The Online Abuse Of Malaysian Muslim Women

In Malaysia, the online abuse of women is considered to be highly problematic. Particularly, Muslim women, face abuse online due to societal expectations placed on them. In a specific case, a 15-year-old Malaysian Muslim girl, who had shared her dream of becoming Malaysia’s first female prime minister on Twitter earlier in the year, faced online abuse for not wearing a hijab. She was forced to delete her account and seek help offline. Thus, it is argued that the cultural practice of conservative communities of minding your neighbour’s business is very prevalent. With that said, the cases of online harassment on social media, including on Twitter, has become more frequent as an increasing number of young Malaysian women turn to social media to discuss women’s issues. For instance, Maryam Lee, a 25-year-old Twitter user, also faced a great amount of online abuse, including threats to her physical safety, as a result of her deciding to stop wearing her hijab.

Juana Jaafar, a women’s rights advocate who followed the case of the 15-year-old girl, said that “we are seeing a trend where Muslim women [particularly Malay-Muslims] are targeted in a different way, especially when it comes to how they present themselves.” Furthermore, she added, “certainly if you have a Malay name, you become immediately visible.” Meanwhile, Maryam Lee said, “it’s not just about people not liking your views, it’s about people bulldozing your entire existence, your self-esteem.” She also noted that the abuse she faced intensified when she publicly identified as a feminist. To this, she said, “when you give language to a [movement] that questions the status quo, they get much more insecure.”

The issues that have been identified here are part of a larger body of issues that women face in Malaysia. Wearing too much makeup, wearing too tight clothes, or even being chubby may be viewed as crimes that can make women susceptible to gender-based violence. The extent of these types of issues is such that Dyana Sofya, an Executive Committee member of the centre-left DAP Socialist Youth Party, makes it onto the news in local gossip sites, where her clothes and appearance face criticism, unlike her male counterparts. As well, a Twitter user was victimized for having anti-patriarchal and pro-LGBT issues, along with refusing to comply with the image of what is considered to be an ideal Muslim woman in Malaysia. The women who have faced online abuse state that it has been done mostly by Muslim men.

With the issues that these women are facing online, it is important to acknowledge the impacts that such abuse can have on health. Despite not being physically hurt as a result of such abuse, there are significant mental health repercussions that are important to address in order to improve the health of those affected. Better strategies to target the sources of cyber bullying against women in Malaysia is important to implement at the greater policy level, along with challenging various conservative cultural norms, which may be encouraging hostile behaviours from some online social media users in Malaysia. The successful implementation of such measures may uplift the voices of those facing marginalization in online spaces, while protecting them from various harms, which can allow for a better online experience for women in Malaysia, along with more positive and broader discussions in those online spaces.