ICYMI, this year’s International Women’s Day calls for all to #ChooseToChallenge.
It’s a global rallying call to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality to create an inclusive world.
But are Malaysians doing enough to end gender inequality and challenge gender biases?
The short answer - no. Here’s why:
“56% of Malaysian women polled have experienced at least one form of gender discrimination in the workplace.
62% said they have experienced some form of sexual harassment at their workplace.
71% feel that sexual harassment at workplace is an issue that needs to be looked into.”
- Survey of over 1,000 respondents by Voices of Malaysian Women On Discrimination & Harassment in the Workplace, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
This includes receiving comments or questions about their marital status or plans to start a family, being passed over for promotion in favour of less qualified colleagues, and being asked to do tasks that are not asked of male colleagues, such as making coffee and preparing refreshments.
Hence, at BigPay, we think #ChooseToChallenge is particularly important for Malaysians to think about in order to take the next step in addressing these glaring issues.
It’s also a strong reminder that it’s not just women who can speak up about challenging gender inequality – men too have a role to play in forging a gender-equal world.
To spark the fire in your belly for taking on #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day, we got in touch with Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir. Writer. Activist. All-round champion of making the world a better place. Marina needs no introduction to her efforts in advocating the cause of women’s rights in Malaysia.
Here’s a snippet of what makes Datin Marina tick, what she thinks about #ChooseToChallenge and how it can help improve Malaysia’s current issues with gender inequality.
What did you dream of doing or becoming when you were young?
Datin Marina: All I ever wanted to be was a journalist, because I loved to write and I was good at English. I did get there in short order but I soon found that there was more to communications than just writing.
I particularly found this true when I was President of the Malaysian AIDS Council where communications in every form were so key to getting people to understand the epidemic and what was at stake.
Can you share a story about a role model that has inspired you till this day?
Datin Marina: I think my role models have always been people who struggled to succeed, because of their determination and perseverance. My mother re-took her medical exams twice so she could become a doctor even though it meant her degree took longer to complete and she would be separated from her fiancé for a year. I knew People Living with HIV who, despite their own health issues would take the time to educate others about the disease in order to protect them from it. They show me that only patience and hard work gets you what you want.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge. What motivates you to continue challenging discrimination, inequality, and stereotypes against women?
Datin Marina: The discrimination that I see, whether it is systemic as in the Malaysian woman’s inability to pass on her citizenship to her children, or just every day, as when people don’t think that women can talk about ‘serious’ subjects such as economics or politics, just infuriates me. I just can’t leave this type of world for my daughters to live in. So I fight on.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve actively called out the unequal balance of power between a man and a woman?
Datin Marina: I once attended a conference of the now-defunct Global Movement of Moderates and noticed that there was not a single woman speaking on any panel, whether it was about education, finance, politics or anything, even though all these things have an impact on women. So, I got up and called it a Half-Global Movement of Moderates because they had excluded half of the world’s voices. So then the organisers ran up to me and said they had tried to get women on the panels but they had all said no. It turns out that they were aiming for major names such as Hilary Clinton and Queen Rania. It struck me then that the inherent prejudice among men is this: they do respect women who are successful, BUT they think they are the exception to the rule, which is that generally, women don’t know anything about these subjects. That was why, once these women said no, they couldn’t think of any other women to invite because they assumed that there were none.
What advice would you give to women who are finding it difficult to speak out and challenge inequality, especially at their workplace?
Datin Marina: I think it is important for women to be in solidarity with one another, to lift all (female) boats, and not just themselves. Having more women in decision-making positions in the workplace changes the norms in the environment, so it really doesn’t help any woman to just fight for herself only. She needs allies and they have to be other women. If the allies you seek are the men in power, basically you’re just affirming their power and nothing changes. Being the only woman in a group of men isn’t fun, it’s lonely. So why say OK to only having one woman on a board? You should fight for more places!
This year’s theme (#ChooseToChallenge) also calls upon men to challenge inequality and sexism. What do you think Malaysian men can do to help make our society more inclusive and equal to women?
Datin Marina: Men have a tendency to see things as a zero-sum game. They think that giving women a place at the table means there will be less room for them. But you can make a bigger table and it will, as many studies have shown, be beneficial and profitable. So I think men have everything to gain by having women at equal status as them.
Just look at the countries that have done best at managing the Covid-19 pandemic? All of them have women leaders. They are saving lives and given that men are more likely to die from Covid, that benefits men a lot!
We hope this inspires you to #ChooseToChallenge and take the fight for gender equality to the next level, especially at your workplace!
It's not just good for women, it's good for business too - research shows that the greater the representation, the more likely a company is to outperform, as companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30!
And that's just one of the many reasons why women deserve better than to face the inequality and biases they experience today.
At BigPay, we are constantly making sure our working environment treats the voices of our female colleagues with equal weight and respect. In fact, our strong and beautiful ladies within BigPay have united in strength to get in the spirit of #ChooseToChallenge!
Let's commit to empowering women as we #ChooseToChallenge the perception that equality is a hindrance, and let it be known that when we rise together, we're stronger together! Happy International Women’s Day!