The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) condemns the racist, colourist and sexist remarks made by Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim against Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto in Parliament on 13 July.
Abdul Azeez was and is at all times free to disagree with Kasthuri’s views. Members of Parliament interrupt each other regularly, and this is always acceptable if done within civilised and regulatory bounds.
However, Abdul Azeez made what could be described as deplorable personal attacks against Kasthuri, suggesting that she could not be seen because of her skin colour and that she should apply “white” powder in order to be visible.
Malaysians are constantly told to tread delicately around the issue of racism. On 13 July, we witnessed firsthand its unfortunate offshoot, colourism, rearing its ugly head. Colourism is discrimination based on one’s skin colour that generally privileges lighter-skinned individuals over those with darker skin.
For centuries, dark-skinned people have been told to whiten and bleach their skin in order to fit in or be accepted, access opportunities and simply be seen and heard. Colourism sometimes intersects with racism and sexism. It can be perpetrated within a race as much as against another race.
This is not the first time that JAG has observed personal attacks against women MPs made by male MPs that are rooted in much larger issues such as sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, gender inequality, as well as ageism.
The duty of MPs is to debate the issues raised by fellow MPs and to safeguard the interests of the rakyat in the course of these debates.
When a male MP makes personal attacks against a woman MP, explicitly or implicitly, and gets away with it in Parliament, it sends a very loud message that Parliament accepts the bad behaviour of male MPs with impunity. A mere retraction of such statements does not address how such remarks continue to shape a negative perception and attitude towards female MPs.
We call upon further disciplinary action to be pursued against Abdul Azeez. His remarks were not only deeply and personally offensive against Kasthuri. They are a slap in the face for all Malaysians who believe in the equality of persons regardless of race, colour, age or gender.
Parliament must not allow any semblance of racism, colourism and sexism in its proceedings. To treat these with impunity is to betray our vote.
Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
- Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
- Justice for Sisters (JFS)
- Knowledge and Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (Kryss Network)
- Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
- Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)