Just a couple of weeks ago, Seri Delima state assemblywoman Syerleena Abdul Rashid got a death threat delivered to her service centre.
"Maut Menanti Anda (Death awaits you)" the handwritten note says.
Take your pick - calling me the usual, pengkhianat bangsa (traitor of race) or anti-Muslim. These hurtful things makes you question what type of society we actually live in
Syerleena flinched a bit, but she did not sit down and cry. After all, it was not the first time such death threats have been sent to her.
For Syerleena, this is part of being the elected representative. It means some people just cannot take her heat for doing the work that she does.
This is politics, dirty politics, says Syerleena. "I will not back down." That is her message to those threatening to disrupt her job. She filed a police report and called out to those who are threatened by her to come and say it to her face.
"Take your pick - calling me, the usual pengkhianat bangsa (traitor of race) or anti-Muslim. These hurtful things makes you question what type of society we actually live in."
"Apart from these negative name callings, I’ve gotten some death threats in the past - again, these are just words."
"You know that when people hide behind screens, for some reason they feel a little bit braver to say things that they normally would not say to a person face to face."
So, if you come across people who say such hurtful things, just confront them. Have a face-to-face conversation
"So, if you come across people who say such hurtful things, just confront them. Have a face-to-face conversation. Ask them, ‘So, what’s on your mind? Do you want to talk about this?’ But chances are that when you confront these people, they would just run away," says Syerleena confidently.
This 38-year old is not your typical elected representative. She graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in film but went into graphic designing. She is also a Tomoi - a type of Thai kickboxing - instructor. She later joined DAP despite the lack of young Malay women in the party at that time. She is also well known for her prowess as a guitarist.
Her first foray in public service was when she was appointed as a councillor for the Penang City Council (MPPP). That experience led her to contest in the 14th General Elections for the Seri Delima seat.
Since the election, her social media accounts have been constantly updated with visits to the poor, the old and the underprivileged in her constituency. Syerleena believes that she was voted in for her merit and that people saw she had the capacity to take up their causes and issues while she was a local councillor.
A supporter of having 30 percent or more quota of women representation in the government, Syerleena, nonetheless, says that women who were elected this time round were voted for because they are indeed capable leaders.
"I have had numerous people who said, ‘Oh, you’ve gotten your position because you’re a woman, you’re fulfilling a woman’s quota!’
"At some point, this can be seen as negative because that questions your own merit, your own qualifications. But at the same time, life is about how you tackle challenges and how you deal with negative perceptions."
"If people were to come up to me and say ‘Oh, you’re a woman!", my reply is "Yes, I am!"
There’s still a lot of barrier that women will need to overcome. And having a quota in place makes sure that women do have the space for them to participate actively
"And if they want to bring up the whole quota issue, then, let’s have a discussion about it. But the fact is I’ve been given the mandate by the people of Seri Delima and that’s my responsibility."
"My presence here is to make a difference in my community and hopefully in Penang as well," says Syerleena.
She acknowledges that in Malaysian politics, there isn't a level playing field for women as it is still largely a man's world.
"There's still a lot of barriers that women will need to overcome. And having a quota in place makes sure that women do have the space for them to participate actively," says Syerleena.
It is still early days for her as a state assemblywoman. However, Syerleena is adamant that if she plays her cards right and serves the people sincerely, she would be on the right track.
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