Media Statement by the Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera, Syerleena Abdul Rashid in Kuala Lumpur, 9th October 2023:
Emphasis on gymnast attire exhibits patriarchal values
The recent incident involving Muslim women gymnasts in Terengganu and the continuous appointment of men to oversee women’s affairs in the all-male state government of PAS highlight a pressing issue: the need for more female voices at decision-making levels in Malaysia. It is a matter of profound concern, as the situation raises significant questions about the fairness and effectiveness of policies that impact women’s rights, particularly when it comes to issues such as dress codes and personal freedoms.
For the sixth year in a row, the appointment of a man to oversee women’s affairs in PAS-led Terengganu is not just perplexing but also disheartening. It sends a clear message that the perspectives and concerns of women are not given the priority they deserve. It calls into question the legitimacy of policies and decisions that affect women when the very leaders responsible for these matters are overwhelmingly male.
In PAS-ed Terengganu, where female role models in positions of authority are notably absent, the implications are far-reaching. Young girls, who often look up to leaders and decision-makers for guidance and inspiration, are left without prominent female figures to emulate. The absence of women in these influential roles can inadvertently reinforce stereotypes and restrict the aspirations of these young girls.
It is deeply concerning that women who dare to pursue their athletic dreams have faced such backlash. The derogatory comments and public scrutiny they endured are not only disrespectful but also demonstrate a lack of understanding and empathy.
The recent incident involving the gymnasts should serve as a wake-up call for society to be more accepting and respectful of individual choices. The toxic culture of criticism only deters women from reaching their full potential and this is the path our country must not succumb to. By fostering an environment where women can pursue their passions and careers without fear of criticism, Malaysia can move closer to realizing its full potential as a progressive and inclusive nation.
In light of these concerns, it is imperative for states like Terengganu and the broader Malaysian context to rethink our approach to women’s affairs and leadership. The importance of female role models cannot be overstated. Beliefs and aspirations are profoundly influenced by the examples set by those in positions of authority. Therefore, it is essential for young girls to see strong and capable women in leadership positions because these role models can instil confidence, inspire ambition, and challenge societal norms.
In a country as diverse as Malaysia, representation matters. Having more women in political leadership positions can help in shaping policies that promote gender equality and protect individual freedoms. Perhaps, if PAS-led Terengganu had women representatives to offer their perspective on policies, the outcome would have been very different for our female gymnasts. Since 2019, Terengganu has banned female gymnasts from participating in Sukma, citing concerns about their attire not adhering to Shariah standards. The disproportionate emphasis on clothing choices unmistakably exhibits patriarchal and misogynistic values, a deeply disturbing trend that must be called out and confronted.
The nation and likeminded Malaysians must stand firmly united to advocate for increased representation, and guarantee that women possess an equal say in crafting policies that impact a nation. Actively promoting and appointing more women to decision-making roles is not just a matter of equality but simply a statement of commitment to progress. By showcasing women who have shattered glass ceilings and defied expectations, we can empower the next generation to do the same.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID
MP BUKIT BENDERA