“We have to believe that as females, and as politicians, we can make it. It is possible.”
In a Bangsar café, a young lawyer readies herself for lunchtime. Clad in a suave baju kurung, with her flowing hair gently crowned with a headband, Dyana appears sunny – and importantly, she’s sparking confidence. An avid member of DAP Ipoh Baru, Dyana actively colours the branch’s schedules with her flair, relaying as much contribution as she can for the party and eventually, the people.
And it is the reality of the people that made Dyana join the Democratic Action Party. Restless in learning the drab reality of racial relations in Malaysia, Dyana sees the DAP as ‘seeing through colours’, a sparkling hope in the country’s rich, multiracial landscape. She is convinced of the party’s vision of no racial separation, advocating only the banner of progress for all.
Recently appointed to the DAPSY Perak committee, Dyana is consoled by DAP’s already recognizable image as ‘accountable and clean’. As she stresses it, “as compared to BN—no, they don’t have that”.
Recalling her past experiences that launched her into thinking beyond racial boundaries, Dyana flashbacks to her days in school. “I grew up in KL, and I went to school there. I have a lot of Chinese and Indian friends,” she reminisces. “After we are done with SPM, I happened to see my friends who are not Malays—not only those who haven’t fared well, but even the better performing ones—not getting accepted into any IPTA.”
“They have to spend lots of money in getting admitted into private institutions, instead. The question is, what if I’m in that position? That is my turning point.” And it’s not hard for Dyana to understand DAP’s idea of living in a diverse society is like. “It’s just like when you started primary school. You’re just friends with everyone, be friends with them for what they are, for what they can do for you.”
Long Road for Women’s Rights
Commenting on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s yet another shocking statement, insisting that Malaysia ‘doesn’t need women rights movement anymore’, Dyana is unconvinced.
Citing the rise of the crime against women in Malaysia as an example, Dyana questions how can we be content with such statements when there is so much more to be done. “Our shopping complexes aren’t very safe anymore. Women are easy targets in crimes ranging from snatch theft to sexual harassment. How to curb this?”
“I have to acknowledge that the policemen, some of them I know, are working very hard. It’s just they should decide what they should focus on more. Instead of being overly preoccupied tackling political crime, should they not be on the go finding the killers of (the late) Nurin Jazlin, for example?”
Education, for her, plays a strong role not only to diminish the gender gap, but also to foster critical and creative minds vital for society’s growth. “It is time that we shall allow kids to think more, at school,” she says. “Not just by allowing them to practice and utilize freedom of speech, but to encourage them to ask questions, get better answers and speak out in creative ways as well.”
More Exposure Needed
Now, however, Dyana stresses that even the level of awareness amongst Malaysian women themselves are not far from worrying, which dampens other fundamental efforts crucial for change. Dyana is hopeful that when women finally realize that their rights are not being protected, they will speak up.
“Malaysians are too used to the ‘ikut sajalah’ attitude (just follow), especially the women,” Dyana comments. “But people should know that, whenever things go wrong, they can speak up and voice out their opinions, by all means.”
The mechanism for speaking up, for now, is not too effective. Female representation in the media has increased, but that does not necessarily put their concerns and problems to the forefront.
Women on the grassroots level need their platforms, and while Dyana herself is aware that while there are a rising number of mediums for many women to express themselves, the coverage radius is not large enough.
Exposure is important in climbing up levels of awareness, and the exposure gap between women in urban areas such as the Klang Valley with other women in other areas in Malaysia is not helping much. “Again, it’s about education,” Dyana argues.
“There’s not enough exposure in our education system. We must teach our kids to respect women, and to respect each other. Not just the girls, but the boys as well.”
Perceptions and Stigma
Deep-rooted perceptions towards women echo again in Malaysian workplaces. While female workers often are not well represented in the decision-making positions, they also struggle with family commitments.
Dyana sees this as a complicated and a personal issue. “It’s really up to the individual,” Dyana furthers, “I know many females tend to quit their jobs as their families grow, but I think that it’s a ‘motherly instinct’ factor.”
“In this matter, I see balance as the key. Couples should work it out in a give-and-take solution. In reality, it is still hard. Social stigma still exists for men who give up their role as the breadwinner.”
Pakatan Rakyat’s solutions
Dyana applauds Pakatan Rakyat’s seeds of effort in tackling women’s issues. She cites the Childcare Allowance Scheme mentioned in the 2013’s Pakatan Rakyat Budget. These initiatives include improving, and encouraging the usage of childcare facilities, and giving financial aid to working women earning RM1, 000 per month, with children 12 years and below.
Smalls steps, but Dyana hopes to see more in the future, she suggests that more serious corporate participation could enhance the level of female-related concerns in working places.
“Employers might want to find these issues as offering opportunities, instead of treating them as burdens. It’s all about the mindset,” she adds.
The relation between the mindset, education and political participation is just too strong. Dyana reiterates that female participation in politics is too important to be dismissed.
Women in Politics
Political will is important to elevate women’s status in society, and Dyana firmly believes in this. The stigma that the political arena is a man’s playing field should be long gone.
“Yes, we have to encourage female participation in politics. We have to believe that as females, and as politicians, we can make it. It is possible. Capable, young female leaders like Nurul Izzah Anwar and Teo Nie Ching—we have to show to everyone that they can do it.”
On placing quotas to encourage female participation, Dyana finds herself disagreeing with the notion. “I have to say that merit counts.”
“I think it will be just as unfair to have a qualified male being displaced because a female is required by quota,” urges Dyana, standing by her principle that everybody deserves equal treatment.
She has her goals, and she her principles. It is by these ideals that Dyana stands to drive her passion and her aspirations for the people and the country.
Her wish for Malaysian women? “They have to know that they have power: in their hearts, in their hands, in their minds. They have to use it. Letting people say that you can’t do things will only take you down. You must always remember that you have it in you. Just flaunt it.”
Lastly, before she proceeds with her coffee, Dyana reminds us all: “Keep calm, and vote Pakatan Rakyat.” – The Rocket