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Parliament Under Threat from a Skirt

Our right to enter Parliament is in danger. But it’s not from security threats or drastic policy changes — it’s from arbitrary bureaucratic rules.

Seemingly minor rules make it harder for Malaysians, especially women, to enter Parliament. This may not seem dramatic, but these rules create bigger obstacles for us to engage with our MPs.

Many of these rules fall under the guise of “security”, such as a rule requiring guests to register five days in advance of their visit. Yet, such rules hinder us from contacting our MPs at the last minute, or engaging with our MPs in other ways.

Even more concerning are the added barriers women face compared to men. Just a few days ago, Parliament security personnel stopped two representatives from Women’s Aid Organisation when they tried to enter Parliament for a press conference. The security personnel deemed their knee-length skirts as too short.

Both of these women frequently enter other government buildings, including courts. Why are the rules at Parliament so different compared to other public institutions? After all, Parliament is a public space, that rightfully belongs to us, the Rakyat. We are the ones who elect our MPs, and they simply represent us.

These arbitrary rules have prevented civically engaged women from participating in our democracy. And it’s not because they were threats to national security. Rather, it was because the security personnel judged their clothing to be“immodest”.

In this day and age, and in a nation that has signed international agreements to promote women’s rights, preventing women from participating in democracy based on their clothing is simply unacceptable. Parliament is already a heavily male-dominated space — only 10% of MPs are women. We must not further restrict women’s access to Parliament.

Parliament personnel must facilitate, and not hinder, our ability to enter Parliament and engage with our MPs. Barring a citizen from taking part in their fundamental democratic rights should be a last resort, done only when it is absolutely necessary to protect the safety of that democracy.

Parliament is not under threat from a skirt, and the potential danger of a visitor will not be decreased whether they give their name five days or five minutes before entering. There are various security measures that would keep us safe, but not hinder us from participating in the democratic process (maybe try a metal detector).

Democracy extends well beyond the voting booth, and it is our right to observe how our MPs debate and vote on our behalf, to engage with them, and to hold them accountable. This right should not be based on a hemline.

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