From WCI2 (this link was carelessly omitted when I first posted it, my apologies!):
Zaitun Mohamed Kasim, better known as Toni Kasim, has been serving the community on a broad range of issues for more than 20 years, 15 of those years in Malaysia. She firmly believes in principles of justice and equality for all, regardless of differences in relation to gender, race, religion, sexualities, disabilities and access to wealth and resources.
Her commitment to eradicate discrimination is evident from the diversity of issues and communities that she has worked with.
From poverty alleviation during her time with Community Aid Abroad, to land issues with United Nations Development Programme, to social issues affecting Muslim communities, to concerns related to the environment, equitable transportation, sustainable development and disaster management at various capacities and contexts, to working on health issues with vulnerable groups like sex workers and transgender communities, Toni Kasim has devoted a large part of her life making the connections between needs for institutional and social change with the lived realities of everyday people.
Toni Kasim firmly holds that it is important to address any issue in particular in its entirety. This includes understanding that basic rights belong to every person and transcends identity, geographical or economic boundaries, and that each individual concern is related to the larger society that we all share and inhabit. She demonstrates this by advocating for the right of migrants and refugees both within and outside of Malaysia.
While providing immediate support to affected groups of people during situations of need is important – something she is familiar with having volunteered a significant amount of time and resources helping violence against women survivors and also providing help during the Tsunami crisis in Aceh – Toni Kasim also believes in raising awareness and capacity building for greater and long lasting change.
At the heart of her fight for common justice lies a conviction in gender equality. She has consistently advocated for reform in laws, policies and government-led services that discriminated against women in different ways, and have held key positions in various women’s rights organisations and initiatives.
As stated by Toni Kasim in one interview, “Women’s rights remain my key thrust because of something I learnt a long time ago. If women are empowered, the whole community eventually moves forward. It’s that simple because as the nucleus of a family and community, it makes no sense to sideline or ignore women.”
Toni Kasim ran as the first independent women’s parliamentary candidate in the 1999 General Elections on a gender platform. Instead of narrowing her advocacy to political party priorities, Toni Kasim raised issues that reverberated across communities and constituents, such as discriminatory laws, health issues, employment and wealth distribution.
A tireless leader, Toni Kasim has devoted much of her life advancing the rights of diverse communities in Malaysia, and no one’s reality is too marginal to be captured in her advocacy for collective justice.