Malaysian activists are often unsung heroes who work tirelessly to shape our legal, political and cultural landscapes – and Ivy Josiah is someone in that league.
Ivy is an acclaimed women’s rights activist, and a key pioneer of the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). She served as a teacher for 12 years before transitioning into the powerhouse women’s rights worker that she is today.
In conjunction with the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival (YSDAF), WAO will be hosting an interactive gender equality workshop during the festival finale this 18 & 19 August 2018 at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac).
What is Ivy’s proudest moment in advocating women’s rights?
Ivy started working with WAO as a volunteer, before eventually serving as its Executive Director for 19 years. She felt strongly about the cause because of her personal experiences of discrimination as an Indian woman.
“You want to change the system, you want to change the law. So it was a gradual awakening for me: from approaching it as charity to realising this is rights-based.”
One of Ivy’s proudest moments of her career includes the passing of the Domestic Violence Act (1994) after lobbying for nine years. When nothing was being done two years after that, Ivy and other activists demonstrated against the delay in gazetting the Domestic Violence Act. Another career highlight she brings up is her work in ensuring that the word “gender” was included in Article 8 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution in 2001.
What needs to happen so that women’s rights in Malaysia can be further strengthened?
Ivy says our culture is a significant barrier to advancing women’s rights in our nation. As such, she believes that enhancing our education system will be a stepping stone towards educating the public on women’s rights and acceptable standards of behaviour towards the female community.
“No matter what you have in the law and policy, it’s going to be very difficult if you don’t change [people’s] mindset and thinking.”
Ivy adds that structural changes – such as combating poverty; training educators to stop making sexist or racist remarks; increased access to data related to women; and ensuring various ministries in the government take ownership of the matter – are also essential to ensure that women’s rights are preserved in Malaysia.
What is the role that both men and women can play in protecting women’s rights?
Ivy is as bold as she is blunt with her proposition: men need to start sharing their rights and power with women. She believes that men are crucial allies in championing women’s rights, and that men can do this simply by holding one another accountable to just and respectful behaviour.
“Can we stop saying, ‘3,641 domestic violence cases this year’? Instead, can we say, ‘3,641 male perpetrators’? We need to switch it up. We need to talk about the perpetrators.”
As for women, Ivy urges the community to take ownership in acquiring knowledge related to their rights. For starters, women can be actively involved in women’s rights work, speaking up about issues related to women, and creating support systems for one another. She is confident that having the courage to create and to be part of a movement will be a powerful force in advancing women’s rights in Malaysia.
Join WAO’s Gender Equality Workshop on 18 & 19 August from 2:00PM – 3:00PM at Studio 2 of klpac to learn more about gender equality in Malaysia. To find out more about Women’s Aid Organisation, visit www.wao.org.my.