JAG: Aiyoh, Mind that Language Lah!

Posted on 15 April 2013

Read the original article on The Star



Aiyoh, mind that language lah



Spotlight on politicians who say the darndest things about women.

I LIKED it.” On its own, this statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin is as innocuous as can be.

However, taken in context along with his comical gawking face, uncharacteristically different from his usual bland, stoic expression it is easy to see why it has angered some feminist human rights campaigners.

Putin was responding to the topless protest by Ukranian women's group Femen, whose members, with obscene messages painted on their bodies, blitzed him at a trade fair in Germany last week.

To their fury, he had quipped, “I did not catch what they were shouting, I did not even see if they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired ...”

When it comes to sexist gaffes, politicians sad to say are a great source.

It is no different in Malaysia. How can anyone forget the bocor remarks made by one of our own politicians in 2007?

In a heated debate over some leaks in the roof of the Parliament House, a male MP taunted a female MP with a suggestive “Mana ada bocor? Batu Gajah pun bocor tiap-tiap bulan juga (Where is the leak? Batu Gajah leaks every month too).”

Last year, while deliberating on an environmental issue, a male Selangor state legislator goaded his fellow assemblywoman with “Jangan sampai terlupa jaga hutan kita sendiri (Remember to take care of your own forest).”

As politicians prepare for their ceramah trail this general election, women's group coalition Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) have taken it upon themselves to highlight some discriminatory statements and actions by our public figures throughout 2012 with their annual “Aiyoh, What Lah?!! Awards”.

And it goes without saying that with women making up half of the over 13 million registered voters in the country, it will be good for the candidates to mind their language and remember not to repeat these offensive boo-boos.

The Aiyoh, What Lah?!! Awards comprises an online poll featuring seven categories: “Foot in Mouth”, “Insulting Intelligence”, “Policy Fail”, “Cannot Ignore”, “Least Helpful to Sisterhood”, “Enough Already!” and “Right on Track”.

For ‘Policy Fail’, one of the nominees is Kelantan’s gender segregation policy, which saw a woman hairdresser fined for cutting a man’s hair in a salon in Kota Baru. — FilepicFor ‘Policy Fail’, one of the nominees is Kelantan’s gender segregation policy, which saw a woman hairdresser fined for cutting a man’s hair in a salon in Kota Baru. — Filepic

The nominees were culled from public statements, actions and policies reported in the local media between Jan 1 and Dec 31 last year which, tragically, gave the selecting committee a sizeable challenge to shortlist.

As theatre actor and director Jo Kukathas who will return to host the Awards ceremony on May 26 puts it, “Clearly the nominees take pride in being the laughing-stock and making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Let's not deny them the recognition' that is their due.”

This is the second year for the awards, which is aimed at raising awareness on not only sexism and misogyny, but also homophobia and transphobia.

In the inaugural award last year, Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali snatched the “Insulting Intelligence” award for his statement: “Extramarital affairs are caused by wives who neglect their responsibilities to their husbands.”

This year's top contender is also marriage-related: “Pakatan Rakyat is like a gay marriage where one doesn't know who is the father and who is the mother,” uttered by Batu Pahat MP Puad Zarkashi.

With LGBT prejudice grabbing our headlines last year who can forget the V-necked guideline monster that became all the rage? (which, by the way, is also a nominee but for the “Enough Already!” award) Aiyoh, Wat Lah?!! also takes the opportunity to highlight the statements that perpetuate these discriminatory sentiments.

Other headline-grabbing award contenders are “I don't sleep with my son. I am not gay” and “Women are easier to bully and tackle ... They always like to bring lots of money in their handbags. That is why they are attacked ...” for the “Foot in Mouth” category.

For “Policy Fail”, a nominee is Kelantan's gender segregation policy, which saw a woman hairdresser fined for cutting a man's hair in a salon in Kota Baru.

The municipal council explained that this was due to a ban on unisex service imposed to prevent any unhealthy interaction between sexes.

The “Cannot Ignore” category, meanwhile, spotlights the plight of eight women workers from Guppy Plastic Industries fighting their unfair forced retirement in 2001.

But giving it a run for the money is another gender discrimination offender, a high court judge who overturned the conviction of a kindergarten operator accused of raping a four-year-old child, on the basis that the victim's testimony was unreliable: “... even if she is an adult ... women have a tendency to exaggerate about a sexual act.”

The recent death of Britain's first woman premier Baroness Margaret Thatcher may have re-invoked the “Least Helpful to the Sisterhood” debate there; her comment “The battle for women's rights has been largely won” riled the women's rights brigade there when she made it in 1982, but there are still many firing up the same storm here.

Taking on some of our own female leaders for downplaying the gender discrimination faced by women on a daily basis, the awards see the nomination of this, among others, unfortunate statement: “Some women prefer to become senators instead of elected representatives, simply because of the less work that comes with a senatorship.”

Ultimately, it is not only the negatives that will be given the limelight.

The “Right on Track” award will give credit to where it's due, with the Dewan Rakyat's amendment to its Standing Orders in November last year prohibiting MPs from making sexist remarks, in the lead.

Rivalling it for honours are the appointment of two women judges to the Federal Court, and the first woman mayor (for Petaling Jaya) in the country.

“We thought it was also important to recognise positive statements and actions, as well as the individuals and institutions that took the progressive steps,” notes Yu Ren Chung from Women's Aid Organisation, one of the member organisations of JAG.

“These nominees (for Right on Track) are extremely encouraging to us, and we hope that highlighting them at the Awards will serve to encourage others as well.”

> Nominations are open for public voting until tomorrow (April 15). To check out the full list of nominees or to vote, go



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