ON the topic inspirational women, I present to you not one, but three: Heidy Quah Gaik Li, Clare Rewcastle-Brown and Valerie Azure.
Heidy and Clare were born in Malaysia while Azure, a Russian, was stranded at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at the start of the pandemic.
These women were helping various communities in Malaysia, but soon fell foul of the authorities. They became targets for cybertroopers and trolls on social media. They were threatened and faced countless rounds of questioning by the police.
By chance and not by design, these women have helped the local communities instead of waiting for assistance.
Their success have brought to the forefront much awareness of the Government’s inadequacies, and have highlighted issues which Malaysians were hesitant to discuss or didn’t even know existed.
Rather than working together to resolve the problem, the authorities overreacted. They attempted to silent these women with bully tactics and loopholes within the law.
The reasons for their insecurities are obvious. The shortcomings of the system had been exposed.
Some ministers and heads of departments probably felt humiliated, that three women had managed to expose their failures and accomplish so much with limited resources and funding. For the officials, reputation was important.
Heidy Quah Gaik Li
Malaysian-born Heidy founded a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Refuge for the Refugees to provide education for refugee children when she was 18.
In June 2017, 27-year-old Quah received the ‘Queen’s Young Leaders’ medal from Queen Elizabeth II in London for her work with refugees.
Throughout this pandemic, Quah, through her NGO, has fed around 50,000 people.
However, all hell broke loose in July 2020, when she described on Facebook the deplorable conditions, the beatings and the deaths in refugee detention centres.
She shared the experience of a refugee woman who had just given birth. There was a shortage of milk and diapers for the baby, and sanitary pads and private space for the mother.
Quah was vilified on social media; insults were hurled at her, her race and her family. She was also told that she should hang herself.
Her reason for highlighting the alleged mistreatment was not to shame anyone, but because it was important that the refugees are treated with dignity, and we that we must show more compassion, more humanity and less hatred.
On July 27, 2021, a year after her Facebook post went viral, Quah was charged in a magistrate court for writing about the alleged mistreatment of refugees at the Immigration detention centre in Putrajaya.
The authorities deemed the post offensive and insulting to others.
Rewcastle-Brown is British but was born in Sarawak.
The investigative journalist was very concerned about the environmental impact of large-scale deforestation, and the destruction of diversity from oil palm plantation.
These activities threatened the indigenous population of Sarawak, the wildlife which the jungles support and exposed the rampant corruption which the former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his cronies have perpetuated.
When her attention turned to 1MDB, the disgraced Najib Abdul Razak and Jho Low in the world’s biggest corruption scandal, Rewcastle-Brown’s life was changed.
She was followed in the streets of London, her website was blocked and various Malaysian individuals tried to sue her in an attempt to silence her.
She was banned from Malaysia and cybertroopers have even threatened her. These efforts failed and when Pakatan Harapan won in GE14, Rewcastle-Brown’s ban from Malaysia was overturned.
At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic last year, governments all over the world closed their borders in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease.
Russian Valerie Azure and her young son were returning to Thailand when they were stranded at KLIA because Thai borders were closed.
Ten days later, Azure was given leave to remain in Malaysia and helped friends distribute food aid to an Orang Asli community in Tapah.
When chatting with the village head, Azure was told about the challenges they faced. This prompted her to volunteer to teach the children of Pos Woh.
The generosity of the expatriate community in Kuala Lumpur enabled Azure to secure lorry loads of donations such as books, computers, toys and furniture.
With these, she established an educational centre at the community hall in Pos Woh. The villagers, and especially the children, adored her for making learning ‘fun’, but back in the headquarters of the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA), or more importantly, in Putrajaya, the Minister of Rural Affairs was fuming.
Without any funding, Azure had put the pathetic efforts of the ministry and JAKOA officials to shame, although that was far from being her intention.
Ultimately, it’s all about face.
These three women have done nothing but help people, but their motives were misunderstood, and they faced ire from the authorities.
And at the end of the day, all we can do is lend them our support by continuing to expose the truth and highlighting their efforts on social media. – July 30, 2021
Mariam Mokhtar is a socio-political commentator.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Photo credit: Mariam Mokhtar photo by Sin Chew Daily