Nisha Ayub

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Nisha Ayub
Nisha Ayub of Malaysia (26050451621).jpg
Nisha Ayub receiving the 2016 International Women of Courage Award in Washington D.C.
Born (1979-04-05) April 5, 1979 (age 42)
Known forTransgender rights advocacy

Nisha Ayub (born April 5, 1979) is a Malaysian transgender rights activist. Ayub is the co-founder of the community-run SEED Foundation and transgender grassroots campaign Justice for Sisters[1] and she was awarded the prestigious International Women of Courage Award in 2016.[2]

Early life[edit]

Nisha Ayub was born in Malacca, Malaysia, on April 5, 1979. She is of mixed maternal Indian, Ceylonese and paternal Malay descent.[3] Nisha has memories of when she was a child and used to wear a “selendang” (shawl) while dancing to Bollywood songs. Nisha was raised by her mother Christian family after her father's death when she was six years old. Her mother is a Muslim convert. At nine years old, Nisha participated in a fancy dress competition, as a ballerina wearing a black dress and a wig. At the time, she realized that was the real Nisha.[3]


As a transgender woman, Nisha has faced law enforcement where Islamic sharia laws are enforced. Under a provision of Sharia (Islamic law) a male person is prohibited from dressing or behaving like a woman and appearing in public that way. Violation of this is punishable by a fine of 1,000 ringgit (approximately US$257) and a jail term for period of six months to a year. Sharia law is enforced by the state Islamic religious departments. Under this law, Ayub was imprisoned for three months in 2000.[4][5][6][7] While Nisha was imprisoned in a male prison, the warden and other prisoners sexually assaulted her.[5] Ayub said of her time in the prison: "They asked me to strip naked in front of everyone. They made fun of me, because my body doesn’t conform to what men and women are supposed to be.”[8]

Ayub, through non-governmental organizations, counsels people, provides training to develop professional careers, addresses their health and welfare issues and provides them legal support.


Nisha Ayub by Richard Gray

Nisha Ayub was honored with Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism in 2015 for her bold action opposing the Malaysian laws that were detrimental to the interest of people to live in peace without being harmed and oppressed.[5] She also received the International Women of Courage Award in 2016, becoming the first openly transgender woman to receive that award.[2]

In 2016, San Diego declared April 5 to be Nisha Ayub Day in the US city. In the proclamation, San Diego mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said: "Nisha Ayub continues to fight for the equality and protection of all people in her country and beyond its borders."[9]

In 2018, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture of University Putra Malaysia, Leena Wong alongside lead study author Patrick Krug from California State University, Los Angeles, discovered a new species of sea slug that camouflages itself as seaweed, and upon confirmation that it was indeed a new species, named it Sacoproteus nishae after Nisha.[10] The sea slug was named so due to its ability to camouflage itself after seaweed[11] calling "it the best example of an animal masquerading as a plant".

In 2019, Nisha became the only Malaysian on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 100 Women of 2019 list. She was recognised by BBC for her work in assisting the local transgender community.[12]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Year Organization Award Reference
Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism [5]
2016 United States Department of State International Women of Courage Award [2]
2019 BBC BBC 100 Women of 2019 [12]


  1. ^ "Nisha Ayub's tough fight for transgender rights is ongoing". The Star Online.
  2. ^ a b c "Malaysian activist Nisha Ayub is first man to win US Women of Courage award". Asian Correspondent. April 22, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "10 things about: Nisha Ayub, transgender activist". Malay Mail Online. April 24, 2016. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ "Malaysian court overturns law that banned cross-dressing". The Guardian. November 7, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d "Nisha Ayub, Malaysia". Human Rights Watch. August 10, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  6. ^ "Nisha Ayub from Justice for Sisters". ABC News. May 15, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  7. ^ "Malaysian transgender women take their fight to court" (PDF). Gender Identitywatch. May 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 31, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  8. ^ Stewart, Colin (January 29, 2015). "Video: Malaysian prison turned her into a trans activist". 76 Crimes. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  9. ^ "April 5 is 'Nisha Ayub Day' in San Diego". The Malay Mail. April 6, 2016.
  10. ^ "Malaysian discovers sea slug species, names it after Nisha Ayub (VIDEO) | Malay Mail". Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  11. ^ "Stunning new sea slug species look just like seaweed". October 16, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Win for trans community: Malaysian activist Nisha Ayub on BBC 100 Women of 2019 list". October 16, 2019. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

External links[edit]