Nisha Ayub is a leading human rights defender on transgender rights in Malaysia. Ten years ago, when she was 21, religious authorities sentenced her to three months in a male prison under a provision of Sharia (Islamic law) that “prohibits any male person, who, in any public place, wears a woman’s attire or poses as a woman.” In prison, she was sexually abused by the warden and other prisoners. Since her release, Ayub has been a tireless advocate for the rights of transgender people in Malaysia, to protect them from suffering abuse simply because of who they are.
Ayub has spearheaded the creation of two organizations, the Seed Foundation and Justice for Sisters, which aim to repeal Malaysia’s discriminatory transgender laws and provide support services to transgender people, sex workers, and people living with HIV. The organizations give people access to counseling, job training, health services, and social welfare. On November 7, 2014, Justice for Sisters achieved a remarkable feat when the Court of Appeals upheld the group’s legal challenge to a state Sharia law, ruling it to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. On October 8th, 2015 the Federal Court reversed the ruling. This is a major setback for transgender rights in Malaysia.