Empowering girls with information
Malaysian women share their voices with UNICEF to mark the country launch of The State of the World’s Children (SOWC) 2007 report on International Women's Day.
Themed “Women and Children – The Double Dividend of Gender Equality”, the SOWC 2007 examines the discrimination and disempowerment women face throughout their lives – and outlines what must be done to eliminate gender discrimination and empower women and girls.KUALA LUMPUR, March 2007 - Fate had decided that Celina Khor would join a vocation that would straddle the passions close to her heart. As co-host of the award-winning television series 3R and UNICEF Malaysia’s Goodwill Ambassador, Celina has been able to continue her work to bring difficult issues such as gender stereotyping, HIV/AIDS and violence against women to the public’s attention.
There is no doubt that Celina draws heavily from her personal life and her past NGO experiences to make a difference to the lives of young women across the country. Feeling there must be more to life than an academic qualification, the gutsy young woman took a two year break from her engineering degree to work with an NGO that helped meet the needs of marginalised communities, including people living with HIV. Her life choices and experiences have shaped the person she is today and is very much evident in her approach to giving young women a voice through her TV program.
Celina modestly reveals the numerous letters received from young women who claim that the three dynamic hosts of 3R are role models for them. The older viewers, grandmothers for instance, have expressed how the 3R trio has helped them understand their granddaughters better. Celina believes that through the television show she and her co-hosts, Kartini Kamalul Ariffin and Rafidah Abdullah, have helped bridge the generation gap and provided encouragement for their viewers to tackle the hurdles common to the lives of young women today.
According to Celina, gender bias underpins most of the concerns in the 3R TV program and is one of the subjects that had caught her attention from an early age. Enrolling into an all-girls school minimised her exposure to gender discrimination. The issue, however, became a big concern to her during her university days.
“The boys often got prioritised for group or class leaders. I used to think it was gender discrimination,” she remembers. “But when I think about it now, I feel that it had more to do with personalities. The girls weren’t as assertive and confident as the boys.”
Celina is convinced that culture and upbringing have contributed to the lack of confidence in girls. “Girls are expected to be prim and proper, to listen and not question,” she calmly reasons. “Women are suppressed in so many ways and if you see someone who stands out, you become intimidated by that person knowing that she is 'out there' and you’re not.”
In a voice laced with quiet determination, Celina explains that much has changed in tackling gender discrimination and that there are heavy efforts in eliminating it. The key to these changes, says Celina, is the realisation that women have to empower themselves first.
Making a mark in the workplace
Education is key to enabling women to strike out on their own. Not only does it have the capacity to empower women, education will advance the rights of women and children. Celina defends that the protection and promotion of these liberties are only possible if education is viewed from a holistic perspective.
Relying on her own experiences, Celina stresses that women are not necessarily empowered simply because they attain a higher education. She said quite a number of women see degrees as their final ambition and do not possess the motivation to go further. Celina blames a somewhat unchallenging system for having produced complacency and comfort zones which rob women of the hunger to make a positive difference in the work place.
“Most women think that the pursuit of education and life experiences end with a degree. Social conditioning requires women to take a back seat and play second fiddle to men. Unfortunately some women happily agree to these demands,” says Celina with a tinge of concern. “It is not so much the fear that they won’t be able to battle it out there. There are now many opportunities for women to climb the ladder and it is how much you want to fight for it.”
Information that empowers
She recollects her own life education and the part played by her knowledgeable friends who gamely shared information and experiences with her. No matter how irrelevant the information, Celina listened attentively, believing in the value of exploring a diverse range of issues and the freedom to make informed choice. “A formal education in itself has little value to survive in today’s world. Experiences, exposure and the freedom to explore issues independently make up one’s education,” she asserts.
The serene young woman is passionate about her beliefs, convinced that a woman with a holistic view of education and life will teach her children valuable life-lessons and instill in them a sense of self-worth and confidence.
“When women are informed and given the same chances as men, they gain in confidence, allowing their own children to explore the opportunities around them for an enriched and well-informed life,” she keenly explains.
SOWC 2007 - Women in Malaysia Speak Out!
State of the World's Children Report 2007
Women & Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality
Download Report (pdf)
State of the World's Children 2007 - Malaysia