Working with Mahathir – the right thing to do?

This article was published in The Malay Mail Online, Malaysiakini, and the Blavatnik School of Government blog.

Mahathir, opposition parties, and civil society leaders signed the Deklarasi Rakyat.

Mahathir, opposition parties, and civil society leaders signed the Deklarasi Rakyat. Image from Malaysiakini.

Earlier this week, a group of influential Malaysians signed a “Declaration” calling for Prime Minister Najib Razak to be removed and for institutional reforms.

This is a major escalation in the effort to remove Najib, and an extraordinary development in Malaysian politics. Najib has faced months of exposés, investigations, and rebukes for corruption relating to the 1MDB scandal.

The signing of the Declaration is the first time that Najib’s critics from opposing sides have explicitly united against him. Continue reading


Home Ministry ban signals crackdown on civil society, say Comango reps (The Malay Mail Online)

My comment on the Home Ministry’s press statement outlawing COMANGO:

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) advocacy officer Yu Ren Chung reiterated Suriani’s argument, stressing that Comango was merely abiding by the guidelines set by the UN, and that it need not be registered for it to present a report.

“If we submit a report under a coalition, the said report can be longer and more comprehensive, which is why we did so.

“I think ordinary Malaysians are not so blind, they can tell what the government is trying to do here, in trying to assert their own version of explanations, especially in light of most recent events,” Yu Ren spoke to the Malay Mail Online via a telephone interview.

Read the full article published in The Malay Mail Online on 9 February 2014.

Government and civil society: a complimentary relationship (inRoads)

This article was published in inRoads, Women’s Aid Organisation’s quarterly newsletter.

Group photo

Participants of the Dutch Visitors Programme, March 2013.

At the end of March this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the government of the Netherlands to participate in the Dutch Visitors Programme. Along with seven young women and men from other countries, I spent ten remarkable days in the Netherlands learning about international law and peace, human rights, and Dutch society, history, and culture.

As a soft diplomacy initiative, the programme was undoubtedly a success. An evaluation exercise asked participants to rate their emotional attachment to the Netherlands on a scale of 1 to 10, before and after the programme, where a higher number corresponds to higher emotional attachment. The average rating shifted from around 3 to around 7.

One reason for this positive shift, for me at least, was Continue reading

Get Personal: Yu Ren Chung (The Star R.AGE)

This interview was published in The Star R.AGE.


TODAY is International Women’s Day, and we are introducing a young man who is championing women.

Women’s issues concern not only women, but also men. But women are almost always the ones actively championing women’s causes.

It is thus heartening to have advocacy officer Yu Ren Chung at the forefront of the work to promote gender equality in Malaysia.

The 26-year-old engineering graduate has been actively involved in advocating for women’s rights at Women’s Aid Organisation, an NGO that has been on the ground fighting to protect women from violence and other injustices since 1982.

“The objective of our advocacy work at WAO is to influence someone or a body to do something to promote women’s rights,” said Yu. His work includes promoting gender-sensitisation training for frontline police officers to urging the government to better protect women activists through the use of United Nations human rights mechanisms.

The desire to be a part of an impetus for change is the reason Yu joined WAO when he returned to Malaysia after completing his degree in the United States.

As a student, he was involved in projects and advocacy initiatives that addressed climate change and renewable energy. Yu also worked in progressive politics and policy making.

“These experiences, and the people I met along the way, have inspired me to pursue a career to contribute in whatever small way I could towards achieving a more just society,” said Yu.

“What drew me to WAO and women’s human rights in particular was the dire need to improve gender equality in Malaysia,” he shared.

Yu has female family members and friends who have survived domestic abuse, had their car windows broken, faced discrimination at work and stalked on the streets. They have also been victims of crime.

“Though it is probably impossible for me to fully empathise with all these experiences, it’s not difficult to see that women’s rights is important to your loved ones, yourself, and society,” he said.

Yu believes Malaysia still has a lot of room for improvement in becoming a strong advocate for women’s rights.

“Compared to other countries, Malaysia ranks poorly in gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012, which ranked Malaysia 100th out of 135 countries.

“Law reform on women’s rights (in the country) has been slow, and sometimes regressive — for example, with regards to the Islamic Family Law,” said Yu. “The government has also not prioritised fulfilling its international obligations on women’s rights.”

The dedicated activist laments that the talent pool in the Malaysian human rights field is not large enough

While there already exists a passionate and skilled NGO community, the number of people who are willing and able to do the work full-time is still quite small. He is optimistic about the changes in the country though.

“It is extremely encouraging to see in recent years Malaysians from all walks of life taking part in civic life in different capacities, from engaging in intellectual discourse and taking part in peaceful assemblies to starting social enterprises,” said Yu.

Get to know … Yu Ren Chung – First Man in the Advocacy Team (WAO inRoads)

How does it feel to be the only male in a women NGO?
I feel lucky to work with some wonderful people who care deeply about what they do. I think that because of the nature of our work, my colleagues are generally compassionate and considerate people. I also may not necessarily be subject to the types of pressures a woman may face working in a group of men.

Why the interest in women issues?
When I was in the US, I had the chance to pursue initiatives that and meet individuals who inspired me to pursue a career to contribute, in whatever small way I could, towards achieving a more just society. Moving back to Malaysia, I sought to work in the human rights field. What drew me to WAO and women’s human rights was the dire need to improve gender equality in Malaysia. I also thought that the cohesiveness of the women’s rights groups would help me learn and be effective in my work. Timing and opportunity were also important factors. To be sure, every human rights issue is important, and I’m glad that the collaborative nature of NGOs in Malaysia gives me the opportunity to work with other great organisations.

What does advocacy mean and how does it help a cause?
The objective of advocacy is to do something (or nothing) to influence someone to do something you want them to do. It could mean WAO meeting with the police to promote gender-sensitisation training for front-line officers; it could mean the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) issuing a press statement to urge the government to adequately protect women activists; it could mean joining a street protest to build pressure for clean & fair elections.

You have spent several years working in the US. How different is the feminist movement there compared to Malaysia?
While in the US I did not have extensive first-hand experience in women’s issues, so it’s hard for me to draw comparisons from personal experience. Feminists everywhere share many struggles, but I’d say compared to the US, women in Malaysia face greater inequalities overall – the Global Gender Gap 2011 published by the World Economic Forum ranked Malaysia 97 out of 135 countries compared to the US at 17. Women in Malaysia also routinely face types of discrimination that would seem archaic in many other countries, for instance in gender stereotyping, moral policing, and equality in the family. WAO is launching a report in September 2012, “CEDAW & Malaysia”, which details a lot of these issues.

What is your typical day at work?
As a Programme Officer, my daily work consists of completing tasks which help achieve certain objectives, which in turn help achieve advocacy goals (or so we hope!). For example, an advocacy goal could be something like “improving the family court system”. An objective could be something like “getting an article on family courts published in a newspaper”. And you could imagine what the corresponding tasks could be, like getting in touch with a journalist, compiling research material, and so on. Essentially, my daily work involves a lot of reading, writing, and talking to people.

Describe yourself in 3 words and why
Farmer. Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, a non-profit health-care organisation based in Boston, embodies personal characteristics which I may not reach but continually strive for. Extremely and strategically hardworking, intelligent, driven by values, and willing to do whatever it takes to advance justice.
Queen. My favourite band. Genius of course, but also represents my hope for a country where people aren’t judged for who they are, but celebrated for their awesomeness. A gay Brit born in Africa, flamboyant and brilliant, singing his heart out not giving a hoot what the world thinks, while thousands join and cheer in sheer ecstasy.
Kindaichi. Hajime Kindaichi, teen detective! Probably my favourite childhood comic, a simple pleasures of life which I revisit every now and then. These days, I unwind with some BFM (and NPR), and Community.

I am for …. (in less than 15 words)
…cat memes.

What would your message be to all the men out there who can also play a role in stopping violence against women?
A lot of the messaging on stopping violence against women is geared towards making women aware of how to avoid violence and defend themselves. While this is important (and should not take a protectionist approach), it’s also important to educate men. Perpetrators of violence against women are often not dodgy strangers who lurk in the dark – they could be someone you know, someone who appears “normal” in many ways. It could even be you. Ending violence against women is everyone’s responsibility.


This article was published in inRoads, Women’s Aid Organisation’s quarterly newsletter.