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JAG Statement: Uphold Democratic Space for All (10 March 2019)
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Yesterday, more than a thousand people joined #WomensMarchMY, a peaceful rally organised by Malaysians in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

The rally’s demands were: (1) end all violence based on gender and sexual orientation; (2) ban all child marriages; (3) ensure our rights and freedom to make choices over our own bodies and lives; (4) ensure dignified minimum wage of RM1,800; and (5) destroy patriarchy and build genuine democracy at all levels of society.

Following the rally, videos and images were circulated online showing rally-goers supporting the rights of LGBT persons. This led to backlash from various quarters, including Minister in the Prime Minister Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa who reportedly said it was an ‘abuse of democratic space’.

We are disappointed with this backlash from the government and others from the ruling coalition – which puts into question the government’s definition of “democratic space”, and its commitment to democracy itself.

Civil discourse is the essence of a democracy. In a democracy, every person (and groups of persons) must be able to peacefully express their interests – to have a say in policies affecting them. This is one reason democracies must guarantee constitutional rights of individuals (democracies are not just majoritarian), including the right to peaceful assembly and expression, and equality before the law.

If we do not uphold the rights of certain group of persons – to the extent that individuals cannot peacefully express their interests – our credibility as a democracy is diminished. The government must guarantee “democratic space” for everyone. Not just for people the government – or even the majority – agrees with.

This applies to persons with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions – who face discrimination, violence, and other challenges and atrocities. And it applies to survivors of gender-based violence, women with disabilities, indigenous women, working-class women, women demanding better healthcare – and all the other women who joined #WomensMarchMY.

The Minister also reportedly said “it was up to the home ministry to take firm action against the organisers”. It was also reported that “police would call the rally organisers soon”. We view this step with serious concern.

We urge the government to stop harassing women human rights activists and peaceful protestors. Instead, we urge the government to reaffirm the rights of all Malaysians to peaceful assembly and expression, and to state how it plans to address the rally’s five demands.

We stand in solidarity with #WomensMarchMY organisers and participants, and with women around the world organising similar events.

Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
Justice For Sisters
Perak Women for Women (PWW)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Tenaganita
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)


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