‘WOW’ Way To Empower Disadvantage Women

ingle mother Isham Romli was once a shy and reticent woman, struggling with the challenges of raising her three young children after her husband died of a heart attack in 2007.  

Today, she is cheerful and confident, exuding a positive aura and serving as a beacon of inspiration to women living in PPR (People’s Housing Project) and other low-cost housing schemes.

Isham, 60, runs a sewing centre at PPR Lembah Subang here, where she resides, together with 10 women residents who accept orders for sewing and making all kinds clothing and handicrafts. They each earn an average of RM1,000 from the venture which they started in April 2020.

Isham Romli, 60

These women owe their transformation and success stories to a non-governmental organisation called Women of Will (WOW), which was formed in 2016 to equip disadvantaged women in Malaysia with the skills and knowledge to run sustainable businesses through a microcredit financing model. WOW works in collaboration with Yayasan Hasanah and the Ministry of Finance.

“WOW changed my life… from someone who knew nothing, I was given training on entrepreneurship and taught how to start a business step by step. I also attended their sewing classes… and even went on to gain enough confidence for public speaking,” Isham told Bernama.

She said after her husband’s death, she became the sole breadwinner and earned a livelihood by selling nasi lemak and doing all kinds of work.

“I had no skills whatsoever then and my income was uncertain,” said Isham. She not only has a stable income now but has also been entrusted with leading the Empowered Women Leaders Association (PPWB), founded by WOW to further empower single mothers and other women in PPR communities.

For the record, WOW and the PPR Lembah Subang women were involved in preparing and distributing food packets to the residents in the area after the movement control order (MCO) was imposed in 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19.



Isham said PPWB currently comprises 23 WOW community leaders, including those from 10 PPR in the Klang Valley and Kedah.

“Our goal is to advocate effective solutions to the challenges faced by low-income communities,” she said.    

The handicrafts made by the sewing centre at PPR Lembah Subang, lead by Kak Misha

Like Isham, another resident of PPR Lembah Subang Norul Hidayah Ahmad Khalipah, 33, also has a success story to share.

The mother-of-four said when her husband lost his job during the MCO, she decided to make use of the knowledge she gained from attending WOW’s entrepreneurial development programme to set up an online business selling traditional Malay kuih.

“Before that, I already had a food catering business but I had no experience in doing business. After participating in WOW’s entrepreneurial development programme, I applied whatever I learned in my business and saw positive changes,” she said, adding her monthly profit soared from RM1,000 to up to RM6,000.

Norol Hidayah said with her newfound knowledge of financial management, she became aware of her spending habits and the importance of using her money prudently.

“Previously, I never planned my daily expenses and didn't have savings. Now, I have a savings account for myself and my children. I save a little money each day… at least I’ve some money to fall back on in case of emergencies,” she said.



Meanwhile, WOW president Datin Wira Goh Suet Lan said so far over 10,000 disadvantaged women living in PPR and low-cost housing schemes have benefited from the organisation’s various empowerment initiatives including entrepreneurship development and community business programmes, and community projects and organic farms.

Goh said in the early stages, WOW found it challenging to organise programmes within the PPR and low-cost housing communities as the residents were reluctant to cooperate with them.   

“Our community development officers took months to meet with them to understand their needs and discuss how to engage them in our programmes,” she said.

She said WOW aims to transform the economic status of PPR women, particularly single mothers and those with special-needs children or those earning low incomes and with large families to care for.

When they are given guidance and the motivation to start their own businesses, at the very least, it can ease their financial burden and also give them a glimmer of hope to face the future with confidence.

According to Goh, WOW’s programmes have given rise to many women entrepreneurs who have succeeded in moving into the middle- and high-income categories.

“These women have gone on to take on leadership roles to collaborate with other women and empower them through our programmes,” she said.



The success of WOW’s programmes in PPR Lembah Subang has spurred the NGO’s management to expand their implementation to low-income communities in other parts of the country. So far, the programmes have been implemented in 10 PPR and low-cost housing schemes in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Kedah.

Yayasan Hasanah managing director Siti Kamariah Ahmad Subki said the empowerment programmes not only empower B40 women but also their entire households, particularly their children who are still in school.

“Our responsibility is to ensure their living spaces are safe and their well-being is guaranteed, and that children in PPR and low-cost housing areas grow up healthy and receive proper education,” she said.

WOW president Datin Wira Goh Suet Lan (left), Yayasan Hasanah's Managing Director Siti Kamariah Ahmad Subki (middle) and MySDG CEO, Anita Ahmad launched ‘Women Of Will in Lembah Subang' coffee table book, recently.

She said Yayasan Hasanah adheres to the concept of “community-based intervention”, where “we work in groups to bring positive changes to the community”.

When residents are provided with the awareness and knowledge to improve their living standards, social issues such as domestic violence can be mitigated and the safety and cleanliness of low-cost housing areas can be enhanced, she added.


Translated by Rema Nambiar

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