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)
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.