The ladies are here, and their message is loud and clear: we are more than just for female-related issues – we are here as young voices for the people. This month, the voices echo through the high spirits of four young, charismatic personas.
Yeo Bee Yin, Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, Kasthuri Patto and Suki Wong share with Syukri Shairi and Chung Hosanna their vibe, vigilance and vision, ranging from women rights issues to political participation, all quipped with their hopes for the nation’s future.
Yeo Bee Yin
Growing up, Yeo Bee Yin thought that politics was “something that men do”. She could not imagine herself getting involved in the male-dominated field. Ironically, she chose another male-centric career when she studied chemical engineering and worked for an oil and gas company.
“I always believe that intelligence and hard work can earn the respect of men.” Yeo says she did was able to function effectively despite being a minority in her chosen profession.
Today, the former Gates Cambridge scholar has stepped out of her comfort zone and joined the fray in politics. Yeo’s foray into politics was announced together with another high profile academician, Dr Ong Kian Ming, in late August this year.
Asked by her mother why she would choose such a hard life instead of the decent and comfortable job she had, Yeo says her decision was motivated by her love for the nation and the desire to see a better Malaysia.
She is currently active in the Damansara DAP branch and also serves the party as DAP Social Media Strategy Advisor. Yeo plans to use her experience as a social media consultant to assist the party, especially in the upcoming general election.
Najib is Wrong, We Need Women Rights
Yeo expresses her frustration with Prime Minister Najib’s recent comment in the media that “there is no need for a women’s right movement in Malaysia”. Najib said that equal (voting rights) had been given to women since the nation’s formation. He claimed that Malaysia is more advanced than developed nations in this respect.
Najib is not alone in his views. The general public sentiment- including among women- is that men and women already enjoy equality. There is low awareness of the women’s right movement in Malaysia.
However, the reality is far from peachy. Malaysia ranks 97 in the Global Gender Gap Index. While our female education attainment level is at a decent level, our level of female economic and political participation is at the bottom 25%. In fact, we rank the lowest in Asia in this category!
“I do not think that the only reason is because of ‘Asian culture’. Other societies that traditionally hold steadfast to Asian values such as Thailand and Indonesia have a higher rate than us,” Yeo points out.
While three quarters of Malaysian women have some form of tertiary education, many of them do not participate in economic activities.
Yeo says that this figure represents untapped economic potential. There are benefits to increasing women’s labour participation, she argues.
“Studies show a correlation between the Gender Gap, Human Development Index and the country’s competitiveness ranking. In other words, the more women play a role in the country’s economy, the more competitive a country will be.”
This alone is compelling reason to unleash the women power that we are not fully utilising at the moment.
Pakatan Rakyat’s Malaysian Women Agenda
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) wants to improve women’s labor force participation to 60% (from the current 46%). One of the ways to achieve this is to encourage the private sector to create conducive workplaces for working mothers.
“Currently, in the whole of Malaysia, there are only 83 registered childcare centres at workplaces. There is much room for improvement in this area.” Yeo says.
On Joining Politics
Yeo admits that many women are hesitant to step into the political arena, because they don’t feel it is their calling. Women make up a mere 10.4 per cent of Parliament and eight per cent of State Assemblies in Malaysia.
One reason for this is media coverage of women, which has played a role in forming stereotypes. Often, women are being told that they are more suited for certain types of jobs than others. Society also imposes expectations on women in relation to their roles in the family and within an organisation.
“For example, studies have shown that only 7% of women are portrayed as experts by the media. When experts are interviewed, more often than not, these are men. So little girls grow up thinking, I cannot aspire to be that (expert),” Yeo says.
However, Yeo believes that getting involved in politics is not very difficult, as long as you passionate about it. She encourages more young women to step up to the plate debunk the myth of women in politics.
“I hope that more young women can join politics. By keeping quiet, you are allowing yourself to be sidelined.”
“Joining a political party is like joining a club. The political process is not just for politicians. You as an ordinary citizen can volunteer, you can vote. It gives you a voice to be part of the democratic process and to build the nation together,” Yeo says.
“I do not want to regret at the latter part of my life, seeing my country at peril, just because people of my generation have not done enough and have chosen comfort over sacrifice.”
Young Voters, King Makers
Current voter demographics have changed vastly over the past decade. Since 2008, more young people are coming out to make their voices heard in the public sphere.
“In order to make a change, you must participate. Young people have less baggage and are braver to take this step. We always need new blood in politics for the sake of the future,” said the Segamat-born.
What do young voters want? Mainly, Yeo believes that they desire an increase in disposable income. Many young people also care about the environment and have a strong interest in social justice.
“Young people today have a sense of purpose, and care about living for the good of others. This is the normal social progression – with a higher standard of living, the exposure towards human rights grows.”
Internet freedom has also played a role in making the younger generation more aware of their constitutional rights. High national internet penetration, as well as the existence of civil society movements such as Bersih have captured the imagination of a generation often labelled as “spoilt brats”.
Instead, they are warming up to the idea of contributing to something bigger than themselves.
Role of Social Media
Based on her experience as a social media consultant, Yeo gives us the lowdown on the cyber political war.
On Facebook, there are 8 million Malaysians under the age of 21. In the 21- 35 age bracket, there are more Facebook accounts belonging to this demographic than the actual representative population. Even with an average of 7-8% redundant accounts, the internet reach for this age bracket is very high.
This just goes to show how powerful the impact of Facebook can be.
On average, Malaysians spend up to nine hours per week on Facebook, and the statistics for the younger group is skewed upwards.
“From my observations, there is a clear polarisation of voter opinions in cyberspace. This to a certain extent reflects offline sentiment. The Internet is an arena without manipulation. Views found online are not censored but expressed openly.”
Because social media is all about “earned media”, this concept of “one person, one voice” is a very democratic one. For political parties with limited resources, there is still opportunity to compete with the ‘big players’ with deep pockets. – The Rocket
*This is Part 1 of the series. View Part 2 on Kasthuri Patto here.