Kuala Lumpur – Tha emergence of the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ of DAP (Democratic Action Party) comprising Dyana Sofya, Syefura Othman and the latest one, Melati Rahim have become the source of much debate and criticism among Malaysians.
The move definitely made people sit up and take notice, but whether this will translate to votes in the next generation remains to be seen. This is because DAP has always been stereotyped as secular anti-Islamic, anti-Malay and perceived as a chauvinistic Chinese party. The ‘Charlie’s Angels’ phenomenon suggests the complete opposite of this long held stereotype as young Malay women in their twenties started announcing themselves as DAP members in the past few months.
Starting with Dyana Sofya, 27, who immediately caught people’s attention as a ‘baju kurung’ DAP member and even competed in the infamous Teluk Intan by-election on May 31 this year, in which she was defeated with only the smallest of margins. That was undeniably an impressive performance by a young political debutante.
Not long after that, 25 year old hijab girl, Syefura Othman attracted media attention as well with her decision to follow the footsteps of Dyana into DAP’s fold and gained immediate access to a public platform for her politics.
And last month, the issue became even hotter as niqab activist, Jamila Rahim or more popularly known as Melati joined Dyana and Syefura, further stirring the media storm and raising many questions as well as causing a controversy mainly because of her appearance.
Can this move have a significant impact on the Malaysian political arena? From a baju kurung girl to a girl wearing a hijab and then, a girl wearing a niqab, we can see a deliberate strategy to propel them into the public’s eye, and in doing so add a new dimension to our political climate.
Why are they seen as traitors for the Malays? Is DAP changing their ideologies? How would DAP’s grassroots support react in the face of such a drastic departure from their political image? Is this political marketing in a new milieu? Is this cheap publicity to attract the people and voters? They are selling their faces aren’t they? And many more questions have been raised.
Why not for a moment we put aside all those questions and look at this phenomenon from a positive
perspective? We can start by focusing on the courage of these young Malay women.
Why do we need to respect their courage?
In Malaysia, 51.7% of the voters are women. However, there are only one woman minister and six deputy ministers in the cabinet. The share of Malaysian women in parliament, at 9.9% is lower than the global average of 18%.
In October 2012, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak claimed that Malaysia did not need women’s organization as women are already empowered. However statistic suggests the opposite. In UMNO, MCA and MIC, many women leaders have been either marginalised or scandalised. This trend also happens on both sides. Another problem faced by women in Malaysian politics is the tendency use of personal attacks against them when they are being targeted politically.
For years now, Nurul Izzah has been targeted to be ‘brought down’. Previously women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was also tainted by the National Feedlot Centre corruption scandal. MCA dropped its most prominent woman, Ng Yen Yen, while the MIC did not field any women for parliament. Rafidah Aziz finds herself now stationed in Kuala Kangsar, while disgraceful leaflets ridiculing Teo Nie Cheng’s new motherhood role and breast feeding had also surfaced. Even the recent case of Wan Azizah’s treatment in the Selangor MB issue is another proof about the obstacles, be it cultural, social or religious, faced by Malaysian women in the political arena.
Is our country still stuck in politics rife with sexism?
Malaysian women in politics have always endured numerous personal accusations and insults being thrown at them. The same goes for the three new faces of DAP, who have endured more than their fair share of personal attacks, unheard off for their male counterparts, all this in their debut year in politics.
DAP MP Gobind Singh Deo mentioned that the personal criticisms are too cruel.
“They are cruel and being sexist towards these new faces. It is an insult to women”
Dyana Sofya considered it as an emotional attack towards the gender; everything that they display, even their choices and decisions are singled out and ridiculed if we look closer.
Regardless of which political party you are rooting for, you need to accept the fact that society is changing, or to be fair, change is the only constant as we progress as a human civilization. Intolerant beliefs and attitudes must stop.
We can also view what is happening positively. The three ‘angels’ represent courage and strong characters and such presence will inspire more bright, young Malaysians to join the political arena regardless of ethnicity and political background.
There are plenty of women who are intelligent, educated and beautiful in their own right. Why don’t we give them space and let they perform on a proper platform for the sake of a better nation? Fresh ideas will emerge and who knows the country will develop for the better.
Sexism and gender discrimination seems to be a permanent fixture in our local politics. We need to change the mentality for good. We need to construct more progressive attitudes towards women in public life and the society, not bring them down by personal attacks.
As far as I am concerned, we do not have the right to insult others but indeed we have our rights to choose our paths and demonstrate our opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. So just give them some space to breathe.
‘Come on women, rise to the occasion’- Syefura Othman
Among the three DAP women, Syefura Othman or Rara is the one who has strongly expressed her interest for women welfare and calling on women to be more vocal.
“It is not about fighting for the rights and power for women, but we want women to be more vocal and not just sitting at the passenger seat,” she said to MalaysianDigest.
When asked about her lifetime membership on joining DAP, she said that the party presents a positive platform for women in politics. She did not rule out that the party provides better opportunity for her to blossom as a political figure in the future. In addition, with joining DAP, both herself and DAP can make a difference in the political setting.
The 25 year old Setiawan-born woman agrees that it is hard for Malaysian women to enter the political arena in Malaysia.
“Therefore, we need to seek the best opportunity that is available and know what we are doing.”
She also mentioned that the things that she took into consideration before joining as a member is the stability of the party and also what the party promotes, which is to fight social injustice.
Rara is known for her involvement and contribution to society and her desire to work for people as she is active with ‘dapur jalanan‘ and Solidarity Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM).
Besides joining community outreach activities, the former nursing student has her own treatment centre, AMH at Puncak Alam, which she manages with her siblings.
If Dyana Sofya said she is influenced by her family to join politics, while Melati said that she joins politics because of her own interest, Rara is the combination of those two. Perak-born Rara was attracted to politics since young and also because of the influence of her family.
When asked about whether she is sees herself as more Malaysian or Malay, she swiftly answered that she is more Malaysian. It is one of her ambitions that she wanted everybody especially in a multicultural country like Malaysia to unite.
As mentioned above, Rara’s main objective is to call for women to be more vocal and fight for women welfare.
“I want to be the one who trigger women to rise and inspire them to be more vocal.”
In relation to that, she regarded men as important allies as she supports the HeForShe commitment by UN Women Solidarity Movement which suggests that men and women have equal access to social, political and economic opportunities.
“Men and women need each other. The thing is I just want the voices of women to be heard.”
This is in line with what Wan Azizah once mentioned in her case study which is regarding women in Malaysian politics. She mentioned that women played an important and active role in any major social or political reform, therefore sensitizing them to become more active in participating in the country’s social, economic and political issues is crucial.
About withstanding criticism and insults, Rara said that she is entirely ready and up for it. She has managed to overcome the obstacles so far which makes her more confident to strive forward.
“I am confident that I can convince people and so far I am satisfied with my action plan.”
At the moment, she is polishing herself to be a writer and aiming to be a good speaker and a thinker in the future. Her idol is Pakatan Rakyat’s leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim because of his intelligence as a speaker and as a thinker.
Before ending the interview, Rara managed to speak out her hopes and ambition.
“Give us the chance and space to prove our abilities and achieve our ambitions. I hope more women will enter the political arena.” – MD