International Women’s Day with Loh Cheng Kooi

March 8 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a day devoted to remembering the women who have moved and stirred the world over the past century. To commemorate the day, Citizen Journalist Carolyn Khor spoke to Loh Cheng Kooi, the Executive Director of the Women’s Centre for Change Penang on various issues affecting women in Penang and Malaysia in general.

Is  gender really that important? Why?

Loh:     Yes.  Extremely. Women make up half of the world’s population and yet there exists many situations which is gender biased: women are still the main child rearers, sexual violence like domestic violence, rape and sexual molestation mainly happen to women and girls There is also discrimination in the workplace where women earn less than 20%. In short, gender equality should be an agenda of our society today.

What role does a woman play in the society nowadays?

Loh:     The question lies in what role a woman is expected to play. We know that Malaysian women are capable and have lots of opportunities and play an equal role as the men. But often our male dominated society still expects a women to play a secondary role to his as the breadwinner.  A woman who joins the work force  and then gets married and decides to raise a family, she is always the one who is expected to sacrifice her job.  Statistics show that in the 30 to 39 year old age group, the number of working women drops drastically. This is compounded by the lack of affordable childcare facilities. That means that women will be sidelined for promotions as she has missed the opportunities. Our society still have not accepted the role of shared responsibility and home-husbands are still not accepted as the norm.

How does identifying yourself as a woman help define your role in the society today?

Loh:     I am a human being first and then a woman. Therefore I do not distinguish myself as a woman in defining my role. My role is to treat the people I interact with equally – at home, at office and outside environment.  At home, my husband and I treat our son and daughter equally. There is no distinction and my children will grow up gender neutral. My husband works from home and he shares household responsibilities with me. He chauffeurs the children and also does the marketing as much as I do. Whenever our children need money, they can approach either one of us too. Raising kids is a joint role.

As a female gender are you equal, below or above the male gender?

Loh:     We should stop distinguishing ourselves as male or female and focus on how to run our lives as human beings. We should neither be above nor below. Precisely that women are treated as the lower half, that’s why we are still fighting for gender equality. The issue of feminism arises because there are discriminatory practices like in the work place and gender biasness towards the female.

Do you think LGBT should get equal recognition as the third gender?

Loh:     I certainly support the cause of LBGT. This group of people are humans too, have just as much rights and should not be discriminated against.

As a woman, what issues are you most concerned about?

Loh:     As an activist, not a woman, I am concerned about all important issues, whether they are migrant issues, marginalised people or the environment.

What is your wish for International Women’s Day?

Loh:     The Joint Action Group for Gender Equalty of which WCC is a coalition member, has been lobbying legal reform over a decade. Our hope is to see changes in these areas: specific sexual harassment law; gender equality law; and the amendments to Muslim Islamic Family law.

Loh Cheng Kooi is the Executive Director at Women’s Centre for Change(WCC), Penang.

WCC is jointly organizing a walk with the State Government in an awareness campaign to “Stop Sexual Crimes” on 19th March 2011 at the Queensbay seafront at 6 P.M. Registration starts at 5 P.M. For more information please call: 04-2280342 or email: [email protected]