Battling gender discrimination at its roots – Youth Speaks
In the spirit of UN Women’s emphasis on youth, we are pleased to present the first of SIROM’s “Youth Speaks” series, which is an essay by Ms Jun Anne Teh, currently 17 years old, born and raised in Johor. She is now completing her A levels at INTO University of East Anglia, UK.
Battling gender discrimination at its roots in Malaysia – Educating underprivileged girls and boys
Being brought up in a multi-faith and multi-cultural setting since young has been an absolute privilege. I was thrown into a Chinese government school when I was seven years old and completed my primary education there. From there, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an international school full of people from many different backgrounds. Throughout my education, it was and still is a pleasure getting the opportunity to mix around with different cultures.
These are the doors that open for a well-educated young woman. Without the financial support of my parents, I would never have had such a vast exposure to both the international and Malaysian communities. The wealth of knowledge that education opens up for an individual is invaluable. And rejecting someone of a lower income status of that benefit is definitely not the way to go. Not forgetting to mention the quality of education they deserve, and that is another hurdle in itself, which I would not delve into in this article.
That being said, poverty rates in Malaysia have been on a steady decline. Over the years, people living under USD1.90 a day took up only 0.6% of the national population, as of 2015. This maybe an insignificant amount but there are a significantly higher rates in states such as Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak. People generalise being in poverty as living in villages (kampung) without any proper access to healthcare or any public services.
I would like to highlight the cases in rural poverty. I visited a palm oil plantation in Sabah a few years ago. There we met a family who were living in a house tucked deep inside the plantation. We learnt that the father was a worker on the plantation and he has a son and a daughter. The daughter was about 10 at the time, and she had given up her studies to help her father in the plantation. Both children were whisked away on a lorry everyday to go around the plantation harvesting palm oil. The father was the only breadwinner in the family, while the mother stayed home to care for the baby. I know that we should empower and help the girls who don’t get enough education in poor families, however those who are in hard-core poverty neglect education to both boys and girls completely.
Education should be a human right to all genders of all income statuses. Helping these families to educate their children should be the priority of the both the government and individuals of the society. Moreover, educating boys could result in reducing inequality as boys would be equipped with the knowledge that gender is not something worth discriminating against. Raising awareness of the importance of education for girls especially, would be a way to tell our society that girls need to learn basic skills and they need to learn about the functionality of the world and how to live in it as well, with all the social stigma women have received over the last few decades, feminism and women empowerment have also grown exponentially, making it slightly easier to live in society as a woman, however we still have a long way to go.
As in all societies, women are expected to act or look a certain way. Traditionally, Chinese families used to detest girls as they did not carry on the family name and were useless in earning money for the family. They were seen as maids for the house and would be subjected to doing chores everyday. As a young woman myself, I have experienced so many instances where people have commented on my face, my voice, my skills, my grades and a number of other superficial nonsense. I have been able to brush these remarks off with ease as I was raised with the knowledge that I could just be me and it would be okay. I was raised to know that I was as strong as the other boys, I was as smart as the other boys and that I was capable. I didn’t need to look a certain way or have especially bigger eyes to be able to achieve my dreams. That was what a good upbringing and education did for me. My teachers taught about the abhorrence of gender discrimination in the world. My parents still love me even though they desperately wanted a boy (I was the third girl) and I am so grateful for that.
Without the exposure my parents had gained from their education, I would probably not turn out to be so optimistic about being a woman. And other girls should be able to learn this too. Poor parents have poorer ideals, and maybe less capabilities to give their children a better education, as they don’t see the necessity for it. They think that their children can follow in their footsteps and get by on jobs that require almost no skill at all. And if they had enough money, they would most probably send the boy to school as the girls would just be married off. It is our jobs as citizens of this nation, to tell the future generation that robbing someone of the privilege of education based on their gender is unjust. A better education for girls can secure a better job, and this provides a better standard of living for women in the future.
As an individual of a society, we must take action in promoting education in young girls and boys to those in poverty by taking part in raising awareness about the issue, knowledge of this problem can help alert governmental organisations to step in and make this their priority. You, yourself can be involved by visiting your local orphanages or schools in rural areas and enquiring about how you may help. I once was involved in my school programme, in which we reached out to the local school down the road, who were educating the children of the migrant workers who were working on a palm oil plantation.
We raised money and supplied the school with iPads so that we could skype them every week to teach them English. We would have a teaching lesson planned out for them and we would converse and teach them about culture as well. Without the school’s advocation of this programme, I would never had known about this problem that was literally a few kilometres away. This is how education can change one’s perspectives. It helped me broaden my perspectives on social issues that were happening around me that I was completely unaware of. It also helped the children to get a better sense of the wider community. By educating them, they would have a lesser chance of being ignorant, which gender inequality and discrimination hugely stems from.
That was one of the ways I helped the poor, and you could too. You could involve yourself in this community of women, by helping them organise campaigns and events, or even by simply teaching your own children about the importance of education. A little goes a long way.
If you work closely with a school, it is a great opportunity to expose the students there to people who can’t afford an education. You could organise something like my previous experience whereby students were tasked with helping out at a poor school nearby. It can help make students more aware of the situation at hand and in the future, they might draw from their experiences helping the poor, and continue to voice their concern and help the poor.
For those who are more passionate, voice opinions on how to provide education services to the poor and needy at a low cost; Scout for a poorer area in your vicinity and visit some of the schools or families there; or devise a scheme to send volunteers to rural areas once every week to provide guidance and empowerment to children by giving them the opportunity to attend a school (choosing a few children to study in a good school and guide them to further their studies, and when they come out to society, they will be able to do the same by spreading awareness among their communities.) Or you could simply visit poorer orphanages who don’t have the funds to give their children education, provide them with your expertise and give back to the community. You could be changing one child’s life by giving them the opportunity to fulfil his or her greatest potential.
Help teach the younger generation about the importance of education and the stigmatisation of genders. This is a long term process in which we would be able to completely eradicate gender inequality in the future by educating the next generation of underprivileged children.