Empowered Today, Equal Tomorrow

With the goal of celebrating the extraordinary social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women around the world, the Community Department of Sunway Student Volunteers (SSV) organized an event called “Empowered Today, Equal Tomorrow” which consisted of three parts: an online exhibition, a self-defense class and a voice out movement. The event also campaigned for greater progress towards achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, which is the 5th Sustainable Development Goal. 

ETET Online Exhibition (28th September 2020 – 2nd October 2020)

Along with the aforementioned ongoing events, SSV held an ETET Online Exhibition that ran for four days from September 28th to October 2nd. Two topics were released per day on the SSV website, with additional infographics on their Instagram and Facebook. Each day of the exhibition can be visited by clicking the hyperlinks in the respective subheadings below. 

Day 1: Child Marriage & Domestic Violence 

*Please be advised that the following hyperlinks to the sources may include potentially triggering content.*

The opening day featured first-hand accounts from girls who had been forced into child marriages around the world, including Nafissa from Niger, the country with the highest rate of child marriages, who was married to a 34-year-old stranger when she was 14. 

In many developing countries, such as Niger, it is customary for parents to marry off their underaged daughters and for daughters to obey the orders of their parents. Girls who refuse and are unhappy with their arranged marriages eventually give in out of helplessness or the fear that disobeying their parents would put a curse on themselves. Besides, parents hold the belief that premarital relationships and premarital pregnancies are disgraceful towards the whole family. 

Girls are always the victim because of several reasons, namely tradition, poverty, and survival. There are traditions which pose that when a girl begins her menstruation, she has grown into a woman who is due to marry. With a view that girls equate to money or are financial burdens, poverty-stricken households may marry off their girls to pay debts or give preference to boys’ schooling. 

One need not look far to find cases of child marriage, as Malaysia faces this ongoing issue, with Sabah, Sarawak, and Kelantan being the top three states with the highest number of cases. While Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid was married to two wives and had four children, he married an 11-year-old with whom he had his eyes on since she was seven. 

Each year, 12 million girls around the world are involved in child marriages, amounting to 23 girls per minute. Child brides are often stripped of the opportunity to continue their basic education and go on to face severe threats to their health, from domestic violence to forced sex, unwanted pregnancies, and mental illnesses.  

Nafissa’s story, in particular, inspires and demonstrates that the fight is worth fighting. During her second pregnancy, she managed to flee and encountered the local aid organisation that helped her get back to school, where she earned a diploma. She is now an ambassador in the fight against child marriage on behalf of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), empowering other girls to resist their marriages and to seek assistance. 

Indeed, there is hope and it is possible to put an end to child marriage, in turn allowing girls their right to health, education, and opportunity. 25 million child marriages have been prevented in the last decade. NGOs such as SongES are providing education to men so that they can help women in their communities fight together against child marriage. Meanwhile, as laws alone have failed to be sufficient, audiences are urged to spread awareness on these issues.

Day 2: Sexual Harassment & Human Trafficking 

Sexual harassment can be defined as any unwelcomed behaviour of a sexual nature which violates one’s dignity; makes one feel intimidated, degraded, or humiliated; creates a hostile or offensive environment; can be written, verbal or physical, and can happen in person or online. 

YouGov Omnibus reports that 36% of Malaysian women have experienced sexual harassment, compared to 17% of men. Still, based on their survey of 1000+ Malaysians, the reasons that cases are rarely reported are due to (1) embarrassment, (2) the feeling that no one will do anything about the problem, (3) fear of repercussion, and (4) cultural/societal pressure. 

By raising more discussions on sexual harassment, women can become more encouraged to report it and decrease the chances of sexual harassment occurring. The exhibition also suggested a number of ways one can handle a situation in which they are being sexually harassed. It is always important to be informed about the policies and procedures for preventing and handling sexual harassment. One can attempt to tell the person who is harassing them that their behaviour is unwanted; but, if the problem persists, it may be useful to talk to a trusted family member or friend. Additionally, one should save any evidence in the form of texts, comments, notes, or emails.

The other topic covered on this day was human trafficking, defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons done through means of force, coercion, abduction, or fraud, amongst others. The majority of detected trafficking victims are women and girls, most of which are for sexual exploitation. 

The exhibition showcased statistics about the human trafficking scene in Malaysia, followed by ways that the audience can take action to prevent human trafficking. One can fundraise and donate to as well as volunteer at organisations that help fight human trafficking. Of course, it is essential to be educated on the signs of human trafficking so as to give a voice to victims who do not feel comfortable speaking out for themselves, and report suspicions, which can be done anonymously to the 1Malaysia One Call Centre (1MOCC) hotline 03-8000 8000. 

Day 3: Gender Discrimination in the Workplace 

The third day of the exhibition tackled the topic of gender discrimination in the workplace, which can take the form of sexism, implicit bias, and sexual harassment. The gender wage gap is one of the biggest problems related to gender discrimination in the workplace, existing due to the “motherhood penalty”, the difference in types of occupations, and the fact that women are less likely to negotiate for pay raises and there are fewer women in positions of power. As a result of such discrimination, women may experience decreased productivity; feelings of fear, inferiority, or frustration; isolation from co-workers; and mental health issues. 

Adida Rahim’s story was highlighted. Despite being qualified for a promotion to lead a digital forensic team, she had been told by her boss that women were not allowed to have that position, and instead, they wanted a man to do it. It was clear from multiple occasions that her workplace was a sexist environment as junior male staff were given precedence over senior female colleagues and higher-up decisions were made without considering the input of female staff. On top of that, the women were made scapegoats. For months, no action had been taken after Rahim filed a report to her supervisor. 

Nevertheless, audience members who may be entering the corporate world or legal sector are encouraged to speak up for equality in the workplace, ensure that managers are properly vetted, push for legislative changes, and ultimately be part of the solution they wish to see. The day ended with a mini “game” that visualised the different treatments based on gender biases of three characters seeking a job in engineering. 

Day 4: Gender Equality & Women Empowerment 

Lastly, the exhibition discussed gender equality, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Essentially, empowering women is a process of helping them gain control of their own lives, develop self-confidence, better solve their problems, gain skills, and develop self-sufficiency to lead towards them being viewed as equals to men. 

Audiences were introduced to heroes and heroines from around the world pushing for women’s empowerment. Concurrently, anyone can become part of the fight in their daily lives by using gender-neutral language and avoiding gender-stereotyping, which were broken down into simple yet informative points. This is especially worth the read for one to check their internalised sexism and learn to correct these negative behaviours. 

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) in 2018, Malaysia saw an improvement in the Gender Gap Index score from the previous year. As good as this sounds, it should not cause audiences to get complacent but rather motivate them to strive for further improvements and greater achievements to keep this momentum going. 

The ETET Online Exhibition 2020 concluded its final day on an empowering note. Over the four days, SSV addressed serious, pressing issues in an engaging format, providing rich visual and audiovisual cues and extensive resources, including those specifically relevant to Malaysia. The exhibition can still be accessed by clicking this link to their website

Self-defense class (1st October 2020) 

On the 1st of October, a self-defense class for female students was held in collaboration with Sunway Taekwondo Club. It was a great and gracious opportunity for people to learn the basic techniques of self-defense as the class was free of charge, which one does not come across often. The event started off at 6.30 pm with a warm opening speech by one of the directors of the Community Department of SSV, Yan Yan, welcoming the eager hearts of all the 17 participants, and proceeded with the photo session with the instructors and the organising committee members.

Then, the instructor, Master Tony, gave a brief introduction about himself and two taekwondo students who assisted in the deliverance of the class, May (President of Sunway Taekwondo Club) and Henry. He addressed the importance of having some form of knowledge regarding self-defense, especially for women, as there are potentially life-saving techniques to be learned. He also wished to see the participants empowered and inspired in taking this invaluable learning experience home with them, and that they may be keen on untapping their potential through martial arts. With his enthusiasm and witty humor, the participants listened attentively and were motivated to learn something new and imperative for them.

Master Tony demonstrates the weak points found in a person, which is slightly above the jawline. 

Master Tony started the class by teaching the participants to target the weak points found in a person. Knowing the weak points of a person and learning the proper techniques in attacking these points are crucial when faced in a potentially dangerous situation. The temple, nose, throat, right below the sternum and sides of the ribs are some of the vital points to thrust your punches; while the groin area and sides of the knees are good target points to land your kicks. It is important to keep in mind and take into consideration which target points of the attacker are most accessible to participants in that moment so that they are able to defend ourselves effectively. Next, he taught the fundamentals of learning to hold the fists: keeping the fingers flat when they are curled, thumbs are closed, making sure that there are no gaps found within the fist, and the first three fingers are intact. Be it throwing an uppercut, front, side, or back punch, the contact point with the attacker should always be the knuckles. Furthermore, using the knuckles and keeping the fingers intact can channel more power when punching and prevent any unwanted injuries on the fists. 

Participants were taught to warm up before starting any activities. 

Moving on, the participants were assigned into pairs for the warming up and the self-defense foundation session. After the muscles are stretched and joints are loosened, each pair of participants took turns to defend and attack. The first blocking technique that he taught was using the front palms, which is used to fend off an attacker coming from the front. Subsequently, one foot is moved backwards in preparation to run away from the attacker. The second technique taught was using the forearms to block in an upward motion. This is particularly useful when there is no space to go backwards, and defending ourselves from someone who is taller than us.

Besides that, Master Tony taught basic kicking. This is a very linear kick. He raised the knee to the waist and extended the foot at the target. On the other hand, the opponent was taught to protect themselves using solely their two arms, shielding themselves at the stomach. The technique is meant to push the opponent away but can injure them as well. 

In the self-defense techniques session, he has taught basic locking. This technique can be useful against armed attackers. Typically the attacking limb is grabbed and then manipulated to cause immense pain in the adversary. Joint locks can be applied on any point in the body and particularly useful for controlling an opponent who has been thrown to the ground. 

Master Tony walks around to correct the participants’ wrong movements. 

At 7.40 p.m., the participants presented the movements. Master Tony would come around often every few minutes or so to correct participants with the correct posture, techniques, and strength of pushing. He is someone with great patience and carried a dedicated mindset to teach. Unsurprisingly, he would explain in much further detail about higher levels of taekwondo techniques to interested participants. After a long time of practising, he allowed participants to cool down and drink water. During this time, a Q&A session was held. Intrigued participants would ask several questions about taekwondo whilst some shy participants would listen attentively to his explanation. 

At 8.20 p.m., the Token Of Appreciation (TOA) presentation was announced by Amanda Lim, a fellow SSV participant followed by a closing speech by May, the president of Sunway Taekwondo Club. Master Tony and the taekwondo students actively promoted Sunway taekwondo club, constantly convincing them with 2 free trials in their first month and explaining their understanding towards students who skip taekwondo classes during exam periods.  All participants had to perform a bow as a way of expressing their gratitude to Master Tony.

Lastly, the event was wrapped up with a group picture and ended officially at 8.30 p.m. 

Participants and the taekwondo team were all smiles after the event ended.

Voice Out Movement (18th September – 29th September)

From women as supreme judges to men dancing on pointe shoes, whoever said that anyone was limited to stereotypical forms defined by gender? The rise of gender equality has long been promoted by the United Nations, Change, and none other than Sunway’s very own Sunway Student Volunteers Club.

With the successful launch of Empowered Today, Equal Tomorrow (ETET), a series of online exhibition showcase of catchy quotes and interactive templates, the event: Voice Out Movement ran an online collaborative “empowering stories” on gender equality and discrimination collection where various entries were subsequently submitted by SSV-ians and Sunwayians in a valiant attempt to counter the red tapes society has placed on our biological builds.

Though controversial, Sunway Student Volunteers has nonetheless posted Voice Out Movement submissions on their website, Instagram and Facebook for everyone to be encouraged by each other’s self-defined spirit and fight against gender discrimination. Beginning 18th all the way to 29th September 2020, the Voice Out Movement had instilled a sense of drive that “we should be described by our individuality not by gender inequality” with some of the following entries below: 

“Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women. Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape. Do not simply imitate your friends’ derogatory behaviour just to fit in.”

“Each of us has unsuspected power to accomplish what we demand of ourselves if we care to search for it. You are no exception. As women can do anything they put their minds to!”

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Ranging from sexual harassment, prohibition of dreams to bullying, the Voice Out Movement has drilled its way into our hearts, ripping apart onions creating tears of justice brimming our eyes with a passion to create a world united with the same dignity. Check out more entries @sunwaystudentvolunteers

With an enlightened heart we advance towards the end of ETET with a burning passion engendering justice, truly empowered.

Written by: Michelle, Lynn, Ashlynn Ho, Shanay & Twis

Edited by: Wu Wen Qi

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