Zaitun 'Toni' Kasim: 1966 — 2008

Issue 

In the early morning of June 4, Malaysian activist, and one of my best friends, Toni Kasim passed away after an all-too-brief struggle against an aggressive cancer.

When I first met Toni, she was among the still relatively small number of overseas students trying to get by in the overwhelmingly anglo, oh-so-politely racist Adelaide of the early 1980s. She was determined to engage as fully as possible with the society she found herself in, but equally determined not to tolerate any of its prejudices, nor to allow anyone to shelter behind their comfortable fallacies.

Having kicked against issues of racism and sexism throughout her youth in Malaysia, there was no way she was going to put up with them in supposedly liberal Australia.

She took no shit from anyone, and it was inspiring. Most inspiring, though, was that what she expected for herself, she demanded for others, and she knew that her unshakeable belief in the universality of rights meant a responsibility to act.

She lived her life by a very simple principle — if you see something wrong, do something about it. Her example was the genesis of my own activism.

Over more than 20 years, Toni's activism and advocacy in Australia and Malaysia embraced a wide range of areas: migrant and refugee rights; disaster relief; environmental issues; sustainable development and poverty alleviation; workers' rights; transport; and advocacy and health education for marginalised groups, particularly the transgender community and sex workers.

Wherever she was asked or thought she could make a contribution to a struggle, she willingly committed her great energy.

Throughout it all, though, her greatest passion was the fight for women's rights, rooted in her conviction that without the liberation of women there could be no real end to human oppression.

This conviction saw her working directly with victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse (often spending hours being interrogated by police for simply acting as a woman's advocate), participating in lobby and action groups, organising community training on gender issues and women's rights and running as the first independent candidate in the 1999 Malaysian general elections on a gender rights platform.

Toni's work around women's rights, as with all her activity, reflected her position that while it is important to work with individuals or communities to support their immediate needs — especially in crisis situations — that activity must be coupled with empowerment and broader social and political activity if real and lasting change is to be achieved.

Her great heart and passion were an inspiration to many, and she is greatly missed.

Although Toni has joined the many we know will never see the new world that they so deserved to be a part of, their memory and their lives become the fire in us that will eventually burn down the horrors of capitalism and nurture the beauty of a truly liberated humanity.

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