19 October 2019

GERAK statement on the Universiti Malaya-Wong Yan Ke tussle

17 October 2019

The dust evidently still hasn’t settled on the ill-conceived Kongres Maruah Melayu, held almost two weeks ago.

While some academics have publicly responded, no academic body has released a statement, leaving one lone young graduate to wake us all up the last weekend to what the Congress was all about.

When engineering graduate, Wong Yan Ke, walked up the UM stage to collect his scroll and then unveiled his little hand-written poster while calling the VC out as a racist for his role in the Congress, perhaps he didn't suspect that the whole administrative machinery in UM would come down to crush him.

In this regard, even GERAK is astounded and appalled at the concerted backlash that Wong's simple act of civil disobedience has caused.

Were it not so serious, this whole episode could have been something out of a Monty Python movie.

In this regard, like more organisations that are speaking out now, GERAK stands firmly behind Wong and his right and freedom to say what he said.

Even saying it in a setting that has been contrived over the years to be sombre and respectful. The key word here is `contrived'. For those who say that it was the wrong venue, we ask, what other more effective venue was there?

At any rate, now, supporters of the staus quo and of the VC are tripping over themselves to attack Wong, depicting him as `biadap', `lacking class' and worse, though predictably, a `racist'.

GERAK believes that these attacks are silly, unfair and unfounded. Worse, they deliberately sidestep and hide at least two main reasons why this whole episode took place.

First, the organizing of the Congress by UM and three other public universities funded by public money, three of which having a multi-ethnic student and teaching population.

Second, the role played by UM and its VC in the Congress and whether this has brought the university into disrepute.

When the Congress was first announced, GERAK expressed our unease with it; especially when it sounded like a saber-rattling,  race-baiting gathering rather than an intellectual meeting.

But we were then quickly assured by a senior official that it was a congress to discuss `research findings' that, in turn, could dispassionately inform policy.

What transpired instead was what we suspected and feared - much chest-thumping and very little concrete empirical findings. It was indeed much like a blame; if not a hate - fest, led by the problematic Emeritus Professor Zainal Kling, renown for once claiming that we were never colonized.

Be that as it may, this Congress and UM's involvement was what Wong's action was related to. This is something we cannot simply push aside in assessing his action.

Lodging a police report against Wong; withholding his transcripts and degree; mustering disciplined but bored-looking students to protest against him, all smack of immaturity, small-mindedness and the overreaching of the powers held by the university authorities.

Such use of force and censure is not only unnecessary and disgraceful, but also shows little respect for human rights and goes against the spirit and principles of debate and discussion.

Such principles are precisely what GERAK has long been fighting for and what the Education Minister has consistently encouraged and supported in our attempts at bringing much-needed reforms to our education system.

Hence, let us thank him for waking some of us up, but let us look beyond the "tree" that is Wong Yan Ke. Indeed, let us examine and critique the "wood" that is essentially the politicization of our premier universities and the negative implications for academic autonomy, quality, and, most important, academic integrity.

GERAK Executive Committee

17 October 2019

CSOs Condemn the Use of Repressive Defamation Laws to Silence Human Rights Defender

The undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) condemn the act of the Kangar Police Chief, Wari Kiew, in purportedly filing a police report against Sevan Doraisamy, the Executive Director of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) for defamation under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act1. This move by the authorities is seen as a form of intimidation and reprisal against human rights defenders who in this case were in good faith supporting and assisting victims of alleged wrongful arrest and torture submit a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), followed by a media conference which publicised the victim’s allegations.

Use of repressive criminal defamation laws, such as the above, should be repealed as it is clearly a violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech which is guaranteed in Article 10 of our Federal Constitution.

We call on the Kangar Police Chief to withdraw his report and submit to an investigation by SUHAKAM to be cleared of any wrongdoing rather than use Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP) tactics against whistleblowers.

It is also in this regard that a credible and independent IPCMC is essential to investigate any alleged violations and misconduct by the police.

12 October 2019

Prepared by: Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)

Signed by:
1) Freedom Film Network Malaysia
2) Empower Malaysia
3) Pusat KOMAS
4) Sisters in Islam
5) KRYSS Network
6) Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
7) Beyond Borders
8) Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM)
9) Sinar Project
10) North South Initiative
11) Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
13) Justice for Sisters
14) Bersih 2.0

12 October 2019

World Food Day 16 October 2019

Banish hunger on university campuses

For World Food Day, Esther Ngumbi calls on institutions of higher education to help students know where their next meal is coming from.
When I had to skip meals to pay for rent during my student days at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, studying became hard. In the first weeks of the semester, when I had enough money for food, I would wake up early to revise notes before class; lectures always made sense to me, and I was sharp in seminars. But as my food money dwindled, I went hungry and could feel my attention span shrinking. I would not spend my time learning, but thinking of where to get my next meal. Instead of visiting the library, I would sleep. I would stay in my room rather than go out with other students — and I struggled in some of my courses.
At long last, universities and research institutions are starting to pay attention to bullying, harassment and mental health. Now, they need to recognize that far too many students in higher education are hungry or are spending their time worrying about where to get food. A survey at two universities in Nigeria found that 45% of students had gone hungry or cut down on their food consumption to save money — and even higher rates were found at a university in South Africa. Rich countries can also face this burden. The University of California estimates that one-quarter of its graduate students have experienced food insecurity, meaning that they have skipped meals or reduced portions to save money, or ran out of food before they could afford to buy more.
World Food Day is on 16 October, and I call on institutions of higher learning to address food insecurity on their campuses. I urge them to strategize around both long- and short-term solutions. It is humane as well as pragmatic to ensure that students can be fully present and actively learning in classrooms — which is impossible if they’re too hungry.
As an agricultural researcher, I study beneficial soil microbes. My ultimate goal is to find sustainable ways to grow crops and prevent insect losses amid a changing climate. I have also established Oyeska Greens, an agriculture-focused start-up in Kwale, Kenya, that creates farming systems that produce more food using fewer resources than traditional farms. But I am increasingly aware that efficient food production is just one aspect, although perhaps the most straightforward, of creating a world with food security. For the benefit of their students — and to create a model for tackling important problems — educational institutions should take on the difficult task of making sure that nourishing food is available to the members of their communities.
Some institutions have taken the initiative. Several have food pantries or gardens on campus. The University of California, San Francisco, created an app to let students know when food is left over from catered events, and some 69% of its student population — all postgraduates — have signed up. The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, set up its Food Sovereignty Centre and other outreach programmes to encourage student donations and to offer meals and food grown in a campus garden to matriculants in need.
And educational institutions must adopt a more comprehensive, long-term view. But how?
First, universities should collect hard data about hunger and food insecurity on campus. In 2018, the US Government Accountability Office found evidence that this was a growing problem, but that there was a dearth of data. Students already take surveys after completing courses and at key points in the academic year. Some of these should be co-opted, or new surveys should be commissioned, to address food security, so that educational institutions can assess how many students, postdocs and junior faculty members are worrying about hunger.
Even simple steps are useful, such as compiling lists of resources for students who face food insecurity, mental-health issues and other challenges. Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the University of Oregon in Eugene present this information in online letters to students. Accurate data could help to get effective messages to the most vulnerable.
Universities should also work to devise fresh ideas for tackling these issues. Students are the most affected, so institutions should engage with them to design solutions. I can imagine an innovation challenge that spans countries. Campuses could join together to share how they have solved or mitigated food insecurity and other challenges. Education leaders should record and monitor what makes campus programmes addressing this food insecurity sustainable through the years.
In the end, the hard truth is that combating hunger costs money. Universities should set aside funds to help students cope. At the same time, governments need to step up and create nutrition-assistance programmes for students, or at the very least ensure that students are eligible for existing ones.
The good news: change is happening. A coalition of more than 100 institutions across 29 countries asks students to take the lead and push administrators to fight hunger and food insecurity. That includes raising awareness, holding food drives and more.
Students can do much more than they or the societies they live in assume, and they should not be afraid to try. While I was a graduate student at Auburn University in Alabama, I founded a primary school in Kenya. It now serves more than 100 students from poor families. I know at first hand how difficult it is for children to learn when they are hungry. Because of my concern for these children, I made sure the school would provide them with meals — supplied in part by four greenhouses that grow food for the school and the community. When these students get to university and beyond, they will be all the more prepared to tackle the world’s problems.
Nature 574, 151 (2019)

30 September 2019

MOHR should be stern in protecting job seekers from discrimination


Press Statement for Immediate Release dates 25th September 2019

Ministry of Human Resources under the purview of Minister YB Kula Segaran must declare whether the welfare and rights of the future workforce is a priority in the nation’s reform agenda championed by the Pakatan Harapan government. The future workforce comprises of, but not limited to fresh graduates, teenagers, and women – of all races, religions, and background – entering with the hope of igniting or improving their career.

We note the Ministry has stated that no final decision has been made on whether to include or remove
protection for job seekers in the Employment Act as they are waiting for Cabinet to make the decision. We urge all cabinet ministers to support protecting job seekers from discrimination.

The PH government entrusted by the people has an uncompromising responsibility that an equal and
non-discriminatory employment opportunities are created to cater the burgeoning rate of unemployment and underemployment in Malaysia.

Excluding job seekers from the proposed anti-discrimination provisions leaves them vulnerable to
arbitrary discriminatory practices by employers. The exclusion of job seekers from this provision would condone unwarranted discriminations - primarily on the grounds of ethnicity, language, religion, gender and disability.

Pusat KOMAS has also recorded instances where numerous job seekers have been denied job interviews due to their ethnic origins. Additionally, job advertisements preferring specific ethnic groups by employers were also reported and featured in our annual Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report (2018). These accounts of racial discriminations in the preliminary stages towards employment were proven to be digressing our path to build an inclusive society that promotes unity in diversity.

One common argument against protecting job seekers from discrimination under the Employment Act is that the Act only covers employees and employers, and not job seekers. This argument, however, has been refuted by many lawyers including former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan. He stressed that such protection for job seekers is both “reasonable” and essential, and further highlighted that there is no barrier to prohibiting discrimination during recruitment. There have also been suggestions to instead introduce a separate pre-employment act. However, this is unnecessary as the Employment Act can be amended to cover the pre-employment phase.

Protecting job seekers from discrimination is in line with the spirit of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto. One of Pakatan Harapan’s promises is to form the Commission of Fair Employment Opportunities
(Suruhanjaya Peluang Pekerjaan Saksama). The Commission is meant to address discriminatory
recruitment practices among employers in the public and private sectors. The manifesto also clearly
states that all Malaysian would be given equal employment opportunities regardless of their ethnicities. By removing job seekers from the proposed anti-discrimination provision in the Employment Act, the government is departing from the spirit of its manifesto.

Therefore, we strictly remind the government to weigh in the importance of including job seekers within the law instead of packaging it merely as toothless guidelines.

For further information kindly contact Mr Ryan Chua, Pusat KOMAS (016-301 0380).

This statement is endorsed by:
2. Aliran
3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
4. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)
5. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
6. Childline Foundation
7. Foreign Spouse Support Group (FSSG)
8. Galen Centre for Health Social Policy
9. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
10. Jaringan Kampung Orang Asal Malaysia (JOAS)
11. Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU)
12. Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (MAJU)
13. My PJ
14. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
15. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
16. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
17. Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (IKRAM)
18. Pusat KOMAS
19. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
21. Suaram
22. The Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham)
23. Toy Libraries Malaysia
24. University Malay Association of New Youth (UMANY)
25. Women Aid Organization (WAO)

20 September 2019

8th Education International World Congress, Bangkok, Thailand

The 8th. Education International World Congress that was held in Bangkok, Thailand were divided into the pre-congress sessions which ran from 19 – 21 July 2019 and the congress which ran from 22 – 26 July 2019. There were three main caucuses for the pre-congress sessions, namely the LGBTI Caucus, the Further and Higher Education Caucus, the Indigenous People’s Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus.

At the LGBTI Caucus, various issues were raised including the need for acceptance, awareness, and equity of LGBTI in schools, particularly in how the students and teachers who belong to the community are treated. There have been cases of bullying and discrimination in some countries while there were also success stories shared by some. The concept of Intersectionality was also introduced where participants were reminded of the many layers or Intersectionality that one has. In more conservative and religious countries like Malaysia, it is more important to advocate for the basic right of the LGBTI community to be treated respectfully without discrimination.

For the Further and Higher Education Caucus, discussions revolved around the threat of neoliberalism, political and corporate interference into higher education which privatization and commercialization. Due to lack of funding allocated by governments, many institutions of higher learning resort to precarious employment, which in return affect the bargaining power of the precarious staff, and also the quality of education and research. Various strategies were shared on how to address the issues raised including strengthening the network of unions.

The Women’s Caucus kicked off with a forum where 2 guest speakers spoke of their own experiences and aspirations as women leaders in the region: 1. Rashidah Shuib of the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women, who is also from Sister in Islam. 2. Sai Jyothirmai Racherla, also from the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women.  The day continued with various parallel roundtable sessions covering topics such as women and leadership, regional perspective of women unionists, and resolutions through a gender lens.

The congress went on for 5 days from 22 July to 26 July where 1400 educators from across the globe convened with the theme “Taking the Lead”. The president, Susan Hopgood called on all members to take the lead in bringing about changes so that education is made available and accessible to all. Among the main themes that were highlighted throughout the 5-day congress were neo-liberalism being a threat to democracy, Intersectionality, the importance of union renewal and succession through younger unionists, equity in education as a basic human right, social justice, women & leadership, and climate change. It was highlighted throughout the congress that the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” has not been achieved in most if not all countries, and that all parties especially governments are urged to ensure that the goal is achieved.

A total of 41 resolutions, either pertaining to constitutional amendments or current urgent actions, were presented at the congress where some were passed while others rejected. GERAK was entitled to 2 votes for the resolutions where we exercised our rights in voting for (or against) the resolutions. While many of the resolutions presented were on universal education rights, two particular resolutions relevant to GERAK’s aspirations were “Academic Freedom in Higher Education” and “Safeguarding Academic Freedom in Higher Education and Research”. On behalf of GERAK, Dr Lai Suat Yan and Dr Yuwana Podin went on stage to show solidarity with two urgent resolutions on academic freedom and democracy in Djibouti and Hong Kong.

Throughout the congress, all three representatives, Dr Lai Suat Yan, Dr Ngo Sheau Shi, and Dr Yuwana Podin of GERAK have been very active in participating in discussions of various topics in the different sessions. Dr Lai Suat Yan was invited as one of the speakers in the session “Teachers as autonomous professionals” and a moderator in the session “No to Harassment at Work”. Dr Ngo Sheau Shi was actively participating in discussions and even helped to prepare statements in supporting some of the resolutions. Dr Yuwana Podin, being GERAK’s principal delegate this time, was appointed as one of the election committee members representing the Asia-Pacific region in overseeing the executive board member election process. She also participated in the election process.

In terms of networking, Dr Lai Suat Yan is exploring with David Robinson from the Canadian Association of University Teachers possible capacity building workshops in relation to deep organizing or engaging others to join GERAK and academic staff associations. In addition, a possible workshop is to build activist skills in terms of bargaining, filing grievances, creating attractive visual materials, making effective smartphone movies and communicating through the media which we, GERAK exco, could be co-trainers. Another possibility is a workshop on equity and diversity. This will be presented to the GERAK exco for consideration in the coming meeting in August. Dr Lai Suat Yan and Dr Dina Bacalexi (FERC-CGT, France) met during the Congress to firm up the idea for a panel on sexual harassment for future sessions. The panel on sexual harassment was first initiated at the 12th Further and Higher Education and Research Conference in Taiwan. Dr Ngo Sheau Shi, Dr Yuwana Podin and Dr Lai Suat Yan are also currently working on a joint article tentatively titled “Challenges and Strategies Forward in Reclaiming Higher Education in ‘New’ Malaysia” for the special bilingual version of the French magazine "La vie de la recherche scientifique".

All in all, it was a valuable 8-day congress where many networks were established, gaps bridged, friendship made, and strategies plotted in pushing for academic freedom in Malaysia.

 Yuwana in the EI election committee

 Malaysian delegation: Ngo Sheau Shi (GERAK), Lai Suat Yan (GERAK), Rashidah Shuib, Yuwana Podin (GERAK)

 With comrades from Hong Kong

Sheau Shi with the EI president, secretary and past secretary

 Suat Yan moderating a session

Yuwana supporting a motion