English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Women's Political Participation: Training to be a Trainer and Inspire Others


I grew up with the perception of politics as a gentleman's game, though 'gentleman' is hardly a word to describe the political scene in Malaysia. Meaning that a woman is less likely to be accepted in such a world.

Kind of sad, even though we are working very hard to close the gender gap and (almost) succeeding at it. But how many women are actually involved in politics in Malaysia? And what is our perception of them?

I still have a memory of myself sitting down in my Business Law tutorial class when the lecturer suddenly asked everyone if they have aspirations to run as Prime Minister one day. My answer is no. It's too overwhelming thinking about how the future of a country depends on us.

I mulled on the idea some time after about what it would mean for someone like me to be in politics. I just love the image of an empowered, independent and highly-respected woman. Most of  such women seem to have a certain aura about them.

But...if I were to ever step foot into politics, I think if anyone wanted to dish out the dirt on me, there would be plenty. I kind of imagine that anyone who's in politics (and especially a woman!!) needs to really make their image as impeccable as possible. Because when someone wants to find fault with you, they will stop at nothing.

I am no extraordinary speaker. My best means of communication are through writing. I can't imagine myself having a political debate, as the art of arguing is not an asset on my list of abilities. But if anything, I have a vision for my country, a passion to make things right, and that is about as good as it gets. Plus, I do have lots of experience in running causes and campaigns that I believe in. If that's not what being a leader is about, than what is?

I think it is much much harder to be in politics if you are a woman. I mean, if I ever become a public figure, some of the things they might point out is that

1. I am not religious. I don't cover myself from head to toe, and that about makes me equal to a heathen in the eyes of some. Regardless of my true moral standing.

2. I am a single mother, and a survivor of domestic violence. But some people do view me as being unfaithful, a disgrace and un-Islamic. Which could be easily twisted by some to say that I am a failure at home affairs, so why should people look up to me?

Another thing about being a woman in politics, is the portrayal of your character by media, that tends to get a little vindictive and petty. Only because you're a woman do they take special note of the way you dress (no cleavage please!), or the wrinkles on your face, or the fact that you may have spoken a little too loudly during an interview. Forget that you have intelligent things to say, it is all overshadowed by your public appearance.

Ask Hillary Clinton, she was a victim of such pettiness. It happens everywhere, and not just Malaysia. People are still cruel to women, no matter what we say about gender equality.

And God forbid should you ever find a partner while you are a public figure, because then there would be a media frenzy while people dissect every little detail of your personal life. Let's not forget what happened to Elizabeth Wong, Bukit Lanjan assemblywoman.

You would never hear such nonsense if the politician was a man. In fact we just smile snidely, and close one eye when it is a male politician who has 2 wives, and a girlfriend on the side. We don't care that he came to a meeting with his tie askew. Who cares?

No, it is not an equal playing field when it comes to politics.

I have been somewhat a little interested in politics, and even more so this year as I find out more and more through the connections I have built. I want to be involved in creating change. I can't go into politics myself as per the reasons named above... but I can help to find potential women leaders. Can't I?

So I was pretty excited when I was informed that there is a National Training of Trainers conducted by All Womens Action Society (AWAM) and Women's Learning Partnership (WLP) on "Leadership and Women's Political Participation" in Kuala Lumpur. Apart from it being a break from my usual routine, the topic is something I am quite interested in due to recent events.

The NTOT was participated by 23 women, all from different organisations throughout Malaysia. Majoree and I were the participants were the only ones from Borneo. I was very impressed with the very participative and vocal nature of the participants.

The trainers we had for the session was pretty impressive too, hailing all the way from Nigeria and Egypt with nuggets of information to share with all of us about the political landscape in their own countries.

To me, I felt totally comfortable with all of them, it was like we were all of the same kind - passionate about issues that were happening in the country. Everyone was an activist, or someone who is actively pursuing a cause. I fit right in from the first day.

The ice-breaker involved us drawing one thing that we think represents us, or someone we would like to be. It could be an animal, anything organic, just anything. I wasn't sure what I wanted to draw, but in the end I drew a diamond (hmmm... thinking later that maybe it was due to me being in JCI Intan).

Suddenly I remember my message as souvenir magazine editor for JCI Intan last year, when I wrote 'just like our namesake, we may be small but we are precious and shine in the dimmest of lights' or in that context. Corny, I know

But this time my reason for choosing a diamond to represent myself because of the amount of time it takes for a diamond to form. And a diamond needs to be cut and polished to become the high-value item it is. Which rings true to me (pardon the pun).

The second thing we did was to draw with our less dominant hand, in my case - the left hand, of the woman who inspired us and write a word to describe how she inspired us. I couldn't pin-point just one person, so in the end I chickened out and chose my mum for her resilience.

The truth is, we are inspired by so many people in our lives. Anyone can inspire, anyone can be a leader. And we too can be a leader, whether we realise it or not.

All through the four days, we laughed, we shared, we gave our best input. I think it was some of the most enjoyable trainings I ever had, and some of the most creative too. Everyone was given a chance to be a part of a host team - to be the time-keeper, take care of group dynamics, documentation etc. I also took the chance to try and co-facilitate a session, though I think Wei San was great and could carry it all by herself. I loved how everyone was so enthusiastic and encouraging throughout.

It was an exhausting 4 days, especially since I did go to Bersih meetings and #OccupyDataran after the trainings just to get a feel of everything that is happening in KL. All the stuff that I have previously only seen online.

The most important messages I have learnt in those 4 days is that yes, women can be leaders and be involved in politics. We may be a homekeeper, or a result from a failed relationship, but we can capitalise on  the good points. 

We learnt about campaigning and advocacy. We learnt about communicating to our best potential. It was all the great things to tie in to being a good leader in society.

I was especially tearful after reading about Asma Khader (Jordanian human right's activist and lawyer), whose 5 year old daughter complained that she never gets to spend much time with the mother due to her demanding work schedule. But after seeing the dismal state of the prisons while tagging along with her mother, her daughter too grew up and was inspired to become a  human rights lawyer herself. Very inspiring.

Of course, I would never vote for a woman simply because of her gender. That to me is not what gender equality is about. I would vote for her because of her capability and because I believed in her leadership. There is no point in voting for someone who is only interested in her own political agenda. And it works for both, man or woman.

And now I am back home again, it is time to plan. Plan to conduct such trainings and groom future women leaders. Can't wait!

Already I can feel I am at the forefront of change.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Aura reading, anyone?

I have always been interested in the mystical. As far as I remember, I've always been a spiritual person. Not religious, but I know we are more than just this temporary being on earth.

I believe in Heaven and Hell, but I also believe that Heaven and Hell  exists not just in the afterlife, but the here and now. Either way, you get what you give. Tit for tat.

I also believe that whatever we go through in our lives is already destined. No matter how sad or angry we are that things didn't go according to our plan, there is always a different side to it. Everything happens for a reason, and it could be that God has a bigger plan for us than we could ever have thought of. That is what I believe, anyway. And I've seen this manifest itself in my life a number of times.  You could say that I feel like I have found my peace, after many years of being in emotional turmoil.

What I understand from my mum is that my great grandmother was a healer. And that my grandmother had learnt some tricks of the trade from her. Perhaps that is where I get my interest in mysticism from. I would say I am somewhat of a 'sensitive' myself - I think I have a pretty good knack at reading people, their emotions and their intentions, or I can 'feel' when there is something good or bad about to happen.

Sounds a little loony? Maybe.

Still I came into the Crystal Palace in Pam Square with a skeptical mind, thinking about what nonsense might be spouted out by the person reading my aura.

An aura is the energy field that is believed to surround every living being. Most of the time, the aura is seen as layers of color around the subject.

After hearing many rave comments from my dear friend June Rubis, I decided to sacrifice RM48 out of my month's salary to give it a try. I afterall, the one who believes in the power of crystals, surely must find this at least partially worth it.

"I want to try the aura reading, please" I heard myself say, after a few minutes of pretending to browse through the crystal trees on display.

First, the girl at the shop beckoned me to come into a curtained small room, similar to a photobooth. I was told to take off my crystal (I wasn't wearing any, just some beads I got from Ely's collection), and put it into a glass bowl, and to put my bag behind me.

Then she asked me to put my hands and fingers on the cold steel metal rods embedded in the plates beside me.

"Just clear your mind and relax. When you are ready, just say ok"

5 seconds later and a few beeping sounds of the camera, I came out. And waited for a few minutes for the photograph to be developed.

Well, at this point I have worked myself up to a state of anticipation. Wonder what it will turn out?

After a few minutes of fanning the polaroid about, she peeled off the plastic covering.

I can't say I am disappointed with the result. That looks great! I don't know how to describe it, but it just does. Haha...

On the left side of the picture is your 'past', the top part is your 'current', and the right side is your future.

So this is what she said to me:-

In your past, you have made a lot of planning for your career / project. But something happened and you stopped.
For me, this is true. I had been doing a lot of planning to do my own business. My plannings and brainstorming has been on and off for a couple of times the past 2 years. This time I think I finally found what I have been looking for, but unfortunately I hadn't been able to really proceed due to lack of funding and lack of time to thoroughly plan out my strategies.

Presently you are a very calm and peaceful person. You have a strong sixth sense which you rely on a lot on making any decisions
Hmmmm. True. Damn true. 

(Upon looking at the pinkish strip on the top of my head) I can see there is some relationship here. It is small, but it is there.
Ummm.... relationship?? Where?? Haha, only thing I know is that I have a big crush on a guy, but it is a very one-sided affair, at least as far as I know.

(But she goes on and says) in terms of relationships with people, you tend to have an invisible wall around you. You prefer to do things alone, work alone all from start to finish. You should let someone in and take some of the work, because otherwise you will become too stressed. Take time to talk and listen.
Ahh ok... so she was referring to acquaintances and friends. Pretty true about the 'going it alone' thing for me. Only a select few (usually bf's) will receive the benefit of me confiding my whole heart and soul. Haven't had one in a long time though. I miss having someone to talk to.

Looking at the light colour around your head, it appears that there are people protecting you.

On the right side, your future, it looks like you are again preparing for more career / project progress, but you need to get some rest. You need to take some time to rest before you get too overwhelmed.
Haha... yes. Definitely haven't had enough sleep.

It also indicates that you are having a bit of a temper in the future. Maybe next week, or two weeks time...
I grinned when I heard that, because incidentally this morning I just told off some insurance agent over the phone for trying to sell me something that I don't even see in black and white. And also how I gave an earful to a guy who said he was going to just dump kittens wherever, since I told him that SPCA is already running at full capacity and limited funds, thus requiring public to help out by finding homes.

Dark colour in the stomach area indicates that you need to take care of your tummy. Must eat
Okieeeee..... I thought I needed to lose weight, but whatever.

After the reading she showed me some crystals that I could wear. One was a deep pink gemstone bracelet- rhodochrosite to attract love into my life, very pretty. And expensive. RM600++. Gulp!

The other was a green phantom bracelet. For career - helps when you are making a business pitch, according to her. Still expensive, around RM300++. But would love it if I could afford it. Maybe one day.

It was a really interesting experience, and I am glad that I went. It just confirmed a few things that I already know, but it was nice to hear it from someone else. And the fact that it was kind of accurate was incredible.

Try it! And who knows what you will learn about yourself.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Beautiful Run

Beep beep beep beep!

I opened one eye and stared blearily at my mobile phone.  

5.00 a.m., time to get up and get ready for the Borneo International Marathon!

After weeks and weeks of early morning runs... I may not be super fit enough just yet, but at least I am starting somewhere. I was just interested in being able to finish the run in decent enough time.

That had been the plan since the beginning of the year. I decided I needed a push to get me going. To have a goal in keeping fit!

And  it kind of worked. Already I was feeling the effect with clothes seeming to fit better. A more positive and measurable effect compared to hours and hours spent on cardio classes. And cheaper too!

I envy kids. The way they have so much energy and enthusiasm to run wherever they go. Where has that feeling gone? Gravity seems takes over, in proportion to the more years you add to your age. I remember I was that kid once, running around effortlessly without a care in the world.

Running is both a group and solitary activity. You can run in a group, but usually it is just you against yourself. I find that it is during running and walking that I have good ideas. The mind is at peace.

At the starting line
To me, today is much more than just completing a 10km run / walk. To me, it is a victory. Of overcoming a fear that I will never run again.

For I have a torn ACL on my left knee, as a result of a foolish move during uni. I was constantly in fear of losing my balance and falling over, or of painful joints.

But I did it!

“Whether you say you can't or you can, you're right.” 
― Walt Disney Company
Yay, we did it!!
I was quite impressed with how the run was organised, truly well done. Each of the participants who finished the race according to the allocated time are awarded with a nice medal. Sweet!!

Nothing like a little prize as motivation to keep you going.

Who knows, I might join again next year!

Finisher's medal


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

BERSIH 3.0 - My Sabahan Experience

The day drew bright and sunny. And hot.

I came, a bit late as I was coming straight from work, managing to squeeze in some time to dump some stuff in the car, pick up my yellow customised BERSIH t-shirt and other stuff I would need.

While all my senses told me that we did not have any real danger of aggression, it was better to be safe than sorry. Glasses instead of contact lens. Longer sleeves that have been rolled up ready to be pulled down in the unlikely event of a teargas attack.

Water.... check!
Salt.... check!
Sneakers.... check!
NRIC and money.... check!

Running through the mental checklist in my head, I was ready in case the worst case scenario came true. Come what may, I am prepared.

At that moment, fear is not a word on my vocabulary.  All through the day before, I felt strangely calm.

"Today is the day I shall take an active role in determining my country's future in democracy", my mind whispered.

Maybe it was the love and full trust I have in my team. Maybe it was my wish to see Malaysia as a country that I can be proud of. But that day I felt courage, and nothing was going to stop me from going to Padang Merdeka with all the yellow and green clad Bersih supporters.

I am basically a newbie to the whole Bersih movement. When I was invited to be one of the coordinators for BERSIH Sabah, I was a little hesitant.  But, being the person that I am, a person who loves a challenge, I decided to jump on the BERSIH bandwagon.

What can I say? It's been one awesome experience!

After many long nights of discussions and meetings, we are now graduates of Activism 101. Or should... had there been such a thing.

Only a little less than a month ago, we were welcoming the iconic Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan to launch the JOM 100 campaign in Kota Kinabalu.

Held on Sunday, 8th April 2012 at Oriental Hotel (formerly Beverly Hotel) at 12pm, JOM 100 is in an effort to to achieve 100 percent voter turnout at the upcoming general election. The campaign believes that with 100 percent voters turnout in the GE13, it will uphold our democratic principles and help to mitigate electoral fraud.

The campaign was a result from the last General Election on 8 March 2008, where it was found that 7 million voters out of a total of 15.1 million voters who did not exercise their rights to vote.
7 million?? That is like almost half of the population that is entitled to vote!

Out of this 7 million people, it is found that 2.7 million are actually registered voters who did not vote, while 4.3 million others have not even registered themselves as voters.

Pure laziness? Or don't care attitude? No idea. We could sigh, and roll our eyes and say...'oh, but that is just being Malaysian, you know...' but that is totally unacceptable!! How can you not care enough for your country?

Hmm... Maybe Malaysian's do deserve the government they have now, if they can't even get off their lazy behinds to go out and vote! Grumble grumble...

So, my hope for my active participation in Bersih is to show everyone that we can do it. We can (and should!) care enough about our country. Hey, if I didn't love my country, I would have migrated a long time ago.

That day at the JOM100 launch... was a turning point in my life.
That was the first time ever that I dared to don the bright, sunny yellow t-shirt with a big red tick in front. *GASP!!*

Oh, I lived through that experience... and wore a few several times more. How can you not love such a cheerful colour?

I even had the pleasure of having Dato' Ambiga - the face of BERSIH, to sign my t-shirt!

As part of my active participation, I even went around helping to disseminate flyers to the public in my yellow t-shirt. There were curious onlookers, but mostly they were very friendly.

There were many obstacles along the way to the 'B' day. First of all was mainstream media. It was as if they were under orders to not publish anymore articles on BERSIH, after the initial 2 press conferences we had. Other than the 8 demands issued by the BERSIH steering committee, Sabah had an additional request - to demand for the Royal Commission Inquiry on undocumented immigrants to be established. Terms of reference were also issued by us... and ignored. They seemed to be intent on ignoring us, until we announced the result of our meeting with at least 30 PDRM and DBKK officials.

Yup. I, with 7 other BERSIH committee members went to a meeting with DBKK and PDRM in a conference room filled to the brim with men in uniform. How's that for intimidating?

Nahhh, I wasn't afraid. Why should we? We didn't do anything wrong. As per the Peaceful Assembly Act, which we found out had been enforced just the day before, we had issued letters of notifications to both PDRM and DBKK 10 days before the rally on 17th April 2012.  They just wanted to meet us to discuss.

Besides... we had some tips from Lawyers For Liberty Fadiah Nadwa and Ana Syuhaini the day before at the workshop 'Right to March'. *Wink*

In a nutshell, what happened that day was that they had prepared for us a beautifully designed powerpoint presentation of the field we can use in Penampang, as an alternative to Padang Merdeka, our preferred venue. This was due to the Padang being already booked for some public awareness programme by DBKK.

Our spokesperson thought for a moment, and asked if we could participate in this public awareness programme, as we ARE the public. Basically we are supporting them in their event by bringing people. DBKK couldn't say no. And neither could PDRM.

We were overjoyed at our luck!

However, a day after we issued a statement that said DBKK and PDRM are ok with us attending the programme (and a newspaper that twisted our words to say that we received 'approval', which is untrue). 

As a result, DBKK issued a statement that they never approved the gathering, causing many to again start having doubts after happily receiving the earlier news release.
Following the discussion that took place between PDRM and DBKK with BERSIH Sabah representatives on 24th April 2012, BERSIH Sabah issued a statement which confirms that DBKK and the KK PDRM does not have any objection for the movement to gather at Padang Merdeka on April 28th.
Both parties also confirmed that there are no restrictions as to the dresscode, i.e. the participants are free to wear yellow and green t-shirts in support of BERSIH and Himpunan Hijau.
This statement is also based on the movement’s endorsement, and planned support and attendance of the public event organised by DBKK at the same location. DBKK had confirmed that it will not restrict BERSIH participants, who are also members of the public, from attending the planned programmes.
However, on 26th April 2012, DBKK issued a counterstatement denying that the city council had approved the gathering to be held at Padang Merdeka.
Liew further reiterates that if a permit was never applied for, how can DBKK approve it?
“As DBKK did say it is a public event, then there should be no objection to the attendance of BERSIH supporters as long as they are there to assemble peacefully” he said.
- Excerpt of press statement issued by MCLM Sabah Chief, Michael Liew.
And yes, we still went on as planned. Afterall, didn't Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein say that Bersih rally is not a security threat??
A few days before the Duduk Bantah rally, a group of artists known as the Cracko Arts Group did a beautiful art installation inspired by BERSIH at the heritage pillars.

It took them from 7pm - 10pm on the evening of 26th April 2012 to put up all those flags. It was removed on the morning of 27th April 2012 at around 7.40am - 8.30am.

The finished artwork was supposed to look great from the top.

So sad....
I arrived at Asia City at noon on 28th April 2012. A large group had already gathered, a joyful crowd. A few supporters recognised me and waved hello. I immediately started being busy with my camera. Not a moment to lose.

As I came late, I had the benefit of seeing BERSIH 3.0 from the eyes of a supporter joining in the rally. Members of political parties standing close, tall and proud. As people started marching  towards the Chong Thien Vun park, I ran a little bit ahead to catch some snippets of the ongoing rally. It was amazing to see how many brave people turned up that day. Seeing my teammates so busy at work, I am so proud.

This. We started all this.

Arriving at the venue, I am struck by this - how well-behaved the supporters are. They sat when told to sit. And stood in unison to sing Negaraku and Sabah Tanah Air Ku. No one made any trouble. The police and DBKK just stood by to keep a close watch, but they had friendly faces.

We all came in with such pride and joy, full of laughter. And at the end of the rally, they were told to pick up any trash before dispersing. They did with such enthusiasm. I am indeed tearfully proud of my fellow Sabahans.

That day, we showed the world that we do have democracy in Sabah. That day, we showed everyone that it was ok to stand up (or rather, sit down) for our rights.

I just hope that more Sabahans will wake up and rise up to the challenge.
To finish, I just have a few comments about the rally:-

One of the things that stood out, and many complained about, was the dominant appearance of several political parties at BERSIH, when it was supposed to be a non-partisan event. At one point, I even heard one lady shouting at the PKR supporters.

While I am thankful for the political parties such as PKR and PAS (and also DAP and SAPP) who have contributed a lot to the success of this event through mobilisation, crowd control and security, I felt that this was not the right avenue to tell people who to vote for, or for political campaigns. We are here for one reason - that is to fight for free and fair elections. And if you play your cards right, we just might vote for you. Build our trust first, then we talk about voting.

I am not in favour people who try to sell themselves too aggressively, and this was no exception. Sorry.

As BERSIH 3.0 draws to a close, I, a newbie, and now established activist have this to say:-

I have no regrets!

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