Ad
Tag

Feminism

Browsing

All my life, I always envisioned myself as a mum to daughters. But I’m now a proud mother of two young sons, and so I guess it is my fate to raise feminist boys.

It isn’t the easiest thing in the world, no matter how feminist or ‘woke’ I think I am. Since becoming a mother, I am more aware of my existing biases and previous bad behaviour. I am certainly afraid of making mistakes.

You also realise very quickly that teaching someone else, especially your child, inevitably involves teaching or revisiting tricky topics yourself.

All this makes this year’s International Women’s Day’s two themes extra special and meaningful to me. They are ‘Balance for Better’ and (the United Nations’ official theme),More Powerful Together.’

Both themes focus on the need for more men to get involved in the struggle for gender equality and the importance of not excluding men from the conversation about feminism. I love this and I know other mothers will probably feel as strongly about this as I do, because obviously there is no way I can view my boys, their father and my male family and friends as ‘the enemy’.

But how can mothers and fathers get involved and support this call-to-action?

A united front for gender equality

Getting more men to become allies will be crucial in the struggle for a gender-balanced world. In Malaysia, women activists been wary about male allies who have turned out to be disappointments to the cause. They are also wary about men in the public eye who may not clearly and deliberately identify as allies or feminists.

But here’s where mummies can play a part. We can remind and encourage our partners best – they are the fathers of our children, and they know our hearts, capabilities and strengths. “You know I’ve lost none of my ambitions even though I’m now a mum.”

They are in the best position to be loud and proud allies for gender equality in the country – they understand the importance of making things better for the future of their children. “Would our daughter be able to compete for that role, you think?

Our men can be allies and role models for other men, standing up and speaking out against sexism, harassment and gender inequalities at work.  “Why aren’t there any women on the panel of the conference you are speaking at?” 

But most men do not suddenly become ‘woke’ or enlightened overnight. We have to be mindful that men are less likely than women to recognise sexism, and most do not fully understand the social privilege conferred by their gender.

If we are to view our men as real partners and allies in our lives, it takes an understanding that they may have been brought up with a certain mindset about masculinity, or they have never really had to think about gender issues deeply.

I consider my husband a real keeper, but I did have to explain to him how women can be nervous walking a quiet lane alone, and that it’s a small and unexpressed fear internalised since our teens.  We don’t tell them these things sometimes because we don’t think about it – we’re too used to it. They don’t know because we don’t tell them and have that conversation.

Know the numbers

How can we convince our husbands and partners to help us in this battle? The beautiful thing about facts is that they speak for themselves. Women are half of the earth’s human population and we birth all its inhabitants, but we still have a long way to go for full gender equality.

In 1910, a feminist called Clara Zetkin tabled the idea of International Women’s Day to push for women’s demands. A whopping 109 years later and we are still here. Women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics.

It is with a sense of pride that I see increasing numbers of Malaysian women flourishing in entrepreneurship and business. This is possibly the most exciting scene in our country now. It is probably the reason why many women are flushed with confidence, thinking the sky’s the limit for their gender these days.

Entrepreneur mothers at the Mompreneur Asia gathering last year.

But make no mistake. When it comes to the power to make decisions and policies that affect real change for Malaysian women, children and families, the numbers are still dire.

Out of 28 Malaysian cabinet members, we have only 5 women. “But there are many deputies to make up for that!” you may think. Are there? Out of 27 deputy ministers in the cabinet, we have only 4 women. A child could tell you whether that is equal or fair. It is simply not good enough.

The World Economic Forum has said the gender gap won’t close until 2186. That is a jaw-dropping 167 years away. But if “gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive,” as the IWD official website says, we simply must do better.

Malaysia – Not that bad?

In Malaysia, we continue to read disturbing reports about child abuse, the harassment of women, abandoned babies and child marriages, among others.

There’s no juice to the women’s movement if women themselves think everything is hunky dory.  In the Women’s Aid Organisation 2019 report ‘Status of Women’s Human Rights: 24 Years of CEDAW in Malaysia’, we see that there is clearly so much that needs to be done.

The report lists down these areas that still need our attention:

Political will and action are necessary for change. Let us call out for gender-balanced governments, boardrooms, groups and media coverage. Educate ourselves further about sexism and gender inequality. Let us pick areas of advocacy that we feel strongly about, and keep the public conversation about them alive. Keep our leaders accountable.

Check our Privilege, Consciously Fight Bias

“Women are just like that. Women are lousy bosses. They just like attacking other women. Women are emotional.”

How many times have we heard these refrains, let them slide, nod in agreement, or said them ourselves? And how does that impact what others think about trusting women in positions of authority, power and leadership?

Watching the LeanIn video series on Fighting Bias was extremely helpful for me, as I found that I also held some biases detailed in them.

When I was younger, I always felt I had to hit a higher bar or be ‘100% qualified’ before I requested or applied for any work opportunity, which is linked to attribution bias. If I’m honest I also probably had likeability bias – I felt that women leaders who were kind and maternal were probably not as effective as the firm and assertive male bosses I had. Gasp!

Obviously, that was youthful ignorance and completely unfair. As a leader now myself, I find that I’m traipsing between wanting to be firm and direct, but mindful that people may think me less likeable. It can be horribly challenging, and as the videos show, men do not face the same tightropes. They are rarely called bossy when they are assertive.

“We expect men to be assertive, so when they take the lead, it feels natural to us. In contrast, we expect women to be kind and communal. So when they assert themselves, we like them less. Women are more likely to be described as intimidating, too aggressive and bossy.”

The videos also highlight maternal bias, where people assume mothers are less interested or committed in their jobs because they have children. Within our makchic team of mothers, I am particularly sensitive to the possibility of triggering this bias because we want our clients to trust us. We are mothers, but we can still do the jobs as promised.

No one is immune

What is comforting about the videos above is they keep making it clear that no one is immune from bias.  “Which means we all have work to do.”  And awareness is simply not enough, they say. We need to internalise that gender biases are harmful. We need look for it, and take steps to counteract it.

I also find comfort in knowing that in the age of #MeToo and the exposes on personalities like R.Kelly and Michael Jackson, we are all finding out that we still have so much to learn together. As a society, we are still unpacking disturbing realities to do with child sexual abuse and the psychology of grooming. We are still digesting how toxic masculinity can cause such heartache and pain for women and men alike.

Everyone has a part to play – all the time, everywhere. Let’s continue talking, learning and sharing with humility and empathy. We can get there.

 

Happy International Women’s Day to all our wonderful readers!

With election fever still lingering on, have you been noticing more Malaysians talking about politics than ever before?

And against the backdrop of a Malaysia with a brand new government, why should more women get more political? What does it mean for Malaysian women if they get more involved in politics – do they necessarily have to join a political party, for example?

Women and Political Awakening

The very essence of politics is about challenging the concentration of power. Challenging  this power is through the  constant negotiation and action to redistribute that power. Trailblazing pre-Independence Malaysian women are no strangers to this concept and action, as the Sejarah Wanita Project haven shown.  

Shamsiah Fakeh (1924-2008) who fought for Malaysia’s independence with the political party Malay Nationalist Party (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya). Image Credit: Sejarah Wanita

The Personal is Political

Politics and the lives of women are not separate. Until 30 years ago, domestic violence was a ‘personal family matter’ in  Malaysia. When a woman reported domestic violence to the authorities, there were no laws or protocol to help women who needed to get away from their abusive husbands. Some were even told to go back home.

It took the work of women, banding together with the late Minister of National Unity and Social Development, Napsiah Omar, to push for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1994.  This historical feat was driven by women, and not men, because it is women who face the lived realities of gender based violence. It is thus also women who recognise the need for society to acknowledge and legislate against this heinous violation.

Politics Impact Our Lives

There are many more areas in which larger political events affect Malaysian women’s lives. One glaring area is the lack of childcare support that leaves the responsibility of care to women. This results in women exiting the labour force.   It is important that  national policies and legislations support women in order to provide ‘real’ choices of leaving the workforce. Countries such as Sweden and Australia that have laws and policies to support both parents have also shown an overall improvement in the well-being of the family.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality reminding parliamentarians to “keep to their promise” after the 2008 elections. Photo credit: TV Smith

No Woman or Man Is Ever Too Insignificant In Politics

Yes, we need to increase women’s representation in politics.  This is the best way to ensure women’s rights and welfare are better championed and protected. Nevertheless, taking political action need not be just about changing laws solely concerning women. It can also be about child-centred issues, such as education, or our shared environment such as protecting a park, planting more trees, or even producing zero waste. These political acts  can be done through awareness raising and/or changing the way our families live.

Have you ever voted, or signed a petition? Have you attended a rally, participated in a parent-teacher association? How about writing a letter to the editor to voice your opinion, handing out leaflets, or volunteering at the neighbourhood gotong royong? Well guess what? You are already taking charge and effecting change. You are already participating in power redistribution.

The point is that in a process where groups of people come together, there is no voice or act that is ever too insignificant. Even in a daunting sea of 13.3 million voters, your one vote, your conscious choice of what you want for your future in this country is an important act of asserting your significance.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn

The Crucial Ingredient for Married Women To “Do” Politics?

Throughout my differing levels of political participation,  I had one crucial ingredient – my partner. He understands that for me to be politically active, I need his support and encouragement. This was especially important when we started a family whilst both of us were holding demanding jobs.  He cooks and watches the kids when I had late nights, weekend meetings and workshops. He read my writings and provided clear feedback. Once we even organised a ‘day care’ with him in charge, to enable my friends with children to participate in a 48-hour national clean up.

I suppose then that for those who are able to choose to marry and choose their partner, this choice is also a political statement. It is a conscious action of finding a partner who believes in your values, just as you do in theirs. It is the coming together of values that will create a partnership that helps strive to make this world a little better for everyone.

 

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.”


Hartini Zainudin

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.”


Claire Sancelot

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.”


Rohani Jelani

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.


Janice Tan

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

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.

By Li-Hsian

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.