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International Women’s Day

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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!

It is International Women’s Day today! With the clarion call to #PressforProgress this year, women will be focusing on the push for greater gender parity.

Gender para-what? What is gender parity, you say? It is a term that is related to, but not the same as gender equality. While gender equality is about providing women equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation, gender parity is a numerical concept. It is about the numbers and proportions that relate to women and girl’s participation in all spheres of life.

You may heard facts like these:

Women make just under 80 cents for every dollar that men make.

Or that female-led tech companies received just about US$1.5 billion in venture-capitalist investments last year, compared to about $58 billion for male-led companies.

Most parliaments remain male-dominated, with a global average of only 22 per cent women.

These statistics shows us what the actual realities are with regard to gender equality, it shows us how far we need to go.

With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away, there’s much to be done! But what can we do as busy women – whether mother, sisters or friends – to contribute to the cause? Here are some ideas:

Educate ourselves further

You don’t need to get a Masters in Women’s Studies to help #PressforProgress or to fight for greater equality! Read up about the challenges and problems faced by women in your community, society and country. Research what the women leaders, feminists and community activists are fighting for, and see how you could help empower others.  Consider your own privilege, and how you could be oppressing other women unwittingly. Melinda Gates believes that when women and girls are empowered to live to their full potential, everyone benefits exponentially.

Be Resilient & Trust Yourself

Cultural norms or societal expectations may see people trying to diminish your sense of self or achievements. Trust your own instincts and drive, whether in your career or personal life. Reflect on where you want to be, and how you want to get there. We all make mistakes and errors in judgement – be kind to yourself and move on forward. Be resilient, and be bold. For inspiration, look at all the legion of women entrepreneurs out in Malaysia right now absolutely killing it!

Get a mentor and be a mentor

Generous mentors can change lives, so find women you admire and can help you navigate your chosen path. Be prepared to learn and support each other. And when you yourself are in a position of power or influence, it is your turn to give back and inspire a new generation of women and girls.

Band with other women

In the workplace, women can fight for their rights better if they stick together. Women working together in a union, for example, can tackle biases head on and together deliver fair recognition, pay and conditions for women at work.

Get Used to Speaking Up and Out

With the #MeToo movement sweeping across industries around the world last year, you may have heard of counter arguments or backlash against women who have spoken out. Or comments that ‘things have gone too far’. It is worthwhile to remember that everything may seem dramatic and intense because women have only just started to speak their truth and share their experiences, with each other. Whether it is about consent, power, sexuality or choice, we are only just beginning to peel layers and discuss issues openly. Men have had a long time – since the dawn of humankind! – to impose their narratives, interpretation and history. We have only just begun. So don’t hesitate to keep talking to your mothers, sisters and friends about their feelings and experiences – chances are, you will learn new things with every conversation.

Teach Our Kids

Gender biases can start early in life. Women are chronically under-represented in positions of leadership in politics and business,  not to mention areas like science, sports and many others. Teach our girls that they can be more than stereotypes. Introduce them to literature about women who have excelled in the fields of math or science. Teach our boys that it is okay for them to express their feelings and to feel vulnerable. Toxic masculinity hurts, and boys lose the opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence. Explain how important this is to friends and family. Let us do right by all our children.

Happy International Women’s Day!

By Laych Koh

Laych Koh is the editor-in-chief of makchic.com

 

baby-girl

International Women’s Day is this weekend and in the name of celebrating women, we have rounded up our favourite names of literary heroines to inspire you on your quest of searching for the right name for your little girl.

Anna
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

The novel tells of a story of a daughter who was conceived to save her sister’s life, hence the title. Anna plays the role of a courageous 11 year old, whom despite her odds, strives to be strong for her older sister Kate’s sake. This spirit of unquenchable bravery would make Anna an apt name for your baby girl.

Lucy
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Lucy in the C.S. Lewis series is a sweet little girl whom grows up with straits of bravery as she was crowned Queen of Valiance. Even Aslan the lion seems to agree as he tells her, “If you were any braver, you would be a lioness.” Lucy’s gentle spirit is what makes her likeable, and that is certainly a plus point for your little girl!

Wendy
Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Wendy depicted in the story by author J.M. Barrie is a beautiful young girl who does not desire to grow up and hence maintains childish characteristics throughout her childhood. You’d be happy to know that Wendy does outgrow this and matures into a wonderful mother of 2, hence displaying her caring nature.

Laura
The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura is a feisty little girl who loves nothing more than a good adventure. She is a dependable girl and perseveres even when she is hit by many trials in life, and that is something your little girl can have when she follows after her character namesake.

Katniss
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen plays the main role in the popular book, The Hunger Games. A brave, independent, intelligent and beautiful girl who fights for her beliefs and protects the people she loves.

Khaleesi
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Who wouldn’t want to be named after a confident leader who has dragons as pets, an army of soldiers to protect her and striking features, both in looks and character?

Matilda
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda was a talented and intelligent girl born with the ability to move physical things with her mind. Which parent wouldn’t want a daughter who could help clean up the house with the snap of her fingers?

Heidi
Heidi by Johanna Spyri

A story of a girl who was eager to learn, intelligent and cheerful, one who had a rough upbringing but pushed through all the misery with her determination to learn how to read and write, her kind heart and hope.

Hermione 
Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Who wouldn’t want a daughter with Hermoine’s quick wit and encyclopaedic knowledge? Your baby might not inherit Hermione’s magical abilities, but she’ll always feel the love, starting with the day you decide to name her after such a strong, clever and charming female character.

Mulan
The Ballad of Mulan

mulan-Feature

Forget the Disney film. Mulan is originally from a 6th century Chinese Poem called The Ballad of Mulan. Unlike the Disney version, which features a bumbling girl trying to be a soldier, the traditional figure is a legendary warrior who was already a martial arts and weapons expert. Mulan has been a longtime favourite for her strength and courage, which won’t be bad shoes for your little girl to fill.

Mahsuri
Legend of Langkawi Island

Mahsuri, a beautiful young woman originated from Langkawi was accused of something she had not done but was honest and stood up for what she believed in, and that was of her innocence. Her trait of honesty makes Mahsuri a courageous woman and an excellent name for your daughter.

Alice
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

alice

Her curiosity might get the better of her sometimes, but she remains unfazed by obstacles and continues to explore a fascinating but unknown world. Hopefully, your little girl never loses that childlike approach to new things in life as she grows older into a wise, mature young lady just as Alice did.

Primrose “Prim” Everdeen
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

SS_D4-1413.dng

Prim’s sweet, feminine, and nurturing demeanour is a stark contrast to tough-cookie, older sister Katniss. Apart from being an animal lover, your daughter could perhaps be interested in medicine — taking after Prim’s skills as a healer and a nurse in training.

Charlotte A. Cavatica
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

charlotte

Most people would find anything that has more than four legs scary, but not Wilbur, the pig. His best friend and close confidant is barn spider Charlotte who is not only wise and brilliantly smart, she’s a loyal friend that sticks by Wilbur through thick and thin. Now, that’s a quality your, or any girl would be proud to have.

Coraline Jones
Coraline by Neil Gaiman

coraline

Here’s a girl who has it a little harder than everyone else, and especially with a unique name like that — the teasings are almost predictable. Smart, creative, imaginative and a little misunderstood, Coraline thrives in challenges as she courageously saves her parents. A daughter that cooks her own dinner, slay villains and still manages to tuck herself in? Doesn’t sound bad at all.

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Image Credit: Storify, Hero, Disney, Little House, Portable TV, Roald Dahl, Recordsale, Harry Potter, Comic Vine, Asian Itinerary, Lions Gate, Irish Times, Laika, Routine Habit.