If you’re still basking in the glow of International Women’s Day, it’s probably a good time to ask ourselves why many people, including women, shy away from feminism.
For those of us afraid to call ourselves feminists, what exactly do you think feminism actually means? Hating men? Having a pushy and aggressive personality? Not being feminine? Having a tendency to be oversensitive, with no sense of humour?
Why Feminist, Why Not Just Humanist?
The myth that feminists are anti-family man haters is not only ridiculously inaccurate. It perpetuates a negative stereotype and stigma that hurts the larger cause. At the heart of feminism is just the radical notion that women are people deserving of equality. So it’s probably not the principles of feminism most of us have an issue with, but just the label.
Some may ask, “Why not just call yourself a humanist instead of a feminist?” “Wouldn’t it still be better to have a general movement toward all human beings instead of more specific ones like feminism? Doesn’t feminism create a divide based on gender that we should be working to diminish?”
Being specific does not mean being exclusive
Good answers are given to these questions by an article in Everyday Feminism , an insightful online magazine driving an alternative approach to the movement. The piece explains, “Being specific does not mean being exclusive.” Saying that we can’t have feminism because we should only focus on general human rights is like saying we can’t have oncologists because some doctors are general practitioners. Oncologists are specialist doctors who are more equipped and informed to fight cancer, and share their expertise with the entire medical field.
Be the change you want to see in the world
True feminism is inclusive, compassionate, supportive and powerful. In that respect, becoming a mum in many ways can make you more of a feminist, without your even realising it.
We talk to some special mums who practice a brand of “Everyday Feminism”. Women who not only want to live in a world where everyone is treated with respect and able to fulfill their true potential, but have also taken that extra step to act on their convictions to, paraphrasing Gandhi’s famous quote, “be the change they want to see in the world.”
Meet Hartini Binti Zainudin, 55, “a mad, single, full time working mum.” Tini, as she is affectionately known to friends, wishes she could stay home and be a bit more hands-on with her four legally adopted children. Her children are now 22, 12 (two boys) and 10 years of age.
Tini is a well-known child activist who works with children at risk who are marginalised and discriminated against. Her work focuses largely on children who are stateless or abandoned (foundlings) and refugee kids needing medical help. Tini admits, “I tend to gravitate more towards the mothers in the work that I do. I have an affinity towards single mums because I’m one of them. I know what it’s like. We’re not all that different except God’s been kinder to me.”
I realised that you can’t protect children if you don’t support the mothers too.
She was inspired to support mothers in need when she first started working with children, “I realised that you can’t protect children if you don’t support the mothers too. You just see what children need – they need their parents.”
Tini talks modestly about her very meaningful work, “I laugh when people call me the baby collector. I’d like to think I’m a protector of children but I do go around with a bassinet or my makeshift baby car carriage to carry babies home to their new families. I also take young pregnant mums for their maternal checkups or sometimes hold their hands during labour. After birth, I bring their personal needs, new baby clothes, milk powder and rice to their homes.”
Tini wishes for a community center catering to families in need, so that “we can all take care of one another.” She also hopes and works for better maternal care for poor mothers and their children, as well as better food, educational and medical services for this marginalised group.
“I help one child, one mum at a time. Why not help?”
What keeps her going during difficult times when her energy and personal resources are stretched is her passion for protecting the rights of children and their mothers. Her simple yet significant philosophy is: “I help one child, one mum at a time. Why not help?”
Her message to makchic readers who would like to support her work and start their own meaningful projects: “Go to our Yayasan Chow Kit website (link to www.yck.org.my) to look at the work we do and how to volunteer. I think people should see what they’re passionate about and volunteer first. Get a sense of what you want to do. Meet other like-minded people and learn.”
Back in the 1980s, a four year-old child watched her parents recycle paper and glass in the French city of Lille. Today, that child is 41 year-old Claire Sancelot, Director of The Hive Bulk Foods and full-time working mum to three little girls – a seven year old and a pair of six year-old twins. The French National married to a Malaysian is also founder of Zero Waste Kuala Lumpur .
“Honey, We Don’t Waste”
Zero Waste is a lifestyle philosophy that encourages the redesign of resources and their life cycles so that all products are reused. Claire promotes this philosophy through The Hive , her Bangsar-based bulk foods store with the cute tagline “Honey, We Don’t Waste”. The store also serves as a platform for her other work that supports women and larger communities.
Claire shares that she started The Hive to “provide our customers with the best quality produce at the best prices; bring people a huge range of bulk food products; support Malaysian suppliers and producers where possible; to greatly reduce packaging and waste; provide customers with the best possible service; have a great selection of organic, gluten-free, Paleo and vegan products; and to support local communities and charities.”
Claire states proudly, “We are all about empowering women.” The Hive prioritises partnerships with businesses in Kuala Lumpur that are founded by women and single mums that include makers of soap, shampoo, laundry powder, detergent, jam, and condiments, amongst many other products. Their jam maker is a single mum of two.
“As women, we are often treated as second class citizens. Even animals receive better protection than us.
The Hive works with Tanma Federation, a group that empowers Burmese women refugees through handicraft. Tanma women make many products used and sold by The Hive, like its bulk bags and makeup removers. The Hive has sold hundreds of bags made by the Penan ladies at Helping Hands Penan. They also work with OA Organics, a community enterprise owned by the Orang Asli that is mainly run by women.
Claire explains why she has chosen to principally work with women owned businesses, “As women, we are often treated as second class citizens. Even animals receive better protection than us. If a woman beaten by her partner has nowhere to go, the police will still send her home. If it were an animal, the police would take the animal away from the perpetrator to keep the animal safe.”
“Women still do not have equality so our goal is to empower women as much as possible, give them work. Even though women make up half of the population, we still do not have real equality. We still do not have equal pay and our lives are more in danger. At home, there is a lot of spousal abuse. At work we face sexual harassment,” she adds.
“Your work should be your passion, I fully live my passion.”
On what drives her life’s work, Claire emphasises, “Your work should be your passion, I fully live my passion.” She encourages makchic readers to “buy products made by women, best if made by local women. If you buy your foods from supermarkets you will not empower anyone except large corporates. If you buy your food from places like The Hive you are empowering KL women. The way you spend your money has a massive effect on the community.”
The words “feminist” and “kitchen” do not usually make a happy pair but Rohani Jelani, 59, well-known home cook and mum to three grown-up children aged 29, 26 and 23, debunks the myth that a “woman in the kitchen” can’t do much more than cook. In fact, Rohani is proof that we should keep women in the kitchen, simply because even the most educated and decorated of us are starting to realise that the kitchen holds the key to our wellbeing and harmony as families, communities and whole countries.
As a recipe developer, Rohani helps food companies to develop recipes that use their products in the best possible way. In today’s terms, this translates into recipes that are relative fuss-free and for the vast majority of the population. Rohani has always felt that eating deliciously and healthily go hand in hand.
“Knowing how to feed yourself is surely one of the most basic and important of life skills”
Rohani believes that food must not only look appealing but also be “approachable”, “You shouldn’t need to be a star cook to make it and to hunt down a load of exotic or expensive ingredients before you can attempt it.” So she likes to strike a balance between making a recipe interesting (because who would be inspired to cook a boring recipe?) but also practical (as readers will be turned off by complicated multi-step recipes with a long list of ingredients).
Rohani hopes that more people will get back into the kitchen to cook – even if it is just for themselves or for their families. She ruminates, “Knowing how to feed yourself is surely one of the most basic and important of life skills?”
“I never thought I would see the day when a woman would consider an expensive saucepan as a status symbol!”
She recalls the time when she first joined the work force in her early twenties, “It was still common for a woman to announce, with a certain degree of pride, that she didn’t or couldn’t cook because that told people that she had a far more important job. Fortunately, now the tables have turned. Thanks to celebrity chefs and food channels, cooking has become so cool and trendy that it’s no longer cool to be a dunce in the kitchen! I never thought I would see the day when a woman would consider an expensive saucepan as a status symbol!”
Rohani strongly feels that if there is one thing that could have a major impact in improving the health of our citizens, it would be bringing back cooking and nutrition into the school curriculum. She believes that if, by the time our young people left school, they had the basic skills how to cook and make healthy food choices, perhaps our rate of obesity and diabetes would not be as alarming as it is now.
In ancient times, women never did it alone. We would have the support of a tribe, something that is often sorely lacking in our modern age. So, sometimes, feminism is about giving birth to a tribe that acts as a support system for others. Janice Tan, 43, mum to three children aged seven and six (twins) is the founder of one such tribe: the Twins and Triplets Malaysia Facebook Group. When she is not being a full-time parent (a role she considers the most fulfilling and demanding role she has ever taken on), she also works for the Australian property company that she co-owns with her husband, a company that not only provides opportunities for investing in properties in all major Australian cities but also flexible work opportunities with attractive packages for mothers, including single mothers.
“There was no warning that life would change so drastically.”
Like many others, Janice struggled at first with infertility issues. When she was blessed with her first child and eventually her twins, she found that her whole life changed. She shares, “I experienced happiness at one end of the spectrum but also exhaustion at the other end. There was no warning that life would change so drastically.” When she was expecting her twins, she had a very difficult time searching for specific information about twin pregnancies as well as breastfeeding and caring for multiples.
This motivated Janice to start the Twins and Triplets Malaysia Facebook Group in 2012 with the intention of helping other families like hers, in their blessed but also challenging journey of parenting multiples. The group now has almost 1,500 members and usually tries to meet face-to-face annually. Janice hopes to be able to continue to grow this peer support group organically together with her friend and co-administrator, Clare Wong and to keep it as a free-from-profit platform. She also has a vision of organising various events focused on education and parenting, providing work opportunities, financial and budgeting advice, and in some cases, counseling.
Janice believes that good support starts at home, just like any form of kindness. So she often encourages members of the group to lend a hand to help their spouse or family member, and to refrain from judging other parents for their parenting choices. She notes that parents of twins or triplets have a higher risk of post-natal depression. So, everyone should try to be kinder and refrain from responding to requests for support with harsh words and actions.
Start with a clear purpose and plan as a purpose-led project
Janice’s advice for those who wish to start a Facebook Group to support other women and families is to start with a clear purpose and plan. Janice feels that focus is important. Making an operational profit is justifiable but she has seen many projects on Facebook start with great purpose and intentions get derailed when greed gets in the way, bringing the original vision to a standstill. She also feels it is very important to acknowledge the contributions of the tribe. Twins and Triplets Malaysia is an idea she put into motion but she attributes its success to her friend and co-administrator, Clare and all the members who help to keep the group robust and relevant with their contributions and responses that support other members.
Shenola Gonzales, 41, is a full-time working mum to two children aged six and two. She is co-founder of The Good Shop, a social enterprise enabler programme run by MyInitium Sdn. Bhd. that will be three years old in May 2018. The retail pop-up shop is a retail aggregator of products created by social enterprises and NGOs. Their tagline? “Giving Opportunities Daily”. Shenola likens it to “a departmental store that does good by retailing products that make an impact on social, environmental and cultural causes.” For example, it carries products made by single mothers and women with disabilities (although the shop is all-inclusive).
Businesses built on empowering other women and mums
This helps these groups make a living and empower them with a sense of purpose and knowledge that their products are market worthy. Shenola believes that it is important to support such businesses as they in turn impact causes that include disenfranchised communities. The Good Shop also promotes its causes through the Direct Education Programme Activities (DEPA) that it runs.
The idea was first conceptualised when Shenola’s business partner went to East Malaysia and came across a lovely handbag made by a social enterprise. This product had too many commercial barriers to overcome to reach Peninsular Malaysia. Yet she realised that if it could be placed in mainstream malls, it would be more easily sold. Shenola and her partner decided very quickly that they wanted to create an all-inclusive platform to help social enterprises that faced similar issues. The Good Shop’s client list has grown from five to over 40 in a short space of time, and this includes many businesses built on empowering other women and mums.
With The Good Shop, Shenola shows us that even something like shopping can be approached in a mindful and meaningful way. That there are products made by social enterprises that are as good as mainstream products. Every time someone shops at The Good Shop, their money goes further as not only are they buying a product, they are also helping to sustain a business that has doing good integrated into its processes.
Social Enterprises are not Charities
However, Shenola emphasises that makchic readers and anyone who would like to start meaningful projects need to assess if these are sustainable. “There is a common misconception that Social Enterprises and by extension, The Good Shop, are charities. They are not as they do business for good but also to turn a profit. It is important to ensure that projects create quality products that are profitable. Otherwise, it is not viable in the long term as good intentions are short-lived and do not deliver meaningful change.” Shenola invites anyone, both individuals and corporations, who would like to support or collaborate with The Good Shop to reach out to them at https://www.thegoodshop.com.my.
Feminist mums do what they do best and in the process, making life better for other women and their families. Do you know any feminist mums in your community? Tell us about them, we’d love to hear their stories.
Li-Hsian left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.