Her idea of empowering women is to give them a solid support system so that they can grow strong while uplifting and encouraging one another to realise their dreams. Former Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Hannah Yeoh shares with us what needs to be done to give a better and brighter future for women in Malaysia.
My childhood days were spent in Subang Jaya, Selangor where I grew up with three younger siblings. I was a very active kid in school – the captain of the ‘blue house’ team at one point, I did a lot of running and was also selected to become the head prefect. Looking back, I remember that as a student, achievement meant the world to me. I was so performance driven until Form Five when I set a bad example to the junior prefects because I didn’t score straight As (as expected of a head prefect). Although I still remained as the head prefect, I was disappointed with myself. I didn’t make the grade because I was in the Science Stream, which I chose to take up not out of interest but because of peer pressure. As a result, I went through a brief period of depression and felt as if I’d lost my sense of identity. It almost felt as if at one moment I was popular because I was good in something and all of a sudden, everything came tumbling down.
That’s when I had a reality check and found God or as some people would say, God found me, and my faith changed. This was also when I realised that as a human being, we have our limitations. Hard work is important but I also accept and acknowledge that there is a greater power that loves me above everything else despite what I do and what I don’t do, and this was when I found a new meaning to life. I’m still performance driven but I’m proud to say that my motive is completely different. The aim now is to serve and I need to be accountable with the time given to me in doing my job and the results must show. To be honest, I’m glad that I found my calling and realised all of this at the age of 18 and not at 50 because if I did at 50, I’d have spent my whole life working for something that wouldn’t have given me any satisfaction to begin with! Having had experience working as a lawyer and the passion to help women and the country, I was entrusted with holding the position of Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development in 2018 until last week.
“Bear in mind that we are not giving the younger generation everything at will but we are making the present infrastructure accessible to them so that they can learn and become independent.”
Today, the main social issue that many young Malaysians are facing is their struggle with identity and confidence, which is why cyber bullying is a real problem. When a young person is struggling with his identity, every word that’s used against him slowly shapes his identity and that can be very dangerous. Bear in mind that these youngsters are at an age where they are still trying to discover who they are and constantly seeking for affirmation/assurance from people they love. This is why it’s important for parents to constantly give their kids the assurance that they need. As Asians, we are sometimes very generous with criticism but tend to be a little stingy when it comes to praise. Just by verbally expressing your love for your kids would mean the world to them especially when they are going through this phase in life.
We also have another issue where there are many financially independent women who find it difficult to meet a compatible life partner. This group of women needs a support structure – emotional support in particular to help them deal with the issues that they face in society. Another group that we’re looking into are working mothers who need proper support to help them achieve an ideal work-life balance. Childcare, flexible working hours and the advantage of working from home are some of the basic things that should be looked into so that they can balance both their roles equally. I also feel that it’s important to cultivate the culture of mentoring in our society. One of the benefits of being in my position now is that I have an influence over some policies. Likewise, if you’re working in the private sector for instance, and on the board of directors, it’s time for you to take one step forward and make the change. The first step could be to adopt a new viewpoint with regards to working hours; start by offering employees flexible working hours as this does not only promote and facilitate work-life balance but can empower women to excel at their jobs at the office and as caregivers at home. I think that when you have this kind of mindset at the top level, making wise decisions that consciously benefit women will inspire others to follow suit.
This month, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to share what my idea of women empowerment is – to give them a solid support system so that they can grow strong and uplift and encourage one another to realise their dreams. For example, if a young girl wants to be a politician, do whatever you can do to support and train that child to achieve her goals. Bear in mind that we are not giving the younger generation everything at will but we are making the present infrastructure accessible to them so that they can learn and become independent. Women empowerment isn’t a token notion where people say, “Here you go, please come and take your token of appreciation.” It’s a theory whereby we as women make the necessary infrastructure available for us and make full use of it so that we have the same opportunities to compete with men. And even if we have multiple roles to play (be it as a wife, mother and boss), we’re able to spend equal time completing all our tasks. That’s what’s most important to me as a woman today.
Original text from the print version of FEMALE March 2020