But do not for one second think this does not affect us. We have children, nieces, nephews, grandkids, friends’ kids, who might face these harsh laws in the near future. These girls were caned for only attempting to have sex. What next? These things escalate very quickly.

What if it happens to our daughters? Our bold and outspoken daughters, who decided to speak out, or were caught kissing their partners. If we let this go on, we might be inviting a more severe form of Islamic rule such as Hudud law into our homes in the not so distant future. And then it will be harsh punishments for almost anything.

And who are these people? Are they worthy of their positions? Are they appointed by the masses? I can’t answer this. And that scares me. I hope it scares you. Because, whatever your moral stance on this issue, caning two young girls in public with more than 150 watching is just merciless. It is physical and psychological abuse that may leave permanent scars.

I am also sick of people thinking there are options, pointing out what to do, how it can be done but never really doing anything about it, never actually speaking out. Keeping silent even though they know it is wrong for two women to be humiliated in such a way. That’s OK, don’t rock the boat. They are afraid the world will think they’re ‘gay’, or ‘pro-gay’. I get it.

But no, not really. I’m sorry, I don’t get it. I am sorry if this upsets you, but the truth hurts in all the right places. I am hoping that the hurt aches enough so that we awaken from this stupor, from this ignorance and at least… at the very least, I hope it starts to make us think.

If the victims are Malaysian, if they are young people with bright futures ahead of them, then it IS our fight! It has nothing to do with race, colour, creed, religion, sexuality, gender or age. It is everyone’s fight. This is not just a minority’s issue. This is about being humane, being civilised. This is about making a stand so that governments and states stop using women to make political statements. We should not allow it. Not now not ever.

There may not have been bloodshed when we gained independence from a kleptocratic government, but there are emotional scars and wounds that may never heal. This wound will not heal. Not for these young women. Not for me or any mother who feels for the safety of her child.

I am afraid this is not the time to celebrate Merdeka. We are far from being independent. Until and unless we learn to stand together as a nation against such cruelty, we are not a team. We are not New Malaysia until we learn to stand up for those who have no voice.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Nadia Gideon is a lobbyist and government relations specialist. She loves diving and sailing and sometimes she puts on her activist suit, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.