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.
BornApril 5, 1979 (age 38)
Malacca, Malaysia
Known forTransgender rights advocacy

Nisha Ayub (born April 5, 1979) is a Malaysian transgender rights activist who is currently undergoing discrimination in Malaysia due to latest portrait removal incident. Nisha is best known for defending the rights of transgender persons who are persecuted under sharia law in the various states of Malaysia. Ayub is the co-founder of the community-run SEED Foundation and transgender grassroots campaign Justice for Sisters[1] and is the first transgender woman to be awarded with 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 person, Nisha has faced harassment in the predominantly Islamic nation of Malaysia 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]

Upon release from jail, Ayub became an advocate of transgender rights. She said: "Now I am aware of my rights and the law, compared to the time when I was 20 years old. I was so naive about the law in Malaysia, and didn't know how to protect myself. Now I am aware of everything."[7] She has founded two organizations, the Seed Foundation and Justice for Sisters to get the Malaysia’s discriminatory transgender laws annulled and help "transgender people, sex workers, and people living with HIV".[5] These two organizations have gained much acclaim and help fight for equal rights of transgender people all throughout SE Asia. Her work has far-reaching impact and she is a respected activist throughout the world. She has been quoted as saying: "You can cut my hair. You can strip me naked. And you can take my dignity away from me. You can even kill me. But you cannot take away my identity as a transgender person."[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. Her legal advocacy through Justice for Sisters resulted in the Federal Court of Appeals overturning the validity of the Sharia law by ruling that it was "discriminatory and unconstitutional."[5] The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the Sharia law in the Negeri Sembilan state was discriminatory as it failed to recognize men diagnosed with gender identity issues. It said the law deprived trans people of the right to live with dignity. Judge Mohamad Hishammuddin Mohamad Yunus said: “This is degrading, oppressive and inhumane".[4] On the court ruling, Ayub said: “We are thankful and overjoyed. It is a victory for human rights. This court ruling is a landmark judgement that holds hope for the assuring the constitutional rights of transgender women.[7] However, on October 8, 2015, Malaysia's highest courts overturned the ruling on the basis of "procedural non-compliance", it claimed that proper channels had not been followed in filing the suit.[9]


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 transgender 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."[10]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Year Organization Award Reference
2015 Asia LGBT Milestone Awards (ALMA) Hero of the Year [11]
Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism [5]
2016 United States Department of State International Women of Courage Award [2]


  1. ^ "Nisha Ayub's tough fight for transgender rights is ongoing". The Star Online.
  2. ^ a b c "Malaysian activist Nisha Ayub is first transgender 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.
  4. ^ a b "Malaysian court overturns law that banned cross-dressing". The Guardian. November 7, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "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. ^ a b c "Malaysian transgender women take their fight to court" (pdf). Gender Identitywatch. May 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Stewart, Colin (January 29, 2015). "Video: Malaysian prison turned her into a trans activist". 76 Crimes. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  9. ^ Leong, Trinna; Menon, Praveen; Fernandez, Clarence (October 8, 2015). "Malaysia court upholds ban on cross dressing by transgender Muslims".
  10. ^ "April 5 is 'Nisha Ayub Day' in San Diego". The Malay Mail. April 6, 2016.
  11. ^ Wee, Darren (April 15, 2015). "Asia LGBT Milestone Awards winners named".

External links[edit]