Orang asli speaks up at Asean Women’s Forum

Orang asli speaks up at Asean Women’s Forum
Fatimah speaking to an international audience at Wisma MCA in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR - She was a petite orang asli woman from Pahang who could not speak a word of English but the international presence at the ASEAN Women's Forum did not intimidate her.

Fatimah Bah-sin, who belongs to the minority tribes of Semak Beri and Semai in Kuantan, went up to the microphone and addressed the crowd.

"Maaf, saya tidak boleh berbahasa Inggeris. Tetapi saya nak bertanya jika wanita orang asli di negara lain mengalami masalah sama seperti saya.

"(I'm sorry I can't speak English. But I want to ask if indigenous women in other countries face the same problem as I do)," she asked the crowd.

Wearing an orang asli headgear, Fatimah said she did know there was such a thing as women's rights because being from a village, she did not have access to information on women's issues.

"But interacting with the NGOs, I now know a little bit about women's rights.

"I want to fight for my right," she said to rousing applause from the participants in the hall.

Fatimah's speech was translated into English for the convenience of the rest of the participants.

Her courage earned the admiration of panel speaker Carla Natan from Indonesia who said: "You just did it, you speak. That is your right. You don't need people to tell you your right."

Speaking to The Star later, Fatimah - who has studied up to Form Three - claimed that the indigenous women were being denied their rights to own land.

"All the rights are given to the men when according to our adat (tradition), our rights are equal.

"The current system is making it hard for us indigenous women.

"Our lands are taken and we are not compensated well for our loss," said the mother of five.

This is the first women's forum held in conjunction with the ASEAN People's Forum, an annual conference that started in Malaysia 10 years ago.

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