On the fourth of September every year I teach a cyber security workshop in Kuching for 300 women who are involved in beauty pageants, competitions and promo contests in this area. Many of these women participate in the Miss Malaysia (Ms), Ms Unfriendly, Queen’s Choice, Usa Hawak national beauty pageants. They also work with beauty channel TV Sarawak on their brands and on-air promotions.
I do not ask them all about their social media names. They are very shy and reluctant to speak about their publicly supported brands. However, they know that once they are featured in one of my blogs, they are more likely to be listed on the official directories. I would be honest and say that many of these women are shy about speaking about their personal lives to their peers in public spaces. They have chosen to spend their time promoting their brands and with some luck they could find their way to financial independence.
All of them have an average of 13 to 30 followers on Instagram and their numbers go up to 150 or 200 followers after events. On top of that, many of these women enjoy running competitions, competitions and pageants in their backyard and network with other girls who have similar tastes.
As I speak to women from all parts of the country, one thing stands out. There is an uphill battle that many are facing. In addition to the obstacles of having to leave their homes to attend school, many have to leave their homes and are often surrounded by a military force. If you are lucky enough to escape and join the army, then you are likely to be further abused.
They are also very vulnerable to sexual abuse, at all ages and all levels of life. There are no laws against sexual harassment in public spaces. Children get groped. Men are constantly grabbing girls’ thighs and breasts. Girls’ breasts are defined in pornographic magazines. Teachers stalk their students and students stalk them.
Yet there are many strong brave women who choose to be agents of change. The UN Women has the Inspiring Heroes Awards, to celebrate the bravery of women who work to ensure that women and girls are safe from sexual harassment and abuse. The awards saw the biggest number of entries ever, there were 100 national winners, and I was lucky enough to win the Pakistani category.
There are women in every part of the world who have chosen to take a stand for the other. There are many who challenge the sexism and patriarchy with their words and often they get shamed. However, very few brave enough to speak out and break through the barriers are afraid to let people know of their noble efforts.
I encourage all women to step up to the head of the gender barriers and stand up against all of the oppression in their lives.