On October 23, 2008, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia issued a fatwa saying that tomboyism, where a girl behaves or dresses in what is seen as a boyish manner, is forbidden by Islam. According to the Council chairman, Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, this decision was made because – in their reasoning — young women who behave like men will engage in lesbian sex.
We, as Rakyat Malaysia, reject these views and wish to express our solidarity and sympathy with those affected by such painful bigotry and ignorance. This letter is a statement of our principled stand as the people of this nation, regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity, or political belief.
1. My Body My Choice
The fatwa is simply another attempt to control women’s bodies and how women express themselves. Each and every woman has the right to express herself freely, as does everyone else, as guaranteed under human rights standards our country is bound to fulfil.
2. Regressive and Impractical Policies
Telling a woman that she cannot wear certain types of clothing because she will look ‘masculine’ is an archaic notion.. Furthermore, who decides what is ‘masculine’ or ‘acceptable’ in society?
3. Discriminatory Stereotypes
Do we still tell women that they have to be ‘feminine’, quiet, demure and modest? We may as well tell women not to vote, that their sole responsibility is to take care of the home and raise their children! The fatwa is an example of how women continue to be subjected to discriminatory stereotypes of how they should look and behave. We believe that the authorities should not regulate the private lives of individuals. By continuing to perpetuate discriminatory stereotypes, how will we ever reach the government’s commitment towards equality between women and men?
4. Appearance is not an indicator of Sexual Orientation
A person’s outward appearance and his or her sexual orientation are distinct and separate. The Council’s views are based on outdated and ignorant stereotypes. A woman who has short hair and is stout and ‘masculine’ may be a married mother of two and a feminine woman may be a lesbian.
5. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual persons
The views expressed by the Council reflects a deeper discrimination against anyone who does not conform with what is considered ‘mainstream’ and also anyone who does not fit into a stereotypical heterosexual relationship. Everyone has the right to form loving relationships with the person of their choice, regardless of their sex and the sex of their partner.