Who won the prize in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday? Was it the education minister who warned teachers and parents how to prevent ‘cases of LGBT’ in schools? Or the judge who fined a transgender woman for ‘dressing in women’s clothing and having feminine mannerism’?
Neither of these incidents were in fact recognised by the inaugural Aiyoh… Wat Lah?! (a Malaysia expression of disbelief) awards – not because they don’t fit the award criteria, but because they happened this week, not in 2011.
At the award show on Sunday at the Annexe Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Ribena Berry (aka actor and writer Jo Kukathas) gave prizes in seven categories to ‘public examples of misogyny, sexism, homophobia and transphobia’ that happened last year in Malaysia.
The awards are a refreshing dose of irony in a country where NGOs to organize an ‘anti-LGBT’ rally, the government suggests banning gay characters from TV and politicians call for gay ‘rehab’ centers to be set up.
‘These outrageous comments have always been there,’ Smita Sharma, programme officer for All Women’s Action Society, one of the groups who organized the awards, told Gay Star News.
‘We thought we need a more creative way of reaching out to the media and the public [other than press statements]. We’re just saying, look, this is ridiculous. It’s a bad, bad joke. And one with horrible implications for women and others who are discriminated against on a daily basis.’
In the Insulting Intelligence category nominations included the claim that homosexuality is unconstitutional because it goes against Islam by de facto law minister Nazri Aziz.
‘While the Constitution may recognise Islam as the religion of the federation, this does not mean that something that is perceived as un-Islamic is unconstitutional,’ corrected the judges under the banner the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality (JAG). ‘Furthermore, there is no law in the country that criminalises homosexuality per se.’
But the winner in that category was the words of MP Ibrahim Ali who attributed the high rate of extramarital affairs to ‘wives who neglect their responsibilities to their husbands’.
The Policy Fail category ‘awarded’ not just words, but action. It was won by a state-run boot camp to ‘cure’ teenage boys of effeminate behavior.
The awards weren’t all about negative examples. The Right on Track category celebrated a progressive decision by a (female) judge which set a precedent for protecting women’s rights in Malaysia.
High Court Judge Zaleha Yusof ruled in July 2011 that the sacking of a woman purely because she was pregnant was discriminatory and against the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
‘You never expect that someone is going to make such a progressive ruling,’ said Sharma. ‘It was wonderful. Everyone was just elated and thinking – there is hope in our courts! It set a precedent because this was the first time someone said that Malaysia ratifying the CEDAW convention makes the treaty binding for the Malaysian government. This compels the government to recognize this standard of rights for women.’
In second place for the Right on Track category was unexpected statement from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism that condemned the police ban on the sexual minorities Seksualiti Merdeka festival in November 2011.
‘This was really really important,’ said Sharma. ‘At a time when so many anti-LGBT statements were made, to have a religious body say that any kind of hate speech or any kind of attempt to curtail right to freedom of assembly is unacceptable, was really amazing.’
Sharma says it’s too early to say whether the Aiyoh… Wat Lah? awards will become an annual occurrence. What is sure is that there is already plenty of material in 2012 from politicians. She said:
‘Just last week this one politician said, and I quote, “I don’t think beautiful girls will want the indelible ink [from voting] to mar their pretty hands or nails. How are they supposed to paint their nails afterwards? They might not even want to meet their boyfriend’s after voting. They might not even vote. Women should rise up and protest against the implementation of indelible ink.” As far as I’m concerned, that is already the winner of the Insulting Intelligence category.’