April 7, 2016
Congrats to Nisha Ayub–A Person of Courage
by Azrul Mohd Khalib
There are many descriptions and faces of courage and bravery. This week, we add a new one to the long list with the recognition of Nisha Ayub, one of 14 women from around the world to receive recognition as a recipient of the US Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.
The last person from this country to receive the award was Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan in 2009.
Nisha faces the constant threat of discrimination and persecution simply for existing as herself. Once imprisoned for three months, she suffered and endured sexual abuse and humiliation while in detention. She has also survived sexual assault in prison. Her story, like those of many other transgender persons in our country, is filled with much heartache, pain and horror.
But despite it all, Nisha has persevered and instead drawn strength from her experiences to become a human rights defender and advocate for the transgender community.
She has come a long way to becoming the first person from this community to win this prestigious honour. It’s an immensely proud moment for those who work in the Malaysian human rights field, particularly those championing the protection of sexual minorities. I am privileged to know and count her as a friend.
Her example reminds us of the need to acknowledge that it is our right to be responsible for our own bodies, to be free from discrimination, violence and injustice, and to be respected for who we are, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, class, ethnicity or beliefs.
The abuse and humiliation of transgender persons during arrest, detention and imprisonment continue to occur. There have been incidences of serious physical assault, extortion, humiliation, trauma and even death. Many have lost their livelihoods as a result of harassment and prosecution. We are too often quiet and are more accepting of these circumstances. Why is that?
Hearing some of their stories and sometimes seeing the results of the assaults and abuse, is often hard and not for the faint-hearted. Even worse is when many of these acts were committed by those filled with religious zeal and moral righteousness.
For too long, injustice towards people like Nisha has been committed, tolerated and even accepted.Are we not concerned? Do we not care? Is there a veil of silence when the rights of sexual minorities are violated?
The Malaysian Federal Constitution contains the fundamental guarantee which exists to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Yet the reality is very different.
Continued selective and institutionalised persecution based on what is worn by those who are transgender, have violated and deprived them of their rights to live with dignity, to have freedom of movement, to earn a livelihood and to have equal protection under the law.
They often suffer from the fact that even stepping out of their homes to earn a livelihood, socialise or go to places of worship, could result in their arrest, detention and prosecution. Worse, is that their very existence has been denied and criminalised.
Nisha reminds us of the need to have platforms which encourages open discussion, dialogue and debate. Silencing such discourse is equal to ignoring the existence of sexual minorities and wishing them away by closing our eyes, plugging our ears and keeping our mouths shut.
Silence solves nothing and if there is anything to be ashamed about, it is our continued inability to discuss the issues of sex and sexuality as mature adults.This must change for all our sakes.