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Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

Nisha Ayub © 2015 Nisha Ayub

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.



Nisha Ayub has been the victim of grave human rights abuses by the authorities in Malaysia. Instead of becoming despondent and fearful, she decided to become a human rights defender. Tirelessly she defends the rights of transgender people in a positive and respectful way, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.
Boris Dittrich

Advocacy Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program

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.

Human Rights Watch honors Nisha Ayub for challenging the discriminatory laws that prevent transgender people in Malaysia from living free of violence, fear, and oppression.

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