“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.”Robert M. Hensel
On 2nd of April 2022, Society for Equality, Respect and Trust for All Sabah (SERATA) implemented a women empowerment workshop on the Zoom platform targeted at women with and without disabilities in Malaysia. This is SERATA’s attempt to be more inclusive when it comes to offering programs. The workshop was organized in collaboration with the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia (NCBM) as part of the Intersectional Coalitions to Advocate for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Marginalized Communities.
The coalition’s purpose is to nurture awareness of political rights and political consciousness amongst persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups to actively participate in national and state electoral processes.
The workshop is supported by International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), on behalf of the General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA) Program.
About the Workshop
Breaking Barriers is a one-day workshop that aims to empower women and other marginalized groups to break the barriers that prevent everyone from participating in leadership and decision-making. Equipped with sign language interpreters, registration was open to all women above the age of 18, regardless of whether they with disabilities or non-disabled, and are keen to learn more about women empowerment.
The objective is for women with and without disabilities to learn from each other, and understand the barriers and challenges faced while participating in public life and how better representation can help.
This event contributes to NCBM’s coalition goals of organizing activities relating to the roles and participation of women with and without disabilities in political system.
The objectives of the workshop are as follows:-
- To recognise and understand stereotypes and how it affects us
- To educate women and other marginalized groups of their human and political rights and encourage them to actively participate as leaders and decision-makers, including politics.
- To sensitise women and other marginalized groups about the barriers that prevent them from taking an active part in all forms of social life, including politics, and provide strategies for breaking these barriers.
- To encourage self-empowerment by understanding oneself and setting goals for self-improvement
The event was participated by 23 participants, 20 of which are people with disabilities, including 2 men and 21 women.
Trainers and Speakers
Session 1 : Breaking Stereotypes
Background of trainer: Sabrina began her journey in gender issues in 2010, when she organized a campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence. Since then, she has worked with several women’s rights organizations, advocating for the rights of women and children. In 2017, she was selected as a fellow for a US Exchange Program – the 2017 Community Solutions Program where she spent four months to work with the host organization Paid Leave for the US (PL+US) to campaign for paid parental leave for all working people in the US.
In 2018, the NGO that Sabrina founded, the Society for Equality, Respect and Trust for All Sabah (SERATA) was officially registered to work on dismantling long-held socially constructed gender roles and promote gender equality by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls through their programs and training.
Through SERATA, Sabrina has written several articles championing the role of fathers in families, linking this to increasing the women ‘s representation in the workforce and beyond. She also writes about how gender equality is urgently needed for economic prosperity, while decreasing incidences of gender based violence (GBV).
Sabrina is currently pursuing her PhD from University of Malaya, focusing her research on fathering in Sabah.
Session 2: Every Person’s Right to Participation and Representation
Note: This session was presented by two speakers.
Background of Speaker 1: Farhana Abdul Fatah is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Languages, Literacies & Translation, Universiti Sains Malaysia. She obtained her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Her thesis examined the discursive identity constructions of non-veiled Malaysian Muslim women. Outside of academia, she is the Education and Programmes Coordinator for the Society for Equality, Respect, and Trust for All (SERATA) Sabah, a local gender equal non-governmental organisation whose work focuses on issues that concern women and men. Her main research interests cover discourse, identity, gender, religion, and popular culture.
Background of Speaker 2: Alfa Nur Aini is a graduate of Universiti Malaya with a B.A (HONS) and M.A. specializing in Anthropology & Sociology. She has been actively involved in programmes relating to disabled persons at national and ASEAN level since 2013.
Since 2017, she has worked as an independent researcher & consultant focusing on disability issues, especially issues related to disabled women. Alfa also co-authored several academic articles, ranging from issues concerning education for disabled persons to political participation amongst disabled persons in Malaysia.
Session 3: Everyone Has Potential To Lead!
Background of trainer: Zyee hails from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and holds a Bachelor in Business from University of Southern Queensland, Australia.
Currently, she is the Head of Corporate Communication at in a prominent shipyard in Labuan which employs over 500 direct employees. With over 16 years of combined working experience in both the public and private sector encompassing the banking, manufacturing, shipbuilding & ship repair, and oil & gas industries, her areas of expertise include marketing communication, internal and external corporate events management, media releases and formal speechwriting, media engagements, and corporate social responsibility programs.
She is an avid volunteer of more than 16 years and a passionate mental health advocate. Most of her volunteer work is through JCI where she was elected as JCI Malaysia National Executive Vice President cum Area Sabah Chairman in 2019. Being a recipient of numerous awards is a testament to her professionalism, strong leadership, and big heart. These awards include Anugerah Sukarelawan Muda Kebajikan Sabah in 2011, Anugerah Belia Perdana Malaysia (Sabah) in 2019 and one of the recipients of ‘100 Sabah Inspirational Women’ in 2021. Aside from the above, she also has Level 2 Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia proficiency.
Session 4: Goal-setting
Background of trainer: Faiz Shuhaimi was born with a hearing impairment and uses hearing aids on both his ears. He is currently the Human Resources and Training Officer for the Centre of Living Independent Programme & Services (CLIPS) where he coordinates and handles programmes for Independent Living for the disabled community.
Faiz is the President of the Malaysian Disability Youth Council and sits on the Executive Council of the Malaysia Youth Council (MBM) in charge of managing development programmes for disabled youth in Malaysia and enhancing public awareness on disability right
The highly interactive sessions focused first on identifying stereotypes that are faced by women with and without disabilities, and how this led to less representation at all levels and results in women and disability-specific issues remaining unaddressed.
As highlighted by a participant, “Many women are expected to fit certain “tastes”, must bear children at certain age, sometimes must follow so-called men’s standard of achievements”. What followed was a discussion on how one’s potential should not be limited to their gender.
The discussion then moved towards stereotypes faced by people with disabilities and what can possibly be done to break these stereotypes. Overall, the discussions revolved around how public spaces are not accessible. It was also agreed that the overarching theme is that accessible spaces are mostly only available in urban areas.
The next session focused on how people’s understanding and perception of the world is shaped by the language spoken, and thus used to differentiate between the able-bodied and the disabled. Words that are used widely but may be offensive to the persons with disabilities was also highlighted, such as using the term “handicap” to refer to physical challenges, or “deaf and dumb” to describe a speech impairment.
“normal” is an offensive word when used in relation to the OKU community, as suggested by participant during the session. The correct word to use is “typical” or “non-disabled”
It was emphasized that although Article 8(2) of the Federal constitution states there shall be no discrimination against citizens regardless of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law, there are so many ways that women and persons with disabilities have been discriminated against. For example, many persons with disabilities are unable to obtain their high school certification, or the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), which is a minimum bar of entry for further studies which will enable them to become policy-makers. This is due to lack of facilities at schools. Also despite having the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, it has yet to be implemented.
As told by a participant,‘Universal Design for Learning has to be embraced by Ministry of Education for all. It benefits not only learners with impairments. It benefits everyone.”
After the lunch break, participants learned about different types of leaders and shared whom they looked up to as leaders, and identify what it is that makes them leaders. The workshop wrapped up with a review of SMART goals and a discussion on goals to achieve to increase representation of women with disabilities.
Overall, participants wanted to work on improved understanding of people with disabilities by the public. Some major obstacles identified were the lack of a collective voice, internalised ableism, lack of funding, support and resources, as well as limited opportunities to engage with the government.
The breaking barriers workshop was a great session and allowed the ‘so-called’ minority groups of citizens (women and PWDs) to comprehend their rights and responsibilities in the society, to facilitate the participants to think critically in identifying the issues and solve them objectivelySiti Safura binti Jaapar, PhD candidate / Advocate volunteer with physical disabilities from Negeri Sembilan
After joining the webinar, i think, at least personally, i should do my own research about all type of disability in general. By doing so, i hope i could figure out a practical solution to support the disabled community.Blaise Yong, person with visual impairments from Keningau, Sabah