By Sulyn Chong
IT has been two centuries since the women’s suffrage movement took place in Europe and America but many women around the world today are still suffering from inequality and inequity among peers of the opposite gender.
Two centuries may feel like a long time to request for the rights to make choices and be heard, but the enfranchisement of women in Great Britain and the United States only truly happened sometime after World War I, between the period of 1914 and 1939, a staggering 100 years after the start of the movement in the early 1800s.
That war may have been won and much of women’s rights today have been hard-earned with literal blood, sweat and tears spilt, but even in this day and age, there are many more issues that require the attention of various quarters for women to properly attain that balance which they seek.
Fair wages, equal opportunities in the workplace, having their voices heard, being able to make important and sound decisions, and most especially, having the right to lead, not only in the household but also on the political stage, are some of the ways to tilt that imbalance.
This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), which falls on March 8 and runs throughout the month, is calling on all people to learn to #EmbraceEquity not only between genders but also between races, cultural lines, different abilities and even financial capabilities.
Everyone is implored to understand that equal opportunities are no longer enough because equality can in fact be exclusionary, rather than inclusive, as each person will require different resources to be able to be on par with one another.
On the other hand, equity acknowledges that each individual will need different allocations due to their different circumstances to enable them to reach a comparable outcome.
Loving yourself, loving others
‘To love the world is to first love yourself’ — an anonymous viral phrase that alludes to how people these days are finding themselves being burned out from the rat race of the world. The constant striving to be the best, to stand out, and to be heard in a crowd, often leaves us feeling exhausted and empty.
Having the time to just sit in silence and be with our thoughts is a rare luxury, one that many of us cannot afford. Many women feel the need to split themselves into replicas just to make sure that life goes on as planned.
However, we are not Gal Gadot equipped with Wonder Woman powers.
And although we all know that love is a strong motivator in everything we do, finding it, be it from ourselves or from others, is like finding a pearl in the ocean.
The winner of the recent Gadis Inspirasi Negeri Selangor (Selangor’s Inspirational Girl) competition, Norzawani Zakiah Khairul Zaki, 26, spoke to Selangor Journal recently and said that love is not the easiest thing to give or receive and it is always intangible, making it harder for people to believe.
“I was taking care of my mother when she fell sick and that took up most of my time. I even quit my job to be with her. It was not easy to care for someone you really love and it broke my heart when she passed away. You can say I almost lost myself before joining the competition.
“It was only through the support and encouragement of my fellow ladies (in the competition) who taught me that women are so much stronger than we think and that a mother’s love is always the most true, that helped me pull through,” she said.
The feelings of empowerment shared among ladies for ladies is in a way the purest form of support that will drive women to the top, as Stella Leong Sin Yin, second runner-up for the same competition, attested.
“The competition was an eye-opening experience where I met lots of capable women who wore different hats.
“I learned a lot, not only from the programme but also from the ladies who were there. It was through them that I realised there are many parts of me which need improvement, but I was encouraged by them and that opened my vision and deepened my understanding of what women empowerment truly is,” she said.
Pushing for political literacy
Women’s role in the household is irreplaceable but to see women growing in decision-making positions outside of the home is encouraging too, with more traditionally male-dominated positions being held by their female counterparts in both the private and public sectors these days.
This forward change of culture is heartening to see as women are given equitable chances in power roles that were unheard of a century ago. However, these chances are not happening as quickly or widely as many believe.
Even more so on the political stage, where political literacy is not widely shared and is something that many women have not been given much opportunity to explore or learn, thus creating a wide gap between the genders.
This can be witnessed in the most recent 15th general election where Malaysia’s target of 30 per cent women leadership in Parliament came to a naught as men dominated the fighting ring.
Leong, who is also a law graduate, said there are platforms for women to learn about politics, but they are not widespread enough.
“I trust that in the current digital age, there are more spaces and avenues for women to speak their minds and be heard. “However, opportunities for women’s representation in politics are still few due to low
political literacy among the community and I would like to push for that. Hopefully, with my current work under DAP (Democratic Action Party), I am able to do something to heighten that knowledge for the betterment of society,” she said.
While both Norzawani Zakiah and Leong agreed on wanting more women role models to inspire everyone no matter the gender, they believe that both women and men should always understand and tolerate each other in every field to be able to become better as a society.
“I believe that word of mouth always gets the message across better. It is able to highlight issues about women and educate people much faster,” said Leong.
“But to change a person is never easy unless you are able to touch their heart. That is when change can happen and I believe that empowering someone does start from the heart,” said Norzawani Zakiah.
Removing barriers for women
The Selangor government’s Wanita Berdaya Selangor Sdn Bhd (WBS), in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Coalition of Women’s Organisations (KLSCWO), is organising an International Women’s Day event on March 11 at Hotel Sama-sama, KLIA, Selangor.
WBS Research and Policy Development Department senior manager Rusni Tajari said the event will see the handover of grants to successful shelter home applicants in the Selangor region.
“These grants are given to empower women in the state who are in dire need by providing programmes to get them back on their feet,” she said.
Rusni also shared that WBS will be running the Sidang Wanita Selangor 2023 (2023 Selangor Women’s Conference, Siwanis), a simulation workshop for 56 women participants to experience a Parliamentary session.
“The participants were chosen from a list of over 120 submissions. These are women who are knowledgeable about the issues of the state and of other women, and are ready to offer solutions to the problems.
“The main objective is to increase women representation in Parliament as well as decision-making positions because we are certainly not there yet. The 30 per cent (parliamentary) quota has not been achieved and we hope this initiative will boost that,” she said.
Rusni added that the challenge now is to try and implement the women quota in Parliament as support from the system is lacking. “We are trying to push for change but it will not be easy.
“However, we believe that this initiative will be a good platform for these women to attain appropriate financing and backing to continue fighting for the cause … to improve and level themselves up to be leaders in decisionmaking positions, to push for backup from the workplace or political party they are working with, and to listen to women as there are many talented women out there,” she said.
Siwanis is the third women’s conference of its kind to be held in Malaysia, with the previous ones held in Negeri Sembilan and Penang.
This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly March edition, published on March 6, 2023.