-we realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced~Malala
What does women empowerment mean?
To one, it can mean freedom; freedom of speech, freedom of making decisions, freedom to be happy. To another, it may mean a man and a woman sharing their responsibilities as a family. To some, it might be a woman who is strong and is willing to fight back. There is no literal definition for women empowerment. But, if we were to sum these all up, it would mean respecting women for who they are, promoting women’s sense of self-worth and giving them equal opportunities that men have.
Along this line, Sunway University Student Council (SUSC) has taken the initiative to dive deeper into women employment through a conference with a few inspiring women who have broken barriers with their jaw-dropping accomplishments. The Women Empowerment Conference, themed ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’, was held on 24th June. The event was held at Jeffrey Cheah Hall 3 in the university and was broadcasted live through Zoom.
Introducing the Speakers
The moderators Ching Xuen and Jynn welcomed those present by presenting the three awe-inspiring speakers beginning with Ko Jia Xin, a third-year Computer Science major who previously featured on Echo’s article on Extracurricular to Employability. Not only is Jia XinSunway Tech Club’s first female president and the Organizational Officer of Sunway’s Gender Equality Club, she is also the founding member of Sunway’s Gender Equality Club.
The second speaker for the evening was the Chargé d’affaires of the Republic of Maldives to Malaysia, Mizna Shareef began her introduction by enlightening the audience that the UN had officially announced to celebrate the 24th of June, the event date as the International Day of Women in Diplomacy. Mizna Shareef has a wonderful work history-being the former Minister of State for Tourism, Arts, & Culture and the Former Deputy High Commissioner of Maldives.
Last but not the least, Prof. Elizabeth Lee, the CEO of Sunway Education Group (SEG), was introduced as the third speaker of the evening. Holding a number of impressive accolades such as two honorary doctorates from the University of Nottingham, and Victoria University. She also holds a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Education from the University of Cambridge. Having led Sunway’s Education Group since the 90s, into its massive success today, she jokingly adds that she is now a fixture at Sunway for 30 years while greeting the audience warmly.
Panel & Discussion Session
To kick-off the panel discussion, the first prompt was what made them realize that gender inequality was an issue. Jia Xin revealed that when she was young, it dawned on her when watching the TV, the parliament was usually full of men. She adds that the history books during school pictured mainly men as important figures back then with few women involved in politics. Jia Xin questions the fact that, why when men don’t work it is a problem but, when women don’t it isn’t considered as one.
Mizna Shareef shared about her childhood, growing up in Maldives during the 80s and 90s. Her father taught her that everyone should be treated equally, be it man or woman, to be self-sufficient and that everyone has a right to be educated. The idea that gender inequality was an issue crossed her mind when a neighbor told that her parents loved her brother more, him being the only son. Of course, Ms. Mizna’s parents affirmed that it was not so-loving their children equally but, the issue cropped up again when she realized that the boys were given leadership roles in school even though the girls were performing better academically.
Prof. Lee offered her piece of mind by commenting that when she was young, her mother often lamented that she didn’t have a son, as she was the only child. However, gender inequality wasn’t something she was necessarily exposed to until she was doing a thesis on Gender Differences. She came across the fact, in the UK, that girls were streamed in such a way that they had to choose the more ‘homely’ electives compared to boys who were pursuing Physics or Tech. As such, when they started preparing timetables here, she made sure that any language classes did not clash with the technical subjects to give an equal opportunity for everyone.
The next question was on any adversities faced as a woman and how they overcame them. Mizna shared that, at 26, after having 2 children,how difficult it was to obtain a job at a law firm despite being more accomplished than the men who were applying for the same position (she has three university degrees). The particular law firm also had an opening for interns as such, she got in as an intern. Having performed the best during the internship, she managed to bag her previously tried for position almost immediately and rose to even greater heights in her career. Unfortunately, the hours were not flexible as Mizna still had to care for her household. Later on, she became a legal advisor for the tax authority in Maldives and progressed further to be the Minister of State for Tourism, Arts & Culture. Throughout her journey, she realized that it was much, much easier for a man to get a job, especially those that held power, compared to a woman.
For Jia Xin, she first explained how her mother is her role model and how she had raised her elder sisters to be pioneers in their respective careers. Undoubtedly, Jia Xin draws most of her inspiration from her family, who were among the audience, cheering her on. She says humorously that she still has a long way to go career-wise but, speaking of adversity or challenge, she mentions becoming the first female Sunway Tech Club President. Jia Xin goes on to say that she is proud to have broken the stereotype that only men can be leaders when concerning the IT industry. She emphasizes on how it is crucial to balance it with a team having both male and female members.
Prof. Lee chimed in to add that her middle child too is a software engineer and is extremely proud to see her breaking the barriers. She recalls Sunway thirty years ago, when there were dress codes for the employees to abide by. Sunway was mainly focused in developing, as it was a construction/quarry focused company. Quoting her, those were the days where men traditionally dominated the work industry. There was a specific dress code set for female employees, where they were required to wear dresses and skirts to work. Naturally, the women found this quite troublesome and irritating. The next sentence said by Prof. Lee however, could probably send shivers down one’s spine. ‘Don’t fight the system. Influence change.’ Elaborating on this, she says rather than storming to the head office and reporting the issue, she opted to wear slacks and pants discreetly, causing more and more female employees to adorn more suitable clothing. The dress code was eventually abolished.
The last general question was on what they thought the youth could do to overcome this issue of inequality.Mizna, emphasized the importance of believing in oneself and getting an education no matter what. She quotes a proverb as she explains this,If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. Being financially independent and having a supporting partner is something to take into account too. She expresses that families should be raising progressive men who treat women with respect and understanding.
Prof. Lee carried on to say that men and women coexist as yin and yang. Without the other there is no balance maintained. Men and women respectively bring different attributes in matters of work and life. Celebrating,embracing one’s attributes be it good or bad plays a part in creating a more equal system. She wraps it up by directing a clear-cut message to men, to treasure the women in their lives.
Moving on from general questions, the moderators switched to questions particularly targeted to the speaker. Firstly, for Prof. Lee, they were keen to know how SEG built policies to help protect the welfare and wellbeing of its female employees. To this, she gives an example on how women have to choose between raising a family or taking up a job. She goes on to describe how Jeffrey Cheah’s daughter took it one step further to support working employees who had families by tying up Sunway to pre-schools for them. This was to lessen the worry of parents who had younger children and to champion policies related to men and women.
To Mizna, they asked about the difference in the way women are treated in Maldives and Malaysia, which she goes on to add that Maldives had enforced new laws recently in particular issues related to marital rape and child marriages.
Jia Xin was asked how the Sunway Gender Equality Club came about, to which she goes on to say, although there seems to be no issue for women to obtain education in Malaysia, the same cannot be said in other countries. Gender equality isn’t only focused on education either. She talks about starting small and spreading awareness to a bigger crowd through this club.
The panel discussion was followed by a short Q&A session involving the audience. Many questions were raised however, due to the lack of time available only a few eye-catching ones were selected by the moderators. The foremost question was directed to Mizna on how to enter the political field as a woman. She lists down the reasons why women don’t do politics such as lack of finance, lack of trust, harassment, lack of affordable childcare options and how those should be rid off to encourage a woman to take up politics.
Another prompt raised was on what roles and responsibilities men should take to enhance gender equality in a workplace. Mizna answered by expressing her hope that men should learn to respect women and learn to be more open. Speaking of equality means men being unashamed of exposing more of their emotions and women being able to do what they aspire in life.
The last question for the evening took a more candid turn, targeted to all the speakers. When asked who their female inspirations were, Jia Xin reiterated her earlier statement, being her mother and family. Mizna had a similar answer rooting for her mother who was a stay-at-home mom who sacrificed willingly for her children. Prof. Lee, however, took a different turn, and mentioned how she drew inspiration from her father and surprisingly, her boss, Jeffrey Cheah. To her father, she is thankful for giving her wings to fly and achieve wonderful things in life. To Jeffrey Cheah, Prof. Lee expresses how he taught her how to raise a child, saying that the manner in which he grew into fatherhood impresses her to this day.
The conference ended with a gift-giving session to the guest speakers who had enraptured the crowd with their reminisces and inspiring wisdom. The audience too, before entering the hall were greeted with gifts from the sponsors and were given free snacks at the end of the conference.
“We have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible.” — Beyoncé
To the youth today, be it a man or woman it is important to know how to treat one another respectfully and equally. And most of all, to dream.
Written by: Poorani
Edited by: Natalie