The Women’s Candidacy Initiative (WCI) that we were a part of sought to draw attention to the reasons that have led to the ongoing underrepresentation of women in Malaysia’s political system. It did this by publicly confronting candidates from the ruling coalition and opposition parties in equal measure and asking them about their commitment to women’s rights, and their dedication to addressing women’s issues if elected.

As we all sat on that floor surrounded by materials bought from a nearby stationery shop, I experienced a moment of sadness and smallness when I thought of the vast resources and professional advertisements being deployed by the Barisan Nasional (BN), Malaysia’s ruling coalition. But moments later I was invigorated with pride and admiration for my colleagues. I realized that what WCI was doing was challenging notions about who could and ought to participate in Malaysia’s democratic processes. WCI was creating a space within which young women in particular could engage with the processes of democracy. By drawing on the creativity and vitality of younger activists, WCI formulated a youthful and media-savvy campaign and got its message out through diverse media, including Al Jazeera and the front pages of national publications.

The particular energy that these young people brought to our campaign is worth drawing attention to. Malaysians, and especially young Malaysians, have often been characterized as being averse to political activism. But the work of scholars like Meredith Weiss has persuasively demonstrated that Malaysia has a rich history of student activism, one which has been actively suppressed and obscured such that many young people today have little idea of it. In this context, work such as Weiss’s book, activist Fahmi Reza’s documentary Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka, and discussions such as this on New Mandala, have a potentially important role in reconnecting people with lost histories and stories.