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The Choice Feminist Delusion

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  “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality,” said Emma Watson to a chorus of female cheers reverberating across the world. [1] If there was ever an archetype for the 21st century feminist, Watson would be its superhero and those words would be the battle cry for her fellow choice feminists.

Choice feminism has been so fetishized within popular culture that when women criticise particular industries, institutions and social constructs as patriarchal, they are often met with accusations of attacking the women who choose to participate in them. It doesn’t even matter what the choice is, the comments section would inevitably devolve into her personal right to choose. To say anything otherwise is to defeat her personal liberation, and to stampede on her choice is anti-feminist, so they say. They’re right, in so far as women should have the right to choose, but does it follow that every choice is a good choice for the collective liberation of all women?

The pitfall of this feminist blueprint is that it presumes that we live in a post-patriarchal world where every female choice made, is one that is made independent of the suffocating influences of the patriarchy. It presumes that a liberating choice made by women in first world democracies has no effect in entrenching the very institutions that robs choice from women in third world countries. Most importantly, it presumes that some choices are not made at the expense of the collective liberation of all women.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


The core belief of choice feminism is that any choice you make towards your self-fulfillment is a feminist action. The narrative behind that is noble: women’s choices were made for them under a more severe patriarchal past, so any ability to choose is a liberating one. The foible presents itself when choices that seem to personify female subordination are now being repackaged as liberating personal choices; despite the fact that the patriarchy, popular culture, corporate retail and the mass media are all clamouring to hijack the promotion of those choices for their own gains.

Pornography and prostitution are being rebranded as sexual liberation. [2] Cosmetic surgery and make-up are being rebranded as personal fulfillment. [3] Sexual objectification is being rebranded as personal empowerment. [4] Even marriage, and the act of taking your husband’s name, is now being reconstructed as a feminist choice. [5] All of this is happening while women are still primarily the victims of structural discrimination on those very same platforms that are being used for empowerment.

Women still face unbearably high levels of sexual violence and millions of women around the world do not even have the limited protection of common sense laws like marital rape. Activists are still fighting all around the world for the rights of girls and women to not be mutilated and exploited. Pornography and the trafficking of women and girls are booming global businesses trading primarily in sexual exploitation. To support choices which strengthen these institutions ignores the horrific number of women worldwide who still experience oppression and inequality.

We also need to acknowledge that choices are not made in a vacuum, they are shaped by the normative social forces surrounding them.

We have no way of knowing if these personal choices are made because of the patriarchy or despite of it. In many cases, popular culture constructs a mindset in which women find fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness from fulfilling the exact roles that men want them to. While these choices are not exactly coerced, the agency that some women believe they are exercising is an illusion, if she does not self-interrogate the reasons why she makes these “liberating” choices. While she wears make-up for her own personal fulfillment, is she aware that her fulfillment is shaped by the oppressive beauty standards perpetuated by men? Misogyny can be internalized and her choice could be a byproduct of patriarchal influences that she is not consciously aware of. Since there’s no way of knowing, choice feminism presents an easy cop-out that paints all women to be self-aware in a way that frees herself from these coercive social forces.

Yet, even if choice feminists can genuinely proclaim that the choices of women in liberal societies are made independent of the patriarchy, their brand of feminism is also taking over popular culture en masse which trickles down to societies where women are definitively not free from those patriarchal forces. The “My Choice” video launched by Vogue India went viral with a popular icon, Deepika Padukone depicting female empowerment through a series of choices. [6] Ironic, considering the video is launched by an industry that reinforces sexist beauty standards; and confounding, considering that India suffers from a culture of sexual violence and a rape epidemic that’s beyond control. [7] Some of those choices not only consolidate the female oppression in conservative societies, but women trapped in these environments are often not in the position to freely make these choices.  

We should not stand for a feminist framework where questioning choices that reinforce female oppression can be inoculated from criticism. These criticisms are not a personal attack to the character of these women, they are stepping stones to recalibrating their feminist worldview.

The unavoidable reality is that all women experience different levels of privilege which potentially barricades us from being fair to other women who do not have the same shared experiences. Our solidarity has a learning curve wherein many women are fighting to be heard and included in the feminist narrative. Choice feminists have reason to be wary of what this learning curve may entail: fellow feminists would have to be obliged to criticise one another for making choices that are unwittingly “unfeminist”.



But this is not a devolution of feminist solidarity. This is a necessary maneuver in formulating a version of solidarity that could elevate the position of all women. While feminists may differ in our approach to feminism, there is no denying that we share a common goal in achieving the complete social, political and economic equality of all genders. The only way we can accomplish genuine equality is to capture the different shades of patriarchal oppression suffered by women of different backgrounds. As a movement, we are not singling out individual women as unfeminist, we are simply debating which choices serve our cause for equality better.

These criticisms are not only part and parcel of an educational process, doing so to public figures that are greatly revered by many, like Emma Watson, has a spillover effect to the rest of society. In the infamous Nicki Minaj-Taylor Swift Twitter debacle, Minaj lambasted the MTV Video Music Awards for having a cultural bias in favor of the slim, supermodel-type of beauty and sexuality. In what she perceived to be an attack towards her nomination, Swift, a self-professed feminist, tweeted: “I’ve done nothing but love and support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot…” While Swift was offering what was true to her own experience as a white female artist, she is ignoring the intersectionality of Minaj’s experience of sexist beauty standards as a black woman. [8]

What follows next is tremendous, Swift experienced a public re-education on what it meant to be an intersectional feminist. She apologised and tweeted: “I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke.” This recalibration of her feminist worldview was owed to the massive outcries and criticisms levied by fellow feminists and Swift’s public schooling acted as a multiplier force for many young women who have also not considered the complexities of female oppression for minorities. Even renowned feminist icons are not free from this learning curve. Gloria Steinem insinuated that young female supporters of Bernie Sanders are there to simply follow the men and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie purported that trans women are not women. It is the feminist backlash that made both of these figures recalibrate their positions and publicly apologize for their ill-considered stumbles. [9][10]

The only way we can compel public figures and everyday feminists to check their privilege, or to realize the far-reaching consequences of their choices to other women is to criticise their choices. We can no longer access this when ‘choice’ is flagrantly used as a catch-all defense to end conversations. “It’s her choice,” “No one forced her to do it, she chose it to do it for her own fulfillment,” or “She is not a victim, this choice improved her position” has now become the golden standard to determining the value of a feminist choice.

While that may benefit the individual, it may or may not benefit the collective liberation of women.

Considering that modern feminism appreciates intersectionality which acknowledges the different levels of oppression that women suffer depending on their identity and context, choice feminism which belittles the context of certain choices is perplexing. We want to build a politics of solidarity, yet we refuse to collectivize against choices that perpetuate the oppression of women who suffer differently than we do.

If our suffering is interwoven together, then our solution must be, too. The origin of the feminist movement was never meant to be about liberating the specific choices of individuals, it was about the liberation of the entire gender as a marginalized class. Choices that undermine that, while they should be allowed, should not be celebrated by feminists.



[1] Washington, A. (2017, May 3). Emma Watson defines feminism in her response to Vanity Fair topless photo shoot criticism. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/emma-watson-defines-feminism-her-response-vanity-fair-topless-photo-shoot-criticism-983295

[2] Bell, K. J. (2009). A feminist’s argument on how sex work can benefit women. Inquiries Journal. Retrieved from http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/28/a-feminists-argument-on-how-sex-work-can-benefit-women

[3] Neustatter, A. (2014, February 3). I’m a feminist and I’ve had cosmetic surgery. Why is that a problem? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/03/feminist-cosmetic-surgery-low-body-confidence

[4] Berlatsky, N. (2014, October 7). Beyoncé doesn’t perform for the male gaze. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/social-justice/beyonce-91908

[5] Deitz, B. (2015, September 30). Why changing your name after marriage can be a feminist act. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/113010-why-changing-your-name-after-marriage-can-be-a-feminist-act

[6] Deepika Padukone – “My Choice” directed by Homi Adajania – Vogue Empower. (2016, February 10). Retrieved from http://www.vogue.in/video/deepika-padukone-my-choice-directed-by-homi-adajania-vogue-empower/

[7] Khan, S. (2016, March 23). What’s really behind India’s rape crisis. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/whats-really-behind-indias-rape-crisis

[8] Armstrong, J.K. (2016, February 1). Taylor Swift’s feminist evolution. Billboard. Retrieved


[9] Crockett, E. (2017, March 15). The controversy over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and trans women, explained. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/15/14910900/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-comments-apology

[10] Contrera, J. (2016, February 7). Gloria Steinem is apologizing for insulting female Bernie Sanders supporters. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/02/07/gloria-steinem-is-apologizing-for-insulting-female-bernie-sanders-supporters/?utm_term=.1deec594fc77


Marilah Bersetuju Untuk Tidak Bersetuju

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Penterjemah: Azim Allaudin

Jika anda bertanya kepada dua orang individu tentang apakah yang mereka maksudkan apabila mereka merujuk diri mereka sebagai feminis, berkemungkinan besar anda akan mendapat dua jawapan yang berbeza. Ada yang akan berkata yang bahawa ianya adalah disebabkan oleh perbezaan daripada segi ideologi tetapi ianya tidak boleh dirujuk sebagai feminisme yang berlainan ‘jenis’. Perbezaan akan sentiasa ada pada setiap orang daripada segi bagaimana konsep feminisme dipraktikkan, strategi yang mana patut diutamakan dan juga kepercayaan dan pendapat yang mana akan dipegang. Di samping itu, perbezaan daripada segi pengalaman patut diambil berat dan bukan diabaikan. Dogmatisme yang membuta tuli tidak patut dilayan kerana ia tidak menghormati perbezaan antara individu.

Di sebalik perbezaan – perbezaan yang ada, terdapat satu benda yang semua feminis boleh persetujui iaitu mereka semua inginkan wanita mendapat pengiktirafan yang sewajarnya di dalam masyarakat. Sebelum kita menyentuh tentang hak dan maruah, kuasa dan kebebasan; sebelum kita berdebat tentang hak kesamaan, ekuiti dan matlamat – matlamat lain yang memesongkan kita daripada matlamat kita yang satu dan sebenar, kita perlu kembali semula ke perkara yang memulakan segala – galanya iaitu ketidakpuasan hati kita dengan status quo dan pergelutan untuk mencapai perubahan. Tersirat dalam hati semua feminis ialah hasrat yang kuat untuk melihat perubahan. Atas sebab ini, mungkin terdapat sesetengah yang ingin menekankan persamaan dan mengabaikan perbezaan kita.

Jika kita dapat menumpukan perhatian pada usaha untuk mencapai matlamat yang sama, ia akan membuatkan aktivisme secara pakatan (“coalition activism”) lebih mudah dijalankan. Tidak kira perjuangan feminis yang mana satu anda inginkan, anda boleh bekerjasama dengan feminis – feminis yang lain walaupun mereka itu feminis berunsurkan islamik yang mempunyai konsep yang berlainan dengan anda daripada segi jantina dan keperempuanan, ahli – ahli politik yang memakai topeng feminisme demi kepentingan politik, organisasi antarabangsa yang bertindak demi keuntungan kuasa – kuasa besar atau syarikat – syarikat yang hanya didorong oleh keuntungan wang. Isu hubungan feminisme dengan kuasa – kuasa yang berlainan dorongan sebenarnya merupakan suatu persoalan strategi yang menjangkau skop artikel ini. Berdasarkan pengalaman saya mengendalikan keadaan, saya mengakui bahawa perdebatan dan perbalahan antara feminis – feminis harus diketepikan jika kita ingin melihat perubahan untuk berlaku pada masa terdekat. Namun, kesempatan itu jarang-jarang berlaku dan disebabkan itu, usaha ke arah perubahan daripada segi fizikal dan material tidak boleh dijadikan satu-satunya tunjang aktivisme. Banyak usaha telah dilaburkan untuk membuka ruang bagi dialog dan perdebatan untuk membuka minda dan meningkatkan kesedaran umum. Ianya di sini, dalam perkongsian pendapat, di mana perbezaan itu menjadi semakin jelas.

Bolehkah / patutkah lelaki menjadi feminis? Adakah semua lelaki itu mendiskriminasikan wanita? Adakah sistem organisasi sosial yang didominasi oleh lelaki boleh diselamatkan? Adakah ada situasi di mana sistem partriaki itu adalah baik? Adakah kebebasan memilih itu benar – benar mendatangkan kebaikan? Saya sendiri telah terlibat dan menyaksikan debat – debat ini. Pada pengakhiran setiap perbincangan, ia jelas yang kedua – dua parti yang berlawan datang daripada kedudukan yang berbeza. Perbincangan – perbincangan ini seperti tiada pengakhiran kerana kedua – dua parti tidak sedia untuk mendengar dan menerima buah fikiran lawan masing – masing. Kebanyakan perbincangan ini selalunya diakhiri dengan ayat “Ini cuma pendapat saya. Marilah kita bersetuju untuk tidak bersetuju.”. Tanpa bantuan untuk tindakan segera (perubahan segera), perkara ini menggambarkan aktivisme dalam cara yang tidak membuahkan apa – apa hasil.

Saya ingin menerangkan kepada yang belum mengetahui tentang konsep kebebasan berpendapat menerusi kebijaksanaan ahli falsafah John Stuart Mill. Mengikut liberalisme sosial, kemajuan boleh dicapai melalui perbincangan bebas dan sama rata. Di dalam situasi yang bebas berpendapat, semua pendapat individu dilindungi. Mempunyai pendapat dianggap sebagai hak. Apabila hak kebebasan berpendapat ini dilindungi, kita semua akan boleh membentuk individualisme sendiri tanpa dikongkong oleh tekanan untuk mengikuti sesetengah idea dan pendapat sahaja. Mill menyokong pendapat yang setiap permasalahan dan percanggahan pendapat harus diselesaikan melalui perkongsian buah fikiran. Menurutnya, kekurangan perbincangan dan debat akan mengekalkan status quo dan menghalang kemajuan. Secara ringkasnya, perbincangan dan debat adalah bagus. Lebih banyak perbincangan, lebih bagus kerana ia akan membawa kemajuan. Anda boleh tersinggung dengan pendapat orang lain namun menurut Mill, anda tiada hak untuk tidak tersinggung. Apa sahaja perbincangan adalah lebih bagus daripada tiada perbincangan langsung dan semua orang berhak untuk mempunyai pendapat masing – masing.

Debat seperti ini bukannya diadakan untuk menyelesaikan sesuatu masalah. Matlamat yang sebenar ialah untuk mengambil kira pendapat orang lain dan mencari kata sepakat. Anda mungkin berasa yang ianya seperti sama dengan asas advokasi untuk kesederhanaan berpolitik yang semakin popular di Malaysia. Mereka yang percaya dengan konsep kebebasan berpendapat tidak meletakkan diri sebagai konservatif mahupun liberal, mereka mempercayai bahawa terdapat titik yang neutral dan tidak dipengaruhi unsur – unsur politik lain yang lebih sesuai untuk kemajuan.

Namun, sebenarnya ini merupakan asas penting liberalisme. Dari sudut liberalisme, kebebasan berpendapat datangnya dari konsep kebebasan liberal di mana kebebasan individu haruslah dilindungi selagi ia tidak menyekat kebebasan individu lain.

 Walaubagaimanapun, mereka yang berpegang pada ideal ini dan mengamalkannya dalam perbincangan feminis mengabaikan elemen penting feminisme iaitu kebebasan ini bukanlah matlamat yang harus dicapai. Nilai-nilai murni dan keutamaan merupakan persoalan yang sepatutnya dijawab.

Jika anda menghargai toleransi atau anda mengutamakan perkembangan feminisme agar lebih ramai menerimanya, jadi memperbanyakkan perbincangan ini adalah tindakan yang betul. Tapi, tindakan ini akan memesongkan perhatian daripada mangsa – mangsa penindasan, seperti yang berlaku dengan mana – mana ideologi lain yang mengetengahkan kebebasan individu.

 “Ia adalah pilihan saya untuk memakai alat solek,” mungkin memberikan kebaikan terhadap anda tapi apabila dihadapkan pada ruang perbincangan dan pendapat, ia bersaing dengan pendapat individu yang pernah dimusnahkan oleh industri persolekan. “Saya rasa bukan semua lelaki mendiskriminasikan wanita,” bersaing dengan kisah – kisah wanita yang ditindas secara ganas oleh lelaki. “Saya merasakan yang partriaki itu bagus,” bersaing dengan analisis terhadap sistem yang menindas separuh daripada kemanusiaan. Bagi mereka yang berkata dua pendapat boleh dipertimbangkan dan dihormati pada masa yang sama tanpa bersaing antara satu sama lain, saya ingin menegaskan yang pada masa kini, ruang untuk meluahkan pendapat secara bebas adalah sangat luas, jadi sudah tentu terdapat banyak persaingan daripada segi pendapat. Ada pendapat yang akan didengari dan manakala yang lain pula akan dilupakan.

Apabila kita mengabaikan mangsa – mangsa penindasan, kita sememangnya tersasar daripada matlamat utama sebagai feminis iaitu keinginan untuk mencabar status quo dan berjuang demi perubahan. Jika itu bukan feminisme anda, jadi apakah ia? Jika kita cuma menerima situasi sekarang seadanya dan menyokong pendapat yang membina status quo, bagaimanakah situasi akan berubah? Menjadi seorang feminis tidak menyeronokkan mahupun menyelesakan tapi kita mesti lakukannya demi perubahan dengan membina semula atau membaiki sistem masyarakat melalui pengenalpastian mangsa – mangsa partriaki, keganasan dan penindasan sistem kerajaan dan kuasa besar serta mencari alternatif.

Kita haruslah mencabar diri kita dan tidak berasa terlalu selesa dengan keadaan masyarakat sekarang jika kita hendak berubah. Meluahkan pendapat semata – mata adalah tidak mencukupi kerana akhirnya kita hanya membazirkan masa apabila perbincangan itu diakhiri dengan “setuju untuk tidak bersetuju”. Kita perlulah mencari talian empati yang merapatkan para feminis bersama dan rasa tanggungjawab dalam setiap perbincangan dan debat.

Pengalaman anda adalah kepunyaan anda dan ia menentukan pendapat yang bagaimana anda akan luahkan tetapi kita perlu bersatu atas nama feminisme sebenar untuk mengenalpasti kepayahan wanita, untuk mengetengahkan isu perubahan, dan bekerjasama demi matlamat yang satu. “Itu cuma pendapat saya, marilah kita bersetuju untuk tidak bersetuju” adalah sikap yang degil dan enggan belajar daripada orang lain maka menghalang kemajuan diri dan masyarakat.

Petikan ini hanyalah sebagai permulaan, sebuah penjelasan. Saya telah mengetengahkan kerisauan saya terhadap ruang bicara feminis – feminis dan telah mencadangkan penyelesaian terhadap isu tersebut. Saya sangat – sangat berharap yang kita semua dapat menjalankan perbincangan yang mengetengahkan bahawa semua pendapat adalah tidak sama dan feminisme sepatutnya mengutamakan suara – suara yang ditindas dan jarang didengari. Isu ini mungkin nampak remeh namun sebenarnya ia mampu menjadi masalah besar yang dapat memecahkan ikatan sesama feminis. Namun, apakah strategi yang patut dipraktikkan untuk memajukan gerakan feminisme hari ini dan akan datang? Kita haruslah memahami (neo) liberalisme sebagai satu ideologi kerana jika tidak, kita tidak akan dapat mengatasi semua permasalahan jika semuanya ditenggelami oleh sesuatu yang seringkas ‘kebebasan berpendapat’.

Tapi, ini semua hanyalah pendapat saya. Kita boleh bersetuju untuk tidak bersetuju.


**Baca artikel ini versi Bahasa Inggeris, sila klik sini.

Let’s Agree to Disagree

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If you ask two people what they mean when they say that they identify as feminists, you’re more likely than not to get two different answers. Some might say that it’s just a matter of ideological variants but this cannot simply be attributed to different ‘kinds’ of feminisms. From person to person, there will be differences across how concepts are practiced and applied, which strategies are prioritized, as well as what beliefs and opinions advocated. That’s just as well; differences of experience should be our starting point, rather than elided or ignored. Rabid dogmatism can be undesirable, unsustainable, and furthermore, disrespectful to difference.

Maybe, if there is something feminists can agree on, it is working towards raising the position of women in society. Before we get into discussions on rights and dignity, empowerment and liberty; before we split hairs over equality, equity, and other goals we might have been distracted from – prior to all of that, is a recognition that something is wrong here, that we are unsatisfied with the status quo. Implicit in our understanding of ourselves as feminists, is a desire to see change. With this in common, there might be a compulsion on the part of some to emphasize our similarities and disregard our differences.


In the launch of the ‘HeforShe’ campaign, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson “extended a formal invitation” to men to join the movement for gender equality. Does this accelerate or undermine women’s efforts?


If we focused on what we can do to contribute towards roughly the same goal, it certainly makes coalition activism easier. Wherever you stand as a feminist, you can work with other feminists; whether they are, say, Islamic feminists who have a different conception of gender and womanhood, politicians who take up the mantel of women’s rights to garner political support, supra- or international organizations that act in the interests of a global hegemon, or corporations that are driven by profit. The issue of feminism’s relationship to conflict-driven entities is, in practice, a question of strategy that is beyond the scope of this article. In my personal experience navigating both nominally feminist and non-feminist spaces alike, I will admit that splitting hairs sometimes has to take a backseat in the face of change that can be implemented and effective now. But those opportunities are few and far between, which is why working towards physical, material change is not the end all be all of activism. A lot has been invested in opening up spaces for dialogue and debate, to raise awareness and broaden minds. It is here, in the realm of opinion, that differences become glaring.

Can/should men be feminists? Are all men perpetuators of misogyny? Can patriarchal systems of social organization be salvaged? Are there situations where patriarchy is a good thing? Is freedom of choice empowering? I have myself been involved in and bore witness to these debates[1]. At the end of the discussion, it becomes clear that two opposing parties stand coming from completely different places. The discussion seems politically inert, because the two parties seem to be talking through each other, completely missing the other’s point. To end the debate, dealing the final coup de grace, someone suggests that, “This is just my personal opinion. Let’s agree to disagree.” With no recourse to immediate action (immediate change), this seemingly futile exercise justifies itself as activism in its own way.


Here I introduce to those unfamiliar the concept of freedom of opinion, which I will explain through the work of enlightenment philosopher John Stuart Mill[2]. According to social liberalism, progress is achieved through free and equal discussion. In the open market of ideas and opinions, everyone’s opinion is equally protected. Having an opinion is translated into an entitlement and a right. When this liberty is protected, you will be able to develop your individualism, unconstrained by social pressures to conform to an opinion and opened to all possible discussions so they may inform you. Mill calls for a celebration of those who go against received opinions for strengthening our certainty in truth or questioning falsities in our established convictions. Accordingly, it is the lack of discussion that maintains the status quo and atrophies progress. To put it simply, any and all discussion is good. The more there is of it, the better, and the likelier we are to progress. You can be offended by someone else’s opinion, but, as I’ve seen it quoted, you do not have a right to not be offended. Any discussion, after all, is better than no discussion at all, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Debates of this kind are not held to find workable solutions. The point is to take into consideration everyone’s points of view and to find a middle ground. You might recognize this as underlying the advocacy for political moderation that is fast becoming popular in the country. Those who buy into the abovementioned conception of freedom of opinion shrug off allegiance to ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ alike, believing that there is an apolitical, neutral vantage point better suited to affect progress.

However, this is (and has always been) fundamentally a liberal position. Freedom of opinion is inextricable from the liberal conception of freedom, where an individual’s liberty should be protected as long as it does not infract upon the liberty of another individual.

But those who subscribe to this ideal and apply it to their feminist discussions miss an incredibly significant element of feminism: that this liberty has never been the point. Values and priorities definitely come into question here.


If you value tolerance above all else, or if you prioritise quantitatively expanding feminism so it reaches more people, then proliferation of discussion can only be a good thing. But ultimately, this will shift the focus away from victims of oppression, as any ideology that prioritizes individual liberty and choice tends to do.

“It is my choice to wear makeup,” might be a great thing for you personally, but once it enters the realm of opinion, it competes with the opinions of those who have been harmed by the makeup industry. “I think not all men are misogynists, that’s just my personal opinion,” competes with stories of women who have suffered violence at the hands of men. “I think patriarchy can be a good thing, but let’s agree to disagree,” competes with detailed analyses and proposed solutions to a system that oppresses half of humanity. For those who argue that two opinions can be considered and respected at the same time without competing with another, I say: this is a free market of opinions. Of course there’s competition. Some narratives come out on top, while others get buried.

When we shift the focus away from the victims of oppression, we lose sight of the only thing we might be said to have in common as feminists: the desire to challenge the status quo and fight for change. If that is not your feminism, then what is? If we simply accept things as they are and support opinions that reinforce the status quo, how will things ever change? Being a feminist is not fun, it’s not comfortable, but at the end of the day, if we say we want change, then it comes through a rebuilding, a community-healing; through recognizing the invisibilized victims of patriarchy, the violence this system has wrought, and seeking alternatives.


Public discussions on feminist issues are becoming increasingly popular. Are they ‘effective’? Image via [https://japleenpasricha.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/50-shades-of-feminism-a-panel-discussion-on-feminism-and-pornography/]


The point is to challenge ourselves, to be uncomfortable, to grow. Merely expressing opinions does not lead us to this. Merely debating does not lead us to this, because we waste resources only to end with an oblique “agree to disagree.” There needs to be a chord of empathy that ties us together, and a thread of responsibility underlying every discussion we have.

Your experiences are your own, and they will inevitably color your opinions, but we come together as feminists to recognize the struggles of other women, to work towards change, to hope for a common goal. “That’s just my opinion, let’s agree to disagree” is, in its worst form, a stubborn refusal to learn from others that prevents us from ever moving forward.

This article is nothing more than a preliminary work, an exposition. I have highlighted the concerns I have regarding trends within local feminist discussion spaces, and have provided no cut-and-dry solution. It has always been my hope that we move ever closer towards more nuanced, critical spaces of discussion that recognize the fact that all opinions are not equal, and that feminism should prioritize the voices of those who have been marginalized. This issue may seem small, as I chose intersubjective disagreement as a starting point, but it can escalate and become a schism that prevent partnership, community, coalition building. But as I said, these are questions of collective strategy – how do we move feminism forward today and tomorrow? It is crucial we understand the totalizing nature of (neo)liberalism as an ideology here, as there is no way to play in the system that is not by the system, no route to groundbreaking change other than holistic revolution because all routes have been subsumed under something as simple as ‘freedom of opinion’.

But that’s just my opinion. We can agree to disagree.




[1] These debates are near fixtures on most discussion platforms. Regrettably, if you are not familiar with them, this article might not resonate, but I hope to address at least some who have encountered such or similar incidents.

[2] I refer to J.S. Mill’s On Liberty (1959). Avalaible online here.


*Cover image via Mangal Media [http://www.mangalmedia.net/english//feminism-under-clouds-of-war]

Feminism: Trend or Movement?

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Hilary Clinton: the new face of feminism? Breaking glass ceilings?


There was a time around 2008 when the word feminism was met with a certain level of enthusiasm, or dare I say, respect.  The face of feminism, though not labeled as such at the time, was exemplified through great female leaders such as Norway’s first woman Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland whose appointment of a cabinet with gender parity set Norway towards equality reform. Since her bold move, the Norwegian government continues to reflect gender parity. As of 2008, Norway also began enforcing a gender quota requirement of 40% female corporate board membership in all public limited liability companies. Then, Brundtland was famously quoted as saying she had to sacrifice one generation of male leaders to take a step forward for women’s rights.  It is women like her who use their position of power to make changes that affect not only society, but also a generation. Now, let us fast-forward to the present, where the face of a feminist is Hillary Clinton – the same woman who stood by her husband as he committed adultery whilst in public office and lied to the American people and the world about it.

Feminism has entered the lives of everyone through social media campaigns, commercials and through every self-proclaimed semi-famous celebrity pronouncement declaring themselves a feminist for their 10 minutes of fame. In the past 2 years, the rise of advertisements and commercials targeted towards the supposed empowerment of the female demographic is abominable.  How on earth did the decision to show your nipples or shave your body hair give rise to an actual feminist movement? Apparently, a woman’s need to shave her body hair means she has sold her soul, as a female razor is a tool of the patriarchy used to perpetuate a woman’s status as second class.  I still cannot seem to grasp the concept that exposing or covering my nipples makes me more or less of a woman.


Is the rejection of feminine hygiene products a pertinent representation of feminist values and ideals?


What really riles me up, personally, is when a woman berates another woman for choosing to use these so-called tools of the patriarchy, such as make-up. Is feminism just all about nipples, body hair and make-up? What I find most amusing is labeling the use of tampons and other feminine hygiene products as forms of patriarchal oppression. It is absolutely shocking that some women believe in this depraved notion – and thus began the “Free Bleeding” movement, a campaign suggesting that male-dominated companies secretly market these products to women to shame them for their periods.  This seemed too absurd to be true, until I stumbled upon a few pictures on social media showing mass demonstrations of women menstruating freely. This repulsive display of stupidity is as unsanitary as it is ludicrous, but there it is: feminism, again, managing to turn a depraved idea into female heroism.

I sadly believe that feminism, with all its ideals, unbeknownst to society, has become a trend.  Feminism has lost its way due to over-usage of the mass media and pockets of society that fail to understand its true meaning.

Supposedly, feminism was a movement born to help women gain equal rights with men in every aspect of living.  It was born to help women smash the glass ceiling and also for women to be in more advantageous positions so that their voices can be heard. The movement we witness today seems to deviate from addressing the important issues that continue to pervade women’s lives around the globe, such as female genital mutilation, marital rape, and child marriage, to name a few.


Image via Buzzfanzine.com [http://www.buzzfanzine.com/nike-hijab-faces-media-backlash-cashing-subjugation-domination-oppression-women/]


Radical feminism has become a Western social movement that places importance on frivolous and tedious issues. It has also become a platform for women to chastise other women for having different opinions or the choice to simply not subscribe to the feminist majority. This has been exemplified, as of late, by Western women criticizing Muslim women for their decision to don the hijab.  Society appears to have begun condoning personal attacks on women who choose to wear the hijab in the West. A woman who chooses to dress modestly is not necessarily under subjugation, but she has made the decision using her faith to unshackle herself from worldly desires. Nuns wear habits, Franciscans wear hooded robes and the Amish don hats and bonnets – so why is it that these women do not receive the wrath of these so-called feminists?

These self-identifying feminists claim they are the saving women of the Muslim faith from their oppression, but shaming someone for their overt modesty or lack of it, whilst boiling their choices down to oppression, denies them the power and faculty in the same way men have been denying women of their agency and humanity for generations.

Feminism, as quoted in the Oxford dictionary is, “The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”. Equality of the sexes is a battle worth fighting for, for the sake of young girls (and boys). The battle, however, cannot be won if feminism remains a social movement. States play an important role in determining the basic and equal rights of their women. Nations such as Norway, France and Canada that boast gender parity in their cabinets are able to create change for women by creating reforms on matters such as birth control, paid maternity leave, marital rape, and female genital mutilation. Changes will be more impactful from people in higher positions of society who can utilise their political influence to create change in society or, at the very least, increase awareness pertaining to these issues.

Protesting in unison does bring like-minded people together; however, real change can only be implemented if feminism or issues pertaining to feminism are put forth on a higher platform.  A woman’s freedom of choice is indeed important, but does our female society really need help in deciding if they should use make-up, or do we need to raise awareness to inevitably affect change for our generation of women and the attitudes towards us?

Feminism needs to remain a global issue and it is time for people in more developed countries to move forward by lending a voice to women in less fortunate circumstances.  We still need feminism as it is more than a gender issue; it is an issue of our humanity.  If you’re still asking why we still need feminism – as Josh Whedon famously said when questioned on why he captures such strong female characters: “It’s because you are still asking me that question.”


The Other ‘C’ Word

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“Makeup doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s simply makeup. It’s about… what makes me happy when I look in the mirror… it’s about the face I choose to show the world, and what I choose to say,” she explains in this promotional video for the makeup brand: [https://vimeo.com/187957816]


Last October, No.7, a cosmetics brand of UK pharmacy chain Boots, sent waves through the feminist world with the introduction of its unlikely new brand ambassador—the acclaimed writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her appointment was especially noteworthy as it came right on the heels of Alicia Keys’ public decision to stop wearing make-up. It seemed a little counterintuitive for a renowned feminist like Adichie to endorse make-up so fervently, and so, more than helping No.7 put more lipstick on people’s lips, Adichie’s new position has also revived the debate on the relevance of make-up in the feminist movement, inspiring media outlets to publish articles with headlines like “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the feminist who sells make-up” and “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Proves Feminist Can Rock Make-Up, Too”.

While Keys’ take on make-up might seem like the more obvious feminist stance, Adichie is convinced that her advocacy and love for make-up is no less feminist than Keys’ rejection of it. According to Adichie, both she and Keys are actually acting on the same (feminist) instinct—being the version of themselves that makes them feel real. While this means a rejection of cosmetics for Keys, it means the opposite for Adichie. The writer concludes almost every interview on her love for cosmetics by saying that, at the end of the day, it is up to a woman to decide if make-up works for her or not. All in all, she seems to argue, all that matters is a woman’s personal Choice, and make-up is in no way anti-feminist as long as this Choice is upheld.


Is Keys’ stance against makeup a stronger representation of her feminism than Adichie’s decision to embrace it?


This use of Choice as a feminist justification for decisions that might otherwise be considered anti-feminist, like the wearing of make-up, high heels, or the hijab, is becoming increasingly common in mainstream feminist discourse. Undoubtedly, respecting women’s personal choices is important, but it is equally important, if not more, to critically examine these Choices and the desires that inform them.

NO ONE is immune to making anti-feminist Choices, including women and/or feminists. Championing Choice above all else makes it easier for all of us to escape the need for deeper self-reflection and consequently runs the risk of eclipsing the bigger struggle for the equality of the genders. It is perhaps time we turned down the volume of the overwhelming rallying cry that is “Choice!”, and took a step back to consider how we can make better feminist Choices in order to advance the movement more meaningfully.

Many topics come to mind when talking about Choice: make-up, body hair (or the lack thereof), the hijab, high heels, the list goes on, but the topic of choice here will be make-up, as space does not permit for more.

Make-up or cosmetics, by definition, are products used (predominantly by women) to beautify appearances, and women have been applying cosmetics on their skin long before Cleopatra sported the first recorded cat eye in history. Living in an age where advertisers and the media are constantly feeding us happiness-sapping messages served with a dash of body-shaming, putting on make-up has become the quickest, least invasive way to get a boost in self-esteem.

Indeed, it feels good to look good, and some even say that it helps women earn more. So what’s wrong with wanting to feel good about how you look? It makes you more confident, more positive, a better worker, a better friend… it’s all good, right? Isn’t that what make-up is all about, empowering women by providing them with a quick boost of feel-good vibes? Well, yes and no.


Is makeup “simply makeup”, as Adichie suggests?


Yes, of course there is nothing wrong with doing something that makes you feel good, and it is completely up to anyone to do whatever they want with their bodies, regardless of how that might make others feel. But make-up is so much more than that. For starters, it is a booming multi BILLION-dollar global industry that was valued at “460 billion USD in 2014 and is estimated to reach 675 billion USD by 2020 growing at a rate of 6.4%.” The industry thus outpaces the estimated growth of the global economy by almost two and a half times, and with the average modern woman spending almost 450,000 USD on beauty products in her lifetime, the industry is not showing any signs of slowing down even as the world economy struggles to maintain its current growth. What magical engine spurs this industry forwards? None other than the industries that trade in images and have a track record of the sexual objectification and exploitation of women: advertising and media.

Countless studies published over the past few decades have exposed the detrimental physical and psychological effects that the ideals of beauty disseminated by the beauty and advertising industry have on women all over the world. This is no secret, and rising incidents of eating disorders among young girls are becoming a major concern in many countries. More than just messing with women’s body image (intersectional feminists take note), these industries perpetuate racist, classist, and ageist ideals by concertedly sending out the subliminal message that women need to look white, young, and spend lots of money in order to look good.

No.7 really hit the jackpot when Adichie agreed to be their new face, because now, with a highly influential, non-white feminist known for her incisive critique of sexism, racism, and colonialism endorsing their brand, there’s no way they can be faulted for any of the abovementioned crimes, right? In her interviews, Adichie also reveals that other than the tantalizing prospect of getting lots of free make-up, she got on board with No.7 mainly because she believes that “feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive,” and furthermore, that “it is misogynistic to suggest that they are.”

But isn’t the entire cosmetics industry a misogynistic enterprise out to milk women of their self-esteem and money in a world where we have yet to be paid as much as our male counterparts? Some might argue that looking well-groomed helps women fatten their pay checks and that this in turn contributes to the closing of the wage gap, but is it not a sick twisted world we live in where women have to buy into an industry that hurts them in order to earn a little more?

Are not feminists and feminism here to challenge all of this, instead of telling women simply that their right to feel beautiful should not be challenged?

Image via xojane.com [http://www.xojane.com/beauty/makeup/what-is-feminist-makeupping]


Adichie’s comment on feminism and femininity not being mutually exclusive has resonated widely with women, including myself (and being the writer that she is, it is highly quotable too). It is a poignant and liberating statement, but before embracing it wholeheartedly, we should also ask ourselves this: what has makeup (alongside shaving, high heels, and uncomfortably tight clothing) to do with femininity to begin with? Why do high heels, footwear that ironically compromises one’s mobility, express femininity? And why is most female/feminine clothing designed to be so much more uncomfortable and impractical compared to male/masculine clothing?

If we were to take a closer look at the conventional ‘expressions of femininity,’ we will realise that most of it, like the wearing of makeup, uncomfortable clothing, ridiculous footwear, and the like, actually physically inconvenience and, if I may say, oppress women. Yet, many, if not most, self-proclaimed feminists I know wear makeup, with some even wearing more of it the more they proclaim their feminism, saying that makeup empowers them.

But really, what does empowerment mean, if you can’t dig deep enough to look your own insecurities in the face and battle them into the ground until they no longer affect you instead of covering up your face to mollify them for the time being. Also, why is it that femininity and conventionally-defined beauty are almost synonymous? Yes, it is every woman’s right to be beautiful, but why must we want to be beautiful?

Feminism has told us that it is high time women subverted the notion that our value lies in our appearances, and that we need to teach women and girls that being pretty is not a prerequisite to being valued. There’s this quote I love: “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”

Knowing how toxic the concept of conventional feminine beauty has become, can my Choice to wear make-up still be a feminist Choice? Can it simply be artistic self-expression when it is predominantly used as a means for women to beautify themselves and get closer to the ideal of beauty shaped by insidious images? If it were truly for artistic expression, why aren’t there more people walking about with phoenixes (whatever they may look like; go figure) drawn over their faces? And most importantly, why aren’t there an equal number of people of all genders wearing make-up? Does feminism not urge us to question and challenge such discrepancies?


Image via The Guardian


To complicate the question of Choice a little more and move beyond cosmetic issues, we could perhaps also ask: whose Choice, exactly?

A grabby-handed man’s choice? That’s a clear ‘No’. A straight, cis-gender, corporate woman’s choice? That’s a clear ‘Yes’ for many. A transwoman’s choice? I think a good number of ‘real women’ might have their doubts (unfortunately).

How do we define this Choice, then?

Some straight, cis-gender women have advocated for appalling policies that restrict women’s access to healthcare, but should we respect their Choice and not speak out against their advocacy simply because they are women? It is undoubtedly of utmost necessity that the feminist movement opens its arms to as many people—especially women—as possible, but in our effort to be inclusive, we must also be discerning. We can’t really believe that women are immune to making anti-feminist choices simply because they are women?

To me, feminism is NOT about Choice + full stop. It is also about making conscious choices that do not aggravate the existing sex- and gender-based discrimination against those who identify as women.

Feminism has been and still is ‘a movement for social, political, and economic equality of women and men,’ and we must strive to keep that in mind before it turns into a movement that fights for women’s Choices first and only.

As mentioned above, I know many feminists who love wearing makeup, and I do not have a problem with that per se, but I do feel a little disappointed knowing that someone who embraces feminism is further perpetuating the societal perception that a woman’s worth lies in her appearance. I personally hate wearing makeup, and that is my Choice, but am I really free to make that choice when my boss implies that it’ll be easier to seal deals with clients if I wore makeup, left my hair long, and wore more dresses and high heels, like my other female colleagues? In a society where some women are forced to cover up by virtue of their gender, would not another woman’s Choice to wear the hijab make it harder for the former to live out her own?

Here, we must again ask ourselves some difficult questions: whose Choice is prioritised more in the above cases, and why? The woman whose Choice so happens to coincide with society’s expectations of her, or the woman who feels constricted by gender roles and societal expectations?


Image via Wonderfeminists [https://wonderfeminists.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/i-need-feminism-because/]


When Adichie, an empowered, educated, influential woman, decided to become the ambassador of a cosmetics brand, did she not consider what her support of the beauty industry would mean to impressionable young women and girls? As a young woman, I would love to be able to choose to not have my senses assaulted by images that tell me I need to wear make-up to be beautiful and valued, but do I have an option, really?

It would be apt to conclude with a few words a fellow feminist and valued friend, Geetha Anbalagan, has shared with me:

“Looking within is tough work, but it’s often the most important aspect in this fight for equality.

Feminism, as with anything else that requires any critical thinking, will naturally lead us back to the questioning of our personal choices. We’re all capable and should be capable of making choices, even when they hurt us—that’s a right we all get—but when we stop questioning these choices, well then, we have a problem, whether with regard to feminism or not.

If people who embrace feminism think that they’re being alienated because their choices are being questioned, then they need to ask themselves why they are not okay with being questioned. Everything we do, everything we say, and every choice we make in life should be questioned, if not by ourselves then by others. Because that’s the difficult part in life: asking ourselves why we do what we do and what will happen if we changed that. If we’re shaken every time our choices are questioned, then that says something about the choices we make.”

The critical questioning of women’s choices should not be misconstrued as elitist shaming. We have one common goal—dismantling the patriarchy, and it is our duty to keep ourselves and others in check to make sure that we are moving forwards instead of backwards. No one is trying to push women away from this fight, but we must all take steps to ensure that the fight is strong and from all fronts. Feminism has brought us a long way from where we were a century ago—many things have changed for the better since—and I certainly hope that the obsession with Choice will not push us in the opposite direction.



  1.  Feminist writer Chimamanda Adichie is now the face of a drugstore makeup brand. https://qz.com/813708/nigerian-writer-chimamanda-adichie-is-now-the-face-of-british-drugstore-beauty-brand-boots-no7/
  2.  Alicia Keys: Time to Uncover. http://www.lennyletter.com/style/a410/alicia-keys-time-to-uncover/
  3.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the feminist who sells make-up. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37676472
  4.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Proves Feminist Can Rock Make-Up, Too. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-make-up_us_58135b5de4b0390e69cf7b87
  5.  Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fronts beauty campaign with an empowering messagehttp://mashable.com/2016/10/20/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-makeup/#ThGPD1lgBmqR
  6.  How a Little Lipstick Could Add Thousands to Your Paycheckhttp://fortune.com/2016/05/19/makeup-more-money/
  7.  Research and Markets: Global Cosmetics Market 2015-2020: Market was $460 Billion in 2014 and is Estimated to Reach $675 Billion by 2020. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150727005524/en/Research-Markets-Global-Cosmetics-Market-2015-2020-Market
  8.  Global GDP growth in 2015 was 2.63%: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG
  9. Forecasted growth of the global economy until 2020 is just below 3%: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/25823/9781464810169.pdf
  10.  “The Beauty Breakdown.” https://stephns.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/thebeautybreakdown-newsweek.jpg 
  11. SUBDUED DEMAND, DIMINISHED PROSPECTS. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2016/update/01/
  12.  10 Ways the Beauty Industry Tells You Being Beautiful Means Being White. http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/01/when-beauty-equals-white/
  13.  The Cosmetics Racket: Why the Beauty Industry Can Get Away with Charging a Fortune for Makeup. http://www.alternet.org/story/148140/the_cosmetics_racket%3A_why_the_beauty_industry_can_get_away_with_charging_a_fortune_for_makeup
  14.  “Viral video: Why women pants have good-for-nothing pockets?” http://english.fashion101.in/news/FAS-FEV-women-pants-with-no-pockets-fashion-india-5482706.html
  15.  I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched this and it still gives me goosebumps: “Dustin Hoffman on TOOTSIE and his character Dorothy Michaels.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPAat-T1uhE
  16.  Women’s Health: Yet Another Issue Sarah Palin is Out of Touch On. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cecile-richards/add-womens-health-to-the_b_131186.html

Handshakes and Empathy: Personal Experiences as a Woman in Corporate Malaysia

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As a woman working in the Malaysian corporate sector, I have mixed feelings about anyone claiming that increased education and labour participation of Malaysian women meant equality.

In the short time that I have been working in Malaysia – about 3 years – I have experienced a range of instances of sexism: some would be categorised as ‘micro-aggressions’ (a casual degradation of a marginalised group) while others were so obvious that it shocked me and my colleagues. The latter came in the form of a meeting with some clients where the predominantly male client team would avoid eye contact with my – predominantly female – team. This was unusual on several levels: i) As a Malaysian professional, I am keenly aware of religious practices that discourage physical interaction between unmarried men and women. My team was aware of this and did not initiate handshakes. However, throughout our meeting, our male counterparts would avoid eye-contact with female team members even when they were leading discussions and negotiations

 ii) Instead of eye-contact or acknowledgement of our presence, the client would instead focus his attention and direct his questions to our male colleagues, while female leaders would respond. It became a game of eye-contact ping pong. Both my male and female colleagues left the meeting feeling out of sorts – what just happened? Was it accidental or was it deliberate? Were our male colleagues responsible for speaking up against it and would it have been appropriate to do so? In my discussions with colleagues from different religious and racial backgrounds since this incident, no one has been able to come to a conclusion about what it was about and what would have been an appropriate response.


Image from themalaymailonline.com

However, more often than not, my experience with discrimination in corporate Malaysia have come in more subtle ways – in off-hand remarks about the length of a woman’s skirt, penis jokes at corporate dinners, and calling women ‘bossy’ when they are responsible for dispensing instructions or leading a team. These off-hand remarks do not engender the same reactions as explicit expressions of gender bias (think of your misogynistic uncle – or auntie – claiming that a woman’s place is in the kitchen).

Instead, these remarks change the tone and environment in subtle ways – like an ice pick, it chips away at a woman’s level of comfort among her colleagues, making her self-conscious about issues that may not affect her male colleagues. To the men – and women – making these comments, women see you. We hear you. And we remember.

Nonetheless, in my discussions with men and women on this topic, I am convinced that the majority of people do not make those remarks with malicious intent. Regardless of intent, the women listening will remember these remarks because they were so pointed at a particular gender.

I’ve found a good test to understand whether a comment is sexist or not: Think about the last time you heard someone call a woman ‘bossy’. What prompted such a reaction? Was she being authoritative and unyielding? Did she seem to lack empathy? Or did she simply provide instructions for a task?

Now think about how you’d describe a male manager or colleague providing a similar set of instructions in a similar fashion. Would he be considered bossy? Or would he be considered decisive, assertive, and straight-forward?


Image from themalaymailonline.com


In view of my own experiences, I was curious to understand what other friends and colleagues thought about sexism in the workplace. I asked several young professional women, “Have you ever experienced discrimination due to your gender?” The overwhelming answer was ‘YES’. Some cited instances of explicit sexism:

Jane*, a female tech start-up founder, detailed to me a situation where she was meeting a prospective partner with her co-founder, only to have the partner talk about being hungover from a late night, calling her ideas ‘irrelevant’ and ‘dumb’ before turning to her male co-founder to insist that they adjourn for drinks at the bar to ‘do business’.

Other professional women were more affected by a lack of female leadership within their teams and, by extension, a lack of female role models. They noted that male leaders were able to help direct and drive their careers, but were still – at least for now – unaware of the significant challenges that they would face as women.

Another woman I spoke to, Karen*, said she preferred female managers and supervisors because she felt she was able to connect with them more, while others like Ee Xin from Ipoh wanted more female role models to help drive her career. To these young professional women, female role models and leaders are critical to their development, as seasoned female leaders can help navigate the minefields around juggling motherhood with a career, being  assertive without coming across as aggressive, and not underselling their capabilities.



Curious about this feedback, I decided to pose a similar question to young professional men: “Do you think women face discrimination and have you observed it happening?”

The responses were interesting. One respondent, Dom*, could not provide any instances of discrimination occurring to his female colleagues, citing the fact that he was in a female-dominated team. Others like Timothy* were aware of implicit and explicit bias his female colleagues faced, but felt awkward about raising the issue within his teams. This unwillingness to raise – or lack of acceptance of – the issue of gender discrimination was consistent across the men and women I spoke to.

This lack of response begs the question: why are we and the people around us reluctant to speak up against sexism?

I have a few theories. First, perhaps we live in a culture where hierarchy rules and speaking out against colleagues – especially older ones – is seen as disrespectful and could result in jeopardising one’s career. Second, my experience of working in Malaysia has revealed Malaysians to be wary of confrontation. Approaching someone for something they said or did is often seen as disrespectful.

Nevertheless, it remains important for those of us experiencing sexism or observing it to be proactive about raising the issue. In my experience, two methods have worked to highlight when someone is saying sexist things or being sexist: stating the situation for what it is, and questioning someone’s words or behaviour.

Stating the situation simply involves calling out sexist behaviour for what it is – when a colleague passes an off-hand comment about women’s bodies, I simply respond with, “I think that is inappropriate. I would like us to focus on the situation at hand.” For me, this has worked by allowing me to highlight that whatever they were saying or doing is inappropriate (and often, sexist), but also to quickly re-focus the discussion onto what we’re really here for – to do our jobs. By doing this, the person I address realises what they just said, is aware that I do not find such behaviour or language appropriate, and that our current interaction is not the time and place to begin an argument. Similarly, questioning someone’s words or behaviour allows me to highlight their words and behaviour and places the onus on them to respond to my question. It involves asking, “Why?” 

“Why do you say that?”

“Do you think that is appropriate? Why?”

“Is that the right word to use? Why?”

Asking questions allows me to highlight their behaviour without confronting them with, “I think you’re being sexist.” It is subtle but assertive, and suited to an environment where confrontation is frowned upon. Thus far, both methods have worked for me. Then again, I have not had the misfortune of working with colleagues who are staunch sexists and I hope I never have to.

However, my methods of coping are far from the only ones available and may not be appropriate for everyone. I’d like to hear from you about how you’ve coped with sexist colleagues or sexist statements. How did you deal with the incident? What did you say? Were you able to prompt a change in behaviour?

In light of these issues, a recent Harvard Business Review article on how differently venture capital firms speak about male and female entrepreneurs is highly relevant. The authors ended on a rather ominous tone – the gender stereotyping and sexism in VC’s “isn’t only damaging for women entrepreneurs; it’s potentially damaging for society as a whole”. It’s a message we should heed as corporate Malaysians as well.


* Not their real names

Young Women: Contesting Patriarchy in the City

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In every era, feminism has penetrated into the hearts and minds of women in their struggle to attain gender equality.

With intersectionality becoming the anchor to today’s feminists, more women of different backgrounds, classes and identities seek to diminish the influence of patriarchy in their own personal contexts, through their individual strengths.

Yet, in our daily lives as young women living in the city, the struggle against patriarchy can be very subtle, structured and real. It can come from the conditioning of our own upbringing, our workplace environment, and the constant bombardment of media that normalises gender stereotypes.

The impact of this social system is felt even more deeply by young women living in economically and politically disadvantaged environments, such as young women from the urban poor, refugees and minorities. The conversation on dismantling patriarchy and achieving gender equality in this country is still very much centred around activists and the NGO circles, while the wider society are not moved from the male-dominated status quo.

As Simone De Beauvoir put it, “One is not born but, rather, becomes a woman”. Unfortunately, the passage of becoming a woman is, for the majority of our young girls, mired in the daily pressure of having to live their lives according to the norms and expectations of society.

In capturing the current dynamic of young women in Kuala Lumpur contesting the cultural and structural norms of patriarchy, I spoke to four women from different backgrounds on their own personal struggles and the way forward towards equality.




Image from http://ppunlimited.blogspot.my/2012/01/


1) Can you describe your identity?

I come from a small, middle class Chinese family. Although our family is not rich, my parents took great care to afford us the best education to the best of their ability – that means high expectations on academic results, and a series of planned extra-curricular activities: piano lessons, dance classes, swimming lessons, arts workshops – I’ve done it all!

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

Growing up, I have always been told to pursue excellence and be successful in life. I am lucky in the sense that I was not subject to gender stereotypes as much as the other girls in my social circles – perhaps it was because I was the eldest in the family and I do not have any brothers. Being a woman to me means being able to pursue my life goals freely; to be loved and valued as a human being as much as the other sex.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

I have come across many smart, capable women at work and in life. These women are resilient and they can be assertive when they want to be. Unfortunately, a lot of outdated stereotypes about women still exist – unmarried women are said to be bitter and jealous, stern female bosses are typecast as ‘bitches’ and so on. Sometimes, these stereotypes are even perpetuated by women themselves, which is unfortunate.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?

As I approach 30, I am starting to feel the pressure of ‘being a woman’, with many friends and family constantly reminding me of my ‘biological clock’. I think this is a fact of life that we can neither change nor ignore, but society can be more supportive in helping women make their own choices about childbearing, ensuring a better quality of life for women (which helps in prolonging fertility) and creating more mother-friendly job environments.

Looking back, I think of the lives of many women like my own mother and grandmothers, who have sacrificed so much of their youth for the family and I wonder how their lives would have been different if they had opportunities equal to the boys of their time. Yet, it is these women who have made possible a better life for me as a woman today.

5) How can we can address this?

We need to acknowledge that all women are different and should be allowed various forms of expression, just as no human are the same. At the same time, there needs to be a recognition that women face a gender-specific set of challenges and vulnerability. I think societal values and policy reinforce each other and until the mindset is changed, women will continue to be boxed into gender roles.





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I am a woman with ambitions; a mother who hopes to raise a conscious and independent daughter; a person who values the relations in her life; and a truth seeker who wants to make an impact by giving back to the universe. My identity is a sum total of my female existence, my choices, my values, my aspirations and my human connections.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

It means being the gender that has the privilege to create life and the sensitivity to enrich life for myself and others around me.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public?

I was raised by a strong mother and a supportive father so, generally, my experiences as a woman have been positive. However, once I became a mother, I realised and faced the challenges women face their in personal and professional lives. The challenge of work-life choices, the issues of redefining my personal identity and the struggles of a career break made me realise that women have a lot more to balance, risk, and comprise than men.

The society (and ourselves) see women as nurturers and the caregivers. This social conditioning and unconscious bias affects the way we women think, act and feel. My journey of a career re-launch made me aware of this conditioning and hidden stereotypical behaviours.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?

Despite being raised as a strong, independent woman, I was exposed to the subtle social conditioning that women are primarily homemakers, which led to me leave my job to follow my husband as an expat wife. Despite being a strong and successful career woman, I couldn’t think of putting my career before my marriage and family. I wonder: if subtle, unconscious conditioning can affect someone like me, how would it affect women who are raised under a different set of rules and expectations?

5) How can we can address this?

We need to raise gender neutral children! Let boys and girls be alike and get rid of the gender stereotyping which starts when we buy blue for a baby boy and pink for baby girl!





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I am a Korean and have been living in Malaysia for many years. I am working in the entertainment industry and interestingly, living in Malaysia has opened my eyes to diversity and many cultures.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

In Korea, there exists a stereotype that a woman is vulnerable and the weaker sex in society, but I believe a woman is stronger than what people in general think she is.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

In the business world, people tend to take women for granted, they do not take a woman’s opinion and ideas seriously. We are living in this modern world, but equality between the sexes is not yet a full reality.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?  

It only creates a stronger stereotypical image of women in society, and women are unable to express themselves from the female’s point of view. It occurs even more in East Asia regions like Korea and Japan; even though they are open to accepting different ideas and influences beyond their shores, culture-wise they are still quite conservative which translates into their society and community (where attitudes towards women are concerned).

5) How can we can address this?

We should not take a provocative approach; instead, we should find a wiser way to change societal attitudes and behaviours towards women.





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I will be 27 in June. I am of the Indian race and Hindu religion. As a humanist and an existentialist, I believe everything and everyone deserves love and respect. My work revolves around youth.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

It’s all about being present as a person, no less.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

I had a caring upbringing at home, although I’ve had relatives that imposed gender-based rules. I remember having arguments to explain why I should not do something just because my male cousin told me to do so. The argument went on for hours. It was all about girls doing what their brothers told them to. Growing up without a birth brother, I find the situation in contrary to my upbringing.

At school, I have had instances of being told that I was ‘too bold’ or ‘open’ by teachers and fellow students. Female students who exhibited feminine demeanour were more accepted. Thanks to my upbringing, I never felt the need to conform but to stand strong as an individual.

At work, I have been dismissed when faced with sexual assault by a foreign delegate during a conference in my first year of work with comments like, “it’s normal, because you are a girl” or something along the lines of “you pretty, mah” and “you are pretty, so that’s why”. Stereotyped gender roles were often discussed and emphasised, where I was told that women are responsible for the children and home while men work as the providers. We also had to conform to certain dress codes that are deemed acceptable or appropriate – I view this as a form of body policing towards women.

Waiters have ignored my order while in the presence of my father. I have been physically harassed after a car accident. What else? I think I can draw a long list.

However, I have had my privileges over the years, of being, meeting and working with amazing women leaders. Also, having a strong woman figure at home helped me become the woman I am today.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/ patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?  

It has made me a tougher person, able to stand up for myself and others, be it family, friends or colleagues. I now make more conscious decisions for myself, from what I do, wear and so forth. When questioned about my actions, instead of being upset or bewildered, I turn the question into a constructive conversation to create a better understanding of the choices I make.

At times, I do get tired of having to explain why it’s not wrong for a female to do something that a male would. I have female friends who are psychologically “forced” to conform to wearing the headscarf, for example. There is a serious need to have a conversation about this. It is not merely gender-based discrimination, but it intersects with other forms of discrimination, too.

5) How can we can address this?

We need to stand strong for ourselves and not give in to discrimination just because it takes effort to stand up. In fact, we need to shake up society!

Awareness is the first step. The comes having conversations about the issue, and a solid plan of action to address the various forms of patriarchy in our society.

Among the actions we can take are having a safe space for communities to share their stories, actively debunking gender-based stereotypes in society, and creating an ecosystem that connects collective actions and individual actions. We need corporations and non-profit organisations to take measures on the state of gender inequality in their respective systems. This could potentially make a difference for the generations to come.

Perkahwinan Kanak-Kanak & Kehamilan Remaja: Menangani Punca dari Akar Umbi, Bukan Gejalanya

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Penterjemah: Syahirah Wahed

Baru-baru ini forum G-Blog berkenaan “Child Marriage: Setting Our Children Up to Fail” telah diadakan dalam acara “Art For Grabs” di Urbanscapes House, Kuala Lumpur. Perbincangan di sepanjang forum itu amat memuaskan. Gabungan beberapa panelis dengan penonton yang begitu ingin tahu telah menjayakan forum itu seperti apa yang dibayangkan oleh pihak penganjur ketika mereka memerah idea untuk mengadakan satu lagi acara pada tahun ini.

Bagi mereka yang tidak mengikuti acara berkenaan, penceramahnya terdiri daripada (tidak mengikut urutan): ketua pemuda Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, ahli parlimen DAP YB Teo Nie Ching, bekas mufti Terengganu dan Ketua Hakim Syariah, Dato’ Ismail Yahya dan Naib Presiden Suara Kanak-kanak, Dr. Hartini Zainudin. Ia merupakan suatu gabungan pendapat dan kematangan yang hebat.

Memahami definisi “kanak-kanak” dan “kematangan”

Sebelum kita mula, saya mesti mengajukan soalan ini kepada anda – bagaimanakah kita mentafsirkan seorang ‘kanak-kanak’? Ambil masa beberapa saat untuk fikirkan soalan ini, bilakah anda berhenti menjadi kanak-kanak dan menjadi seorang wanita atau lelaki?”

Di bawah Akta Kanak-kanak 2001, seorang “kanak-kanak” bermaksud seseorang yang berumur bawah 18 tahun atau jika berhubung dengan prosiding jenayah bermaksud seseorang yang sudah mencapai umur bagi tanggungjawab jenayah sebagaimana yang ditetapkan dalam seksyen 82 Kanun Keseksaan. Umur bagi tanggungjawab jenayah di bawah Kanun tersebut adalah 12 tahun. Di bawah undang-undang sivil Malaysia, ianya salah di sisi undang-undang bagi seorang gadis untuk berkahwin jika dia berada di bawah umur 16 tahun; di bawah undang-undang yang sama, beliau boleh berkahwin pada usia 16 tahun secara sah dengan kebenaran menteri negeri berkenaan. Bagaimanapun, di bawah undang-undang Syariah, undang-undangnya lebih kabur dan bergantung kepada keadaan. Hakim Syariah memegang kuasa untuk memberi kebenaran untuk perkahwinan di bawah umur 16 tahun. Jadi 12, 16 atau 18 tahun – pada usia berapakah anda berhenti menjadi kanak-kanak?

Tujuan soalan ini adalah untuk menetapkan konteks perbincangan ini.

Saya rasa ianya sangat penting untuk memahami perbezaan antara kehamilan remaja, perkahwinan remaja, kehamilan “kanak-kanak” dan perkahwinan “kanak-kanak”. Setiap senario mungkin wujud secara berasingan daripada satu sama lain – dan semuanya bergantung kepada bagaimana kita mentafsirkan terma “kanak-kanak”. Persoalan “kematangan” seseorang – yang diajukan beberapa kali kepada penceramah – seolah-olah tidak boleh mendapatkan definisi yang dipersetujui secara sejagat. Saddiq ditawarkan untuk memberikan pandangan beliau dan mengatakan ia adalah subjektif dan bergantung kepada beberapa faktor, yang saya bersetuju.

Menariknya apabila mengetahui bahawa separuh abad lalu, kanak-kanak perempuan berumur 15 tahun sudah berkahwin dan mula melahirkan anak pada usia 16 tahun atau kadang-kadang lebih muda. Seseorang itu boleh merasionalkan bahawa keadaan mental wanita pada ketika itu berbeza banyak dengan wanita pada zaman kini. Pada usia 14 tahun, sebahagian besar sudah dilatih dalam kemahiran dosmetik dan tugasan rumah tangga. Ini menyediakan mereka untuk memenuhi tujuan utama mereka di alam kehidupan sebagai seorang suri rumah – norma masyarakat yang lebih kukuh pada ketika itu.

Boleh dikatakan, mungkin kerana purata jangka hayat individu yang berkembang, serta peningkatan dalam peluang-peluang pendidikan dan ekonomi yang diberikan kepada wanita, kita mendapati bahawa pada masa kini wanita telah menemui bahawa terdapat pelbagai cara untuk menjalani kehidupan seseorang, bukan hanya sebagai seorang isteri dan ibu tetapi juga sebagai indidvidu yang berorientasikan kerjaya dengan matlamat peribadi dan aspirasi.

Jadi apakah sebenarnya bahaya terhadap kehamilan dan perkahwinan awal? Kita boleh cuba meneroka soalan ini daripada pelbagai sudut. Dalam forum tersebut, soalan yang ditanya oleh seorang penyelidik dari University of Nottingham: “adakah terdapat sebarang penyelidikan atau cubaan untuk mengkaji dilakukan untuk memberi maklumat kepada bahaya kehamilan awal dari aspek kesihatan?

Soalan ini menarik perhatian saya. Dengan objektif untuk memberikan pendapat yang bermaklumat dan seimbang, saya membuat beberapa kajian mudah. Kesimpulannya, ia merupakan satu soalan yang sukar, salah satu yang telah dibahaskan banyak kali dalam proses membentuk polisi awam. Walaupun terdapat persetujuan umum bahawa kanak-kanak perempuan yang berumur di antara 13-15 adalah lebih cenderung untuk melalui kehamilan yang mengakibatkan kematian disebabkan ketidakmatangan ginekologi, bukti-bukti yang sedia ada pula luas dan pelbagai untuk mereka yang berusia 16 tahun dan ke atas disebabkan oleh faktor luaran.

Anda boleh lihat mengapa ini merupakan satu soalan yang sukar dijawab – faktor-faktor seperti bentuk fizikal ibu dan pemakanan ibu, akses kepada keperluan yang bersih dan perkhidmatan perubatan moden (yang akan menjadi lebih rendah di negara ketiga dan sedang membangun). Faktor-faktor ini memainkan peranan dalam mempengaruhi kadar kelahiran rendah, pramatang dan kematian ibu atau anak. Dalam kebanyakan kertas penyelidikan yang saya baca, keputusannya sentiasa mengandungi faktor luaran berbentuk amaran seperti yang disebutkan di atas.

Dari perspektif psikologi, saya percaya sebahagian besar daripada masalah mental dan emosi yang dihadapi oleh ibu-ibu golongan remaja adalah disebabkan   oleh sistem sokongan yang tidak mencukupi, kekurangan peluang, stigma masyarakat dan tekanan yang tidak wajar. Kita perlu bertanya – adakah bayi         punca implikasi psikologi? Atau ketiadaan sokongan ekonomi dan emosi dari    suami, keluarga dan masyarakat merupakan punca tekanan ini?

Lebih daripada ini, ini menunjukkan kesan risiko sosioekonomi paling penting dan situasi yang tidak berpihak kepada ibu-ibu yang terdiri daripada golongan remaja. Pencapaian pendidikan yang tidak memberangsangkan, kekurangan daripada aspek sosioekonomi, peralihan yang lemah untuk alam pekerjaan daripada zaman persekolahan, penderaan seksual dan penyalahgunaan dadah merupakan antara faktor yang berpunca daripada kehamilan remaja. Dalam kes ini, kita perlu bertanya – adakah dia tidak akan mempunyai anak jika dia tahu akan risikonya? Soalan lain adalah, jika dia sedar akan risikonya tetapi mempunyai sistem sokongan dan pasangan yang menyokong, adakah dia akan membuang bayinya?

Jika seorang ibu ditinggalkan untuk mempertahankan diri dan bayinya bersendirian setelah ditinggalkan oleh suaminya (yang berlaku dalam sebilangan besar kes), apakah saluran yang boleh dia gunakan? Dr. Tini menjawab dengan tepat apabila mempersoalkan ketiadaan banci pada kadar perceraian. Kita mempunyai statistik untuk perkahwinan di bawah umur 18 tahun; mengapakah kita tidak mempunyai statistik perceraian?

Selain daripada bertanya sebab kehamilan remaja berlaku, kita juga patut bertanya mengapakah bapa kepada kanak-kanak ini tidak dipersoalkan?

Adakah perkahwinan awal merupakan penyelesaian kepada kehamilan luar nikah?

Dato’ Ismail mengatakan bahawa dalam kebanyakan kes mahkamah Syariah, permohonan untuk perkahwinan bawah umur biasanya dibuat oleh ibu bapa apabila anak perempuan mereka didapati mengandung di luar nikah. Ini adalah kerana stigma masyarakat dan agama yang dikaitkan dengan seks luar nikah dan juga kepercayaan bahawa dengan mengahwinkan anak perempuan mereka, mereka dapat menyelamatkan nama dan maruah keluarga. YB Teo juga menyatakan bahawa ini adalah isu sama yang dihadapi oleh komuniti bukan Islam. Ini kerana komuniti berasakan bahawa perkahwinan bawah umur adalah penyelesaian kepada peningkatan bilangan kehamilan remaja dan kes pembuangan bayi.

Sekiranya cara pemikiran ini menyusup masuk ke dalam teras masyarakat kita – struktur keluarga kita – akankah dengan larangan menyeluruh ke atas isu ini berkesan jika kita tidak menangani puncanya?

Di Malaysia, umur persetujuan mengikut undang-undang adalah 16 tahun. Skiranya melibatkan individu di bawah 16 tahun, ianya dianggap rogol berkanun tanpa mengira sama ada terdapat persetujuan daripada pihak gadis berkenaan. Di sini, saya ingin berkongsi maklumat yang dikumpul melalui perbualan saya dengan ramai rakan dan kenalan wanita. Ia mungkin mengejutkan sesetengah pembaca untuk mengetahui bahawa banyak kanak-kanak perempuan mempunyai hubungan seks pertama mereka di bawah umur 16 tahun. Ini termasuk mereka daripada kelas pekerja profesional dan ahli perniagaan yang mempunyai perbezaan latar belakang yang luas seperti yang dilihat pada pendapat seorang ahli politik dalam masa seminggu.

Melalui ini, saya hanya dapat mengulas tentang fitrah alam; undang-undang Parlimen mungkin boleh menentukan sesuatu perkara, tetapi jika ia bertentangan dengan naluri semula jadi atau menghalang permintaan pasaran bebas, manusia akan mencari jalan untuk mendapatkannya dengan apa saja cara. Jadi, bagaimanakah kita boleh menghentikan kehamilan remaja? Kita pasti tidak boleh menghalang remaja daripada melakukan hubungan seks – bukan sahaja (atau mungkin terutama sekali!) di sekolah-sekolah agama, sekolah-sekolah asrama ataupun kawasan luar bandar.

Adakah ini bermakna menaikkan usia perkahwinan tidak akan menyelesaikan isu kehamilan remaja seperti apa yang dilihat oleh YB Teo? Hanya dengan melihat kepada statistik perkahwinan kanak-kanak kita telah menunjukkan jurang kecacatan dalam sistem kita. Menurut 2000 Banci Populasi dan Perumahan, ia telah mendedahkan bahawa 6,800 kanak-kanak perempuan di bawah umur 15 tahun telah berkahwin di Selangor yang mencatatkan jumlah tertinggi, diikuti oleh Sabah. Melayu mencatatkan kadar tertinggi perkahwinan kanak-kanak di 2,450, diikuti oleh bumiputera lain 1,550, Cina 1,600, India 600 dan lain-lain 600. Terdapat percanggahan yang jelas antara undang-undang dan pelaksanaan – bagaimanakah semua nombor itu wujud?

Walaupun pelaksanaan larangan menyeluruh terhadap perkahwinan bawah umur 16 untuk kedua-dua Muslim dan bukan Muslim boleh menjadi satu langkah yang terpuji, ianya perlu dilengkapi dengan strategi pendidikan yang mampan. Bagi sesetengah penduduk luar bandar, perkahwinan merupakan satu jalan keluar dari kemiskinan, peluang pada kehidupan yang lebih baik. Sudah pasti, ini tidak seharusnya menjadi aspirasi kepada perkahwinan! Namun, kepercayaan ini juga benar bagi kebanyakan mereka – malah lebih benar daripada apa yang kita sebagai penduduk bandar mampu hargai.

Saya sangat meminta untuk kita berfungsi sebagai sebuah masyarakat yang sedar untuk mengenalpasti punca masalah dan menanganinya, bukan semata-mata menangani gejala. Kita tidak seharusnya menggunting beberapa bahagian organisma bertoksik, namun meninggalkan akar berkembang lebih dalam. Kita perlu bertanya soalan yang betul: mengapakah kita memupuk masyarakat yang mengutuk seks di luar nikah tetapi membenarkan perogol mengahwini mangsanya? Mengapakah kemiskinan begitu berleluasa di sebahagian negara kita sehingga seorang gadis percaya bahawa dia akan mempunyai masa depan lebih selamat dengan berkahwin dengan sahabat keluarga yang lebih tua? Mengapakah kita membenarkan seks pada umur 16 dari segi undang-undang tetapi tidak menyediakan pendidikan seks ketika tahun pra-remaja mereka sehingga mencapai usia tersebut?

Untuk melindungi kanak-kanak, kita mesti “memberi kuasa” kepada mereka. Untuk “memberi kuasa” kepada mereka, kita perlu mendidik mereka (saya dapat kata-kata ini daripada Projek Talisman, yang hadir ke pentas sebaik sahaja forum ini berakhir). Kunci di sini bukan sahaja untuk menyediakan pendidikan seks yang lebih menyeluruh untuk kanak-kanak lelaki dan perempuan tetapi juga untuk mendidik wanita tentang hak-hak dan peluang dalam hidupnya serta menyediakan sistem sokongan yang mencukupi kepada isteri, ibu dan juga anak-anak yang lahir hasil daripda hubungan seks di luar nikah.

Isu kemasyarakatan bukan seperti di atas kertas rasmi – ia tidak boleh diselesaikan dengan hanya cuba mengubati gejalanya sahaja. Kita harus gali lebih dalam lagi dan memastikan perbincangan terus berlaku.

A Call for Gender Diversity From the Top of the Ladder

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The current global conversation on corporate governance hones in on the need to accelerate greater diversity on corporate leadership and management. The call for diversity includes variants such as gender, ethnicity, age, and skill set. This entry seeks to highlight the importance of improving gender balance in the composition of corporate leadership.

Some may question the reason for this emphasis. Others may say, “If the woman is, at all, capable, shouldn’t she be in a position of authority? Why is there a need for such an initiative? After all, promotion should be given based on meritocracy, should it not?” Making it a requirement for any board of leadership to intentionally allocate a seat for a woman, simply to fulfil gender diversity, would mean the practice of merit-based performance may have been compromised.

Having a woman on any leadership board should never be about meeting a prerequisite, filling a quota, or heeding a need to satisfy the government’s call for an agenda. Rather, it should be about ensuring qualified and competent women are given access into the positions worthy of their merit without having to fight against barriers that exist because of their gender.

The barriers that the women of today need to overcome stems from a misguided prejudice and skewed perception, both of which will hinder their progress into positions of power or senior management roles. A Harvard Business Review article sums up the following as some of the barriers faced by females:

Prejudice: Men are promoted more quickly than women with equivalent qualifications, even in traditionally female settings such as nursing and education.

Resistance to women in leadership: People view successful female managers as more deceitful, pushy, selfish, and abrasive than successful male managers.

Leadership style issues: Many female leaders struggle to reconcile qualities people prefer in women (compassion for others) with qualities people think leaders need to succeed (assertion and control).

Family demands: Women are still the ones who interrupt their careers to handle work / family trade-offs. Overloaded, they lack time to engage in the social networking essential to advancement.


Image taken from The 30% Club Malaysia chapter


Closer to home, the Diversity Action Committee in Singapore found the reason why women are still sidelined – when it comes to most senior positions – are due to corporate governance practices of firms. Companies in Singapore are not required to disclose board diversity practices, which means change is not a necessity. Because of that, women in Singapore bear the brunt of this oversight, with board renewals being stagnant –22% independent directors stay on longer than 10 years – making the percentage for promotions impossibly slim. In addition, 93% of appointments of new directors are sourced through personal contacts or network from the male-dominated senior corporate leader’s pool, saturating top ranking positions with even more male corporate leaders.

To counter this linear perception and encourage a positive response to the call for corporate gender diversity, female corporate leaders from around the world – including Malaysia in 2015 – have established a country-specific ‘30% Club’. This industry-driven initiative aims to bolster better corporate leadership and governance, as well as increase corporate performance for the benefit of companies and their shareholders through board gender diversity.


We return to the pressing question of the day: Why is it imperative to have women onboard?


A 2012 report by Standard Chartered Bank, Women on Boards: Hang Seng Index discovered that top-ranking companies on the index had a number of women on their boards. Topping the list is Hang Seng Bank, with four women, representing 31.3% of its board. Conversely, the three lowest ranking companies have no women in their board.

A study on 1,643 companies on the MSCI World Index has proved that companies with strong female leadership delivers a 36% higher return on equity, averaging at 10.1% return on equity from the end of 2009 to September 2015, compared to companies without women at the most senior ranks, which scored an average of 7.4%.  The Singapore Board Diversity Report 2014 – The Diversity Dividend found that boards with gender diversity have an average return on assets of 3.3% versus 0.3% of those without.

The numbers do not lie; the data is proof that having gender diversity points towards a positive growth in a company’s performance.

It didn’t take long for boards to realise that a better gender balance in senior ranks is a business issue, not a woman’s issue, Helena Morrissey – who established the first 30% Club (United Kingdom) said. Simply put, achieving a gender-variant board is an effective way to moving forward and grow because it enhances decision-making with new perspective that represents female consumers. This delivers a richer customer insight throughout their service and production value chain.

Diversity of skills, experience, and gender are also regarded as key indicators of good governance, which is likely to attract more investors.


Image taken from The 30% Club Malaysia chapter


With an expected turn to Asia for global business focus in the near future, it is an opportune time for the new Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance to champion gender diversity and effectively root for the Prime Minister’s message to increase women’s participation in boards and senior management level in Malaysia.

The Code is part of a three-year strategic plan to advance key corporate governance priorities, which includes plans for collaborations with industry groups and stakeholders to increase women’s participation in the top 100 companies on Bursa Malaysia. The new Code will require PLC to disclose their targets and measures to meet gender diversity in their annual report. For companies on the FTSE Bursa Malaysia Top 100 Index or companies with market capitalisation of RM2 billion and above, their board gender composition should include a requisite minimum of 30% women.

With regards to the progress of our nation on this, Malaysia leads the way with the largest year-on-year increase in women representation from 8.3% to 12.5% (2014), ahead of 10 economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Whilst this achievement is commendable, we are still far from our goal. Currently, the number of women representation stands at 16.8%.  The aim is to raise women participation on board to 30% by year 2020, which would mean the drive, work, and effort done at present needs to be accelerated to close the gap within the next 3 years.

To help companies source for women directors, Malaysia has developed a Women Directors Registry to provide data of all eligible and qualified Malaysian women for board positions. Besides providing structured training curriculum that includes board readiness assessment, coaching and mentoring programs are already in motion, to ensure sufficient qualified women are in the pipeline to take up the seats in the board.

With such initiatives and a growing pool of women corporate professionals in Malaysia, it seems, to me, that the 30% women on board by 2020 target, very much plausible and possible.

Here’s hoping for another ‘Malaysia Boleh’ achievement we can all be proud of!


  1. Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli – Harvard Business Review, Sept 2007
  2.  Singapore Board of Directors’ Survey 2015
  3.  The MSCI World Index, which is part of The Modern Index Strategy, is a broad global equity benchmark that represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed markets countries.
  4.  NUS Business School, by Dr Marleen Dieleman, Dr Qian Meijun and Mr Muhammad Ibrahim.
  5.  Study on Australia, China Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea by Korn Ferry and the National University of Singapore Business School 2014.

Child Marriage & Teen Pregnancies: Addressing the Root Causes, Not the Symptoms

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The G-Blog’s forum on Child Marriage: Setting Our Children Up To Fail was held at the recent Art For Grabs at Urbanscapes House, Kuala Lumpur. The conversation that flowed from the forum was incredible. The combination of speakers, topped off with a clearly invested audience, proved the forum to be successful in all the ways the team had imagined it to be when they cracked their heads together and decided to do another one this year.
For those who did not follow the event, the speakers were (in no particular order): Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) youth leader Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, DAP lawmaker YB Teo Nie Ching, former Terengganu mufti and chief Shariah judge, Datuk Ismail Yahya, and Vice President of Voice of the Children Dr. Hartini Zainudin. It was a great blend of youthful opinions and experiential wisdom.

Understanding the definition of a “child” and “maturity”

Before we start, I must pose to you this question – how do we define a ‘child’? Just take a second to think about the question, when did you cease to become a child and become a woman, or a man?
Under the Child Act 2001, a “child” means a person under the age of 18, or, if in relation to a criminal proceeding, means a person who has attained the age of criminal responsibility as prescribed in section 82 of the Penal Code. The age of criminal responsibility under the said Code is 12 years old. Under Malaysian civil law, it is illegal for a girl to get married if she is below 16 years old; under the same law, she can be legally married at 16 with the permission of the state minister. Under Syariah law, however, the laws are more ambiguous and circumstantial, with Syariah judges holding the power to provide consent to marriages below the age of 16. So 12, 16, or 18 – at what age do you cease to become a child?
The purpose of this question is to set context for this discussion.
I think it is extremely pertinent to note the difference between teenage pregnancy, teenage marriage, “child” pregnancy, and “child” marriage. Each of these scenarios may very well exist in silos independent of the other – and it all depends on how we define the word “child”. The question of a person’s “maturity”– one that was posed several times to the speakers – could not seem to garner a universally agreed definition. Saddiq offered his views, saying it is subjective and dependent on a number of factors, to which I agree.
It is interesting to note that half a century ago, girls at the age of 15 were already married off and already started bearing child at 16 years old, sometimes younger. One could rationalise that the mental state of women back then were drastically different than the women now. At 14, most were already trained at domestic skills and housekeeping duties, preparing them to fulfil their sole purpose in life as a home maker – a societal norm that was a lot more entrenched back then.
Arguably, perhaps due to the expanding average life span of an individual, as well as the increase in educational and economic opportunities presented to women, we find that nowadays women are discovering that there are an increasingly varied ways to live one’s life, not just as mothers and wives, but also as a career-oriented individuals with personal goals and aspirations.
So what exactly are the harms of early pregnancy and marriage? We can attempt to explore this question from a myriad of angles. At the forum, a question was asked by a researcher from the University of Nottingham: “has there been any research or attempt at research done to provide insights unto the medical harms of early pregnancy?”
This question piqued my interest. With the objective of providing a well-informed and balanced opinion, I set out to do some light research. The conclusion I drew was this: it is a difficult question, one that has been debated many a time in the process of constructing public policy. While there is a general consensus that girls between the ages of 13-15 are more predisposed towards fatal pregnancy outcomes due to gynecological immaturity, the evidence is wide and varied for those aged 16 and above due to external factors.
You can see why this would be a difficult question to answer – factors such as the mother’s physical and nutritional health, access to clean facilities and modern medical services (which would be lower in developing or third world countries) play a part in affecting low birthrates, preterm, and neonatal and maternal mortality. In most research papers I came across, the results always contained a caveat of external circumstantial factors, such as the ones mentioned above.
From a psychological perspective, I believe most of the mental and emotional problems faced by teen mothers are due to an inadequate support system, lack of opportunities, societal stigma, and undue pressure. We need to ask then – is the baby the cause of the psychological implications? Or is it the absence of economic and emotional support from her husband, family and society the cause of this stress?
More so than anything, this points to the most salient implication of socioeconomic risks and disadvantages that teenage mothers face. Low educational achievement, socioeconomic deprivation, poor transition to work from school, sexual abuse, and drug abuse are some of the factors stemming from teenage pregnancy. In these cases, one needs to ask – would she not have had her baby, had she known of these risks? Another question would be, had she known the full risks, but had a support system and a supportive partner, would she have thrown away the baby?
If a mother is left to defend for herself and her baby alone should her young husband leave her (which happens in a significant number of cases), what are the available avenues that she can turn to? Dr. Tini so aptly also questioned the absence of census on divorce rates. We have the statistics for marriages below the age of 18; why don’t we have the divorce statistics?
In addition to asking why does teenage pregnancy happen, we should also be asking why aren’t the fathers of these children being held accountable?

Is early marriage the solution to pregnancies out of wedlock?

Dato Ismail stated that in most Shariah court cases, the application for child marriages are usually made by parents when their daughters are impregnated out of wedlock. This is due to the societal and religious stigma attached to sex outside of marriage, and is driven by the belief that by marrying their daughters off, they might somewhat salvage their family name and dignity. YB Teo also stated that this is a similar issue faced by the non-Muslim communities as people feel that child marriages are the solution to the increasing numbers of teen pregnancy and baby dumping cases.
So if such a mindset pervades the very core of our society – our family structure – will implementing a blanket ban work if we do not address the root causes of this issue?
In Malaysia, the legal age of consent is 16 years old. Below 16, it is considered statutory rape, regardless of whether there was consent on the part of the girl. Here, I would like to share a piece of information gathered through my conversations with various female friends and acquaintances. It may startle some readers to know that: many girls have their first encounter with sex below the age of 16. This includes current working class professionals and business owners, whose backgrounds vary as widely as a politician’s opinion in a week.
From this, I can only comment on the law of nature; parliamentary law may dictate one thing, but if it goes against natural instincts or tries to inhibit the demands of a free market, humans will find a way to get to it, one way or another. So then, how do we stop teen pregnancy? We surely cannot stop teens from having sex – not even in (or perhaps especially in!) religious schools, boarding schools or rural areas.
What this means is that raising the age of marriage still will not solve the issue of teenage pregnancy, as YB Teo observed. Even a look at our statistics on child marriages shows a gaping flaw in our system. According to the 2000 Population and Housing Census, it was revealed that 6,800 girls under the age of 15 were married, with Selangor recording the highest number, followed by Sabah. Malays recorded the highest incidence of child marriage at 2,450, followed by other bumiputeras 1,550, Chinese 1,600, Indians 600 and others 600. There is a clear discrepancy between the law and implementation – how do such numbers exist?
While implementing a blanket ban on marriages below of 16 for both Muslims and non-Muslims may be a commendable move forward, it has to be complemented with a sustainable education strategy. For some rural folk, marriage is the only way out of poverty, a chance at a better life. Surely, these should not be aspirations for marriage! Yet, this belief holds true for many of them – more true than we urban folk could ever appreciate.
My greatest ask for us to function as a conscious society, is to identify the root cause of a problem and address it, instead of merely addressing the symptoms; we should not merely snip off the branches of a toxic organism, yet leave the roots to grow deeper. We need to ask the right questions: Why are we cultivating a society which villainizes sex outside of marriage, yet allows a rapist to marry his victim? Why is poverty so pervasive in parts of our nation that a young girl would believe she’d have a safer and more secure future by being married off to an older family friend? Why do we legally allow sex at 16, but provide no sexual education during the pubescent years leading up to that age?
To protect children, we must empower them. To empower them, we must educate them (I got this line from the Talisman Project, who came up on stage shortly after the forum ended). The key here is not just to provide a more comprehensive sex education to boys and girls, but also to educate a woman on her rights and opportunities in life, as well as provide sufficient support system to wives, mothers as well as children born out of wedlock.
Societal issues are not black and white – they cannot be resolved by attempting to cure the symptoms only. Let’s dig deep and keep the conversation going.

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