Despite having to weather all sorts of criticisms, Faridah Khalid has persisted in her work to uphold values such as justice, accountability, unity and respect among Malaysians.
WHEN Datuk Faridah Khalid became a founding member of G25, a Datuk asked her: “You support LGBT?”
The group of prominent Malays came together not long after the Court of Appeal ruled in November 2014 that criminalising cross-dressing was an unreasonable restriction of a person’s freedom of expression.
The activist replied to the Datuk that she works with that community and also with other marginalised groups, including people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
“I told him that if he had never been on the ground, he should not be judgmental,” she adds.
Faridah thinks the Datuk has changed his mind.
“Whichever group I am talking to, I try to change this very judgmental attitude, which is found even among the educated.”
She was on holiday in Lombok, Indonesia, when Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin called in December 2014 to invite her to help set up G25 to call for a review of syariah and civil law and recognition of the supremacy of the Federal Constitution.
“I said yes right away,” she remembers. “What G25 is doing is an extension of what I was doing.”
In addition to a career in teaching, public relations, publishing and marketing, Faridah has volunteered with the National Council of Women’s Organisations since 1978.
She was planning to give up her post as deputy president of NCWO when she was invited to join the G25 founders, but she has stayed active with NCWO and now heads its Security and Violence Against Women committee.
She is an executive council member of Pink Triangle and a committee member of the Standard Chartered Paediatric AIDS fund in the Malaysian AIDS Council.
And she is thankful for her childhood in rural Perlis. Studying at Stella Maris, the Christian Brothers’ primary and secondary schools, left a longstanding impression on her. She also attended the Main Convent school in Ipoh.
“My two best friends in Stella Maris were Chinese and the Chinese lady across the road from my house in Perlis was like a mother to me,” she says.
“I even had a Chinese name, Ah Siew. My younger sister speaks Cantonese and Hokkien.”
G25 and NCWO share the same values and vision, she notes. NCWO works towards “a just society free from discrimination in which women at all levels enjoy equality through the promotion of their human rights”. Its shared values are commitment, unity, accountability, justice, empowerment, transparency, peace, respect, collaboration and integrity.
“What G25 is doing is all about bringing back peace and unity,” says Faridah, who also served as an alternate committee member on the National Advisory Panel on Unity for three terms.
“We should give space for engagement with people of different races and religions. We can disagree but we can disagree nicely, diplomatically.”
At the time G25 was formed, she remembers, people were saying things like, “If you are not a Muslim, don’t interfere,” and recently someone even said, “If you want to comment, convert first.”
But G25 emphasises the beauty and justice of Islam, she says, “and Perlis mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin in his talk to G25 emphasised that we must never do injustice to non-Muslims.”
She knows Asri through her brother as they are close friends, and she acts as the link between G25 and Dr Asri and his group. “Asri is one of those whom we can refer to if we have any problem.”
When G25 organised a forum to mark its first anniversary, Faridah brought in Asri as a speaker.
“Afterwards, people were misquoting the speakers on Facebook and social media,” she recalls.
“I was accused of being anti-syariah and anti-Islam. It was very stressful for me but we all had to respond to the postings. We had all the materials and I provided the links to them.”
G25 is now trying to bring in progressive Muslim speakers from Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
Faridah says she has not been as active lately but she did bring in three new members. And she helped to arrange a meeting for G25 earlier with the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Sarawak’s former Chief Minister.
“With some of my connections, I have helped to arrange meetings with like-minded people and groups,” she says, but stresses “I am more of a supporter”.