BY ANISAH SHUKRY
The Malaysian Insider
MAY 25, 2014
The smear campaign against DAP’s Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud highlights the sexism endemic in Malaysian politics.
In Parliament, men outnumber women by almost 10 to one. A female representative, whether in Parliament or a state assembly, has to fight sexist perceptions of her marital status, looks and dress.
DAP vice-chairperson Teresa Kok said she once argued in Parliament for the rights of single mothers, only to be interrupted by an MP who reminded the Dewan Rakyat that she was unmarried.
“They said I was single, not qualified to make comments on the issue of single mothers. And being a single woman in the eyes of some Umno MPs is akin to being a second-class citizen. They run me down, treat my status as a joke,” the Seputeh MP told The Malaysian Insider.
In Parliament, only 23, or 10.4%, out of 222 MPs are women, falling far behind Putrajaya’s target of 30% female participation in Parliament.
The figures are out of sync with demographics, where females make up 49.3% of the population.
The lack of female participation in politics gives rise to sexist remarks and heckling from the male-dominated assemblies.
Kok, 50, said that her single status became fodder for her opponents the moment she was first elected in 1999.
“When I first became an MP… I was teased constantly for being single.
“They would throw all sorts of remarks at us in Parliament, about our clothing ‘menjolok mata’ (eyesore), being unmarried,” said Kok.
At the last Parliament session in April, Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Moktar Radin took offence to Kok’s outfit, which he said was inappropriate because he caught a glimpse of her knees.
He tried to raise a standing order in Parliament and complained to the speaker: “The skirt reaches the knees, I can see the knees, how can this dress be allowed?”
Kok said she dealt with the sexist attacks by either fighting back or shrugging them off.
“I either ignore them or I fight back. There is no way for us to run away. Even if it doesn’t happen in Parliament, you see all this on the Internet.
“I am immune to them. After some time, you get used to it,” said Kok, adding that she could no longer recall the many sexist incidents.
She also said the smear campaign against Dyana and the constant reference to her looks would not die down should the young candidate be elected on May 31.
“I understand that her personal (telephone) number is out (made public) and she is facing a lot of harassment. I have gone through all that she is experiencing.
“As long as you want to be a public figure and society is not mature and has no respect for privacy, this is bound to happen,” said Kok.
Bukit Lanjan assemblyman Elizabeth Wong concurred, but said that sexist remarks were less prominent in the Selangor assembly, where female representatives comprise 25% of the assembly – the highest female participation in any state assembly in the country.
“Unlike Parliament, the Selangor state assembly has many women and that helps a lot in tempering those with an urge to utter sexist remarks, because the men know everyone will pounce on them,” said Wong.
She said in 2012, BN’s Batang Kali assemblyman Datuk Mohd Isa Abu Kassim was fined RM1,000 for making a remark on her “forest” during a debate session in the state assembly.
Isa had told Wong “not to forget to take care of our own forest” during the debate, sparking outrage among his peers. He later apologised for the comment.
But sexism was still rife, said Wong.
For instance, PKR Selangor’s entire executive council is made up of women, which has provoked sexist comments.
“People say, ‘oh, don’t tell me there are no men in PKR Selangor who are good enough’. But you don’t hear that type of talk when there are only male representatives,” said Wong.
“We women have to prove ourselves time and time again that we are capable of doing our jobs. There is a huge burden on us to prove ourselves.”
Wong said even in her party, “local leaders” were resistant to the idea of fielding female candidates for elections.
PKR has three female MPs: Fuziah Salleh (Kuantan), Zuraida Kamaruddin (Ampang) and Nurul Izzah Anwar (Lembah Pantai).
In last year’s PKR congress, Pahang representative Murnie Hidayah from the Srikandi wing, who contested and lost the Paya Besar parliamentary seat, complained about the lack of support for women from the party central leadership.
However, Wong said the PKR leadership was “sensitive” to gender representation and the party’s constitution stated that women must occupy 30% of posts at the local and national levels.
“But the sexism that the Teluk Intan candidate (Dyana) is facing is horrendous. She’s still a young woman, but everything under the sun is thrown at her,” added Wong.
Dyana, 27, became the victim of an online smear campaign when her face was superimposed on a bikini-clad Filipino actress and the picture went viral.
Yesterday, the DAP claimed to have found fake bikini photos of Dyana around Malay villages and even in a mosque in Changkat Jong.
Political analysts said the smear campaign was a concerted effort to undermine Dyana’s “Malay-ness” and depict her as not being true to her roots.
But at a recent ceramah in Teluk Intan, even Dyana’s political allies trumpeted her looks to drum up support from voters, according to media reports.
This prompted Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to remind voters that the by-election was not a beauty pageant and urged them to choose a leader with experience who could serve the constituency. – May 25, 2014.