“Wake up! Stop hiding in the kitchen. Follow the steps of other women throughout the world. This is the time for you to open your eyes for the sake of the country”.A strong remark by Barbara Bay Mendu as quoted by Hasnah A. R. in the Sarawak Tribune of December 1983 made me think why a woman from a traditional Iban community in Sarawak of the 1940s was very open about emancipation of women” – my first paragraph for an unsung heroes writing of a wonderful woman, named Barbara Bay Mendu, an enthusiast mother with a strong character whose heart is only for the emancipation of women. I wrote this back in 2016 and presented at an international conference in Kedah.
Barbara Bay, an amazing woman
Why did I start my writing about her? Well, it is because she is an example of a good role model for women – as a wife, mother, a foster mother and a feminist who played a more active role outside her domestic realm. And this occurred during the 1940s when not many women dared to speak up and what more to play an active role in the community? More importantly a character of Barbara Bay is a person who was opinionated on matters on what she really believed in.
Interesting, too, that she was living in an era of post-World War II which has its significance to Sarawak’s history. To add a little bit more about this amazing woman is that, Barbara Bay, the founding member and the first elected President of the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU, a non-political organisation by a group of women in Kuching back in 1957) was determined to bring the different Iban groups (who came from different parts of Sarawak) with the aim of getting to know and help each other.
All things considered, from a historian’s perspective, Nordi Achie noted another substantial attribute about Bay’s political stand over the issue of Malaysia’s independence. According to Nordi Achie, Bay was not against independence but she wanted Sarawak to achieve independence first before the formation of Malaysia; the main reason being that this is to ensure Malaysia is not used as a political tool by the British and, therefore, Sarawak must first achieve her independence.
Hence, my point in bringing up my humble observation about Barbara Bay is this - she had an opportunity not to be missed, and that is for sure! In understanding Barbara Bay or women, I would also like to point out interesting quotes from male authors and definitely few world famous women that I would like to highlight. Tom Peters is quoted as saying, “If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” Then, Francis Bacon said that a wise man will make more opportunities than he finds”. I take the term ‘man’ here as also referring to women.
To relate to what Tom Peters and Francis Bacon had mentioned, there are few more quotes which to me have their significance when we talk about women. Therefore, in the case of Barbara Bay (or maybe you, us?), with her determination, she lifted up other women.
Teen girls were spotted from the rural villages and brought to her urban house, education was provided for them (based on my interview with her daughter). Barbara Bay did this; she was phenomenal in putting the girls through school, helping them to find jobs.
Woman with a voice
Hence, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”. Personally to me, this is a strong statement by the former British leader. And of the great leaders in the world! In fact, Margaret Thatcher or Barbara Bay had one thing in common as how Madeleine Albright put it - it took her quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that she has it, she would not be silent. Precisely that, Albright’s statement was a woman with a voice, by definition, according to Melinda Gates, is a strong woman. So, we have the voice, the voice to run a company or manage a department or even a ministry. Again, an opportunity not to be missed!
To add to that, Nancy Pelosi was once quoted as saying that women are leaders everywhere you look – from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household.
Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes. This is so true for many of us. Let us look at ourselves. How many of us have our own careers and, at the same time, we are mothers, and still have time for charity work or maybe become president or members of an association? As opinionated by Michelle Obama - there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.
Proof in the statistics
In addition, let us look at our statistics. Accordingly, as reported by the Department of Statistics, Malaysia, based on the Women Empowerment in Selected Domains, Malaysia, 2019 showed a tremendous increase in women’s participation that surpassed men in a few domains. This report presents statistics relating to gender in Malaysia for the years 2016 to 2018 focusing on the core set of gender indicators covering nine main domains. These statistics are used as input for the formulation and monitoring of policies at national, state and district levels.
Interestingly, the Malaysia Gender Gap Index (MGGI) identifies the gap between women and men across four sub-indices, namely Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. With a score with the value of 1.0 (100%), indicating the equality of women and men, has been achieved.
As commented by Dato’ Sri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, Chief Statistician Malaysia, MGGI showed the average score of 0.711, or 71.1 per cent in 2018. This indicated that the achievement of women has surpassed men in the Educational Attainment sub-index with a score of 1.054. The Health and Survival sub-index recorded a score of 0.958, followed by Economic Participation and Opportunity (0.727) and Political Empowerment (0.106). The Political Empowerment sub-index was the major contributor to the increase of MGGI score in 2018.
The MGGI score increased 0.045 as compared to 2017 (0.061). Obviously, recognising the significant role of women, Malaysia is committed to achieving gender equality and promoting the rights of women and girls. The government’s continuous efforts and commitment towards achieving gender equality are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and 11th Malaysia Plan.
Therefore, to all wonderful Malaysian women out there, play our role constantly. Malaysia needs you and we need each other!
Dr Nadrawina Isnin is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies of UiTM Sarawak
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