In the foreground: Young women activists ready to become media-savvy activists through training program

Young women have an important role to play in advocating for gender equality and the empowerment of women, and it is with this in mind that the “Creating Agents of Change” program was launched in October.

“Change is important, but it’s difficult, especially if we’ve been doing things the same way for a very long time. It requires new thinking and new actors, and I think it’s especially important that young women are these agents of change, ”Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said at the launch.

“In order to protect and defend the rights of women in Malaysia, we must engage more women leaders to become agents of change in attitudes, approaches, policies and laws,” she adds.

As such, twenty young Malaysian women activists stand ready to become activists through the Create Agents for Change program.

Launched online (via Zoom) by US Ambassador to Malaysia Brian D McFeeters, Selangor State Executive Advisor for Health, Unity, Women and Family Empowerment, Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, and activist Marina, the program is organized by women’s NGO Empower Malaysia and 3R Malaysia with support from the US Embassy.

The five-month capacity building program will enable young women between the ages of 18 and 30 to become better activists in their fight for gender equality.

“This demographic (young people) is selected because they spend the majority of their time using digital media. Each user has a platform and a certain degree of influence, whether with friends or family, and it’s what they do with it that sets them apart from others, ”explains Denise Lee, coordinator of the Empower project.

Importance of advocacy

McFeeters says the program is a continuation of the U.S. Embassy’s Wanita Empowered Campaign that began about a year ago and is a top priority.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities for women in everything from health and economics to security and social protection, but women have also played an important role in responding to virus as frontline workers, home caregivers and world leaders, ”says McFeeters.

“The unpaid workload of women has increased dramatically due to school closures and the increased needs of older family members during the pandemic. They are also affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 as they work disproportionately in the informal economy, which puts them at increased risk of falling into poverty, ”he adds.

“The pandemic has also led to an increase in violence against women and girls as during the closures women were trapped at home in situations of violence, struggling to access essential services which were affected during closures.

“Domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriage – these are just some of the issues that participants are trying to tackle,” he says.

Creating Agents of Change involves a series of workshops that will immerse the 20 young women in the fundamentals of human rights and gender to anchor their advocacy efforts. They will also receive in-depth media training to enhance their creativity in promoting social change and learn how to effectively use media tools to conduct their own media-focused advocacy campaigns in the future.

At the launch of Create Agents of Change: (top row, left to right) Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, Brian D McFeeters, Lina Tan, Dayah Bakar, (second row, third and fourth from left) Marina Mahathir , Denise Lee. Photo: U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur

Persevere through the challenges

Speaking at the launch, Dr Siti Mariah offered advice that not only the 20 attendees but all women activists in general can benefit from.

Dr Siti Mariah encouraged participants not to become discouraged in their advocacy work, but rather to persevere when they do not see things improving immediately.

“If you are wondering if your advocacy will be successful and when the results materialize, you may not always see it in your lifetime. But also know that we are all part of a link in the chain, because what we do now will be pursued by others in the future who have the same goals and aspirations as us, ”she says.

Speaking from his own personal experience, Dr Siti Mariah reveals that advocacy work often involves taking consistent small steps and speaking out or communicating.

“When I started out as a member of the Islamic party, women weren’t on any committee, and I had to say that there should be women representatives for every committee we have,” says Dr Siti Mariah. .

“There were also meetings at 9 pm after prayers which often lasted until midnight, and as women we wear many hats (like looking after our children), which made it difficult. And I communicated my thoughts on it and after that they changed it to an hour earlier at 6pm, ”she says.

“Although it is not always taken well, we have to speak up, because otherwise how would men know the needs of women if we women do not tell them? Dr. Siti Mariah asks rhetorically.

Second, don’t be discouraged when you run into walls in your advocacy work, she says.

“Change can be subtle. In my 20 years of experience, as advocates, we can be very passionate and enthusiastic, and sometimes we come across walls or people who resist change.

“But don’t be discouraged. Instead, try to think outside the box. I found that talking about memperkasahkah (empowerment) sometimes gives people a negative and mistaken impression of aggressive women with big muscles pushing their way through, and therefore, instead of being willing to listen, people (whether they are ‘men or other women) are chased away.

“So we have to be wise in our approach, lobby first before presenting our idea or our thoughts,” she advises, advocating a “smart work and hard work approach”.

Third, advocating for women to be part of decision-making is a conversation that needs to take place, she says.

“We have to communicate and express ourselves. The difficulties that women face when they are not involved in decision-making and policy-making can only be eliminated if we talk about them, ”says Dr Siti Mariah.

“Gender mainstreaming is not just about women. It concerns society and affects men and children as well, so we need to talk about it so that people understand why it is important – and why advocacy for gender equality and the presence of women in decision-making for the public and private sectors is vital, “she said.

The Create Agents of Change program will provide a safe space for young women from diverse backgrounds to actively engage in critical conversations about advocacy and gender issues.

In addition, a variety of gender experts and advocacy groups – Amnesty International, Legal Dignity, MISI Solidariti, Justice for Sisters and many more – will be invited to connect participants with current rights activists. in Malaysia. The fusion of rights-based thinking, creativity, media advocacy skills and meaningful connections are essential as stepping stones towards building their capacities as young activists.

At the end of the program, participants will have the opportunity to design and produce their own audiovisual content to highlight various gender issues and their efforts will be showcased in a special screening held on the sidelines of International Women’s Day in March 2022.

Malaysian host and presenter Dayah Bakar, a young person herself, says social media is a good platform to share thoughts, ideas and messages, and as an advocate, it’s a good way to to convey what excites you in a way that people can relate to, in order to generate awareness on important issues.

“To everyone who takes the program, I think you will learn a lot. Similar to the 3R project that I went through, you will have very experienced and knowledgeable mentors who will teach you so much, ”she says.

Dayah’s message to the participants is simple but powerful: “Say what you think, be understandable and as creative as possible. Remember that a simple message can have an impact or change someone’s life.

“Participants in this program will learn that it is difficult to advocate for change, but it is possible to do it. There are knowledge and skills to be acquired and ways to apply them effectively. The program can improve the community’s understanding of advocacy work in Malaysia and I believe there will be community support when people understand that these change agents want to benefit all of society, not just themselves ” , concludes Marina.

More information on: Creating change agents.