An artist’s path to fame and fortune

An artist’s path to fame and fortune

An artist's path to fame and fortune

Geraldine Tong, 2 May 2017

It is not easy to find stability and exposure as an artist, especially in Asia. However, as popular Instagram account ‘Dudu De Doodle’ discovered, there are more ways than one for an artist to earn his or her keep.

Dudu De Doodle’s Instagram has close to 30,000 followers, who are treated daily to a new artwork from Dudu, the anonymous artist behind the account.

But Dudu did not start off as an ‘Instagram-famous’ artist. And until today, he is not even a full-time artist.

“As an artist, it is quite challenging in Asia. You cannot really sell your products through the Internet.

“I tried to sell (my artwork) once, three years ago. I drew on shirts, shoes, clocks, but it was so difficult I almost gave up.

“I still have some of the merchandise at home,” Dudu said in an interview with Malaysiakini last week.

After his failed venture to sell his artworks online, he said he decided to change his perception.

“I thought, why not put all the sales and money aside, and just do it for my own interest?” he said.

So, in October 2013, Dudu started his Instagram account under the pseudonym ‘Dudu de Doodle’, in which where he posted his artwork, daily.

Instagram in 2013 was a different landscape than it is now. In 2013, ‘Instagram influencers’ was still a fairly new phenomenon in Malaysia.

Though the account started out slow, it picked up speed eventually, reaching its zenith in 2015, when he was getting hundreds of new followers every day.

“I didn’t know that, as an artist, one can achieve the level of an ‘influencer’.

“After I slowly moved to an influencer level, I realised that when the owner or the agency really respects (your work), you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t breach the rules.

“That’s the priceless thing that money can’t buy,” Dudu said.

He lamented that it is usually a challenge to get Malaysians to recognise local talent.

“We don’t even have a chance,” he said, citing the example of the famous murals in Penang, which were painted by Lithuania-born artist Ernest Zacharevic.

However, his popularity on Instagram brought him opportunities to showcase his art on a larger scale.

Dudu is currently working on a promotion campaign with technology giant Samsung, as well as on smaller mural projects in cafes throughout Kuala Lumpur and the Klang valley.

Despite all that, Dudu values his anonymity for various reasons, the most important of which is that he wants his art to speak for itself.

Experimenting use of coffee as paint

The pictures of his artwork on his Instagram has always featured a strong link to food. Then, about two years ago, he took it one step further and began experimenting with using coffee as paint and the nearest flat surface as the canvas.

Going through his Instagram account, one can find artworks ranging from those inspired from Japanese animation to Western superhero portraits.

A particular favourite of his, Dudu pointed out, is his portrait of Wonder Woman, painted entirely with coffee on his table at home.

It's rainy day but never too cold for kakigori. Hey Polar, I'm not a shaved ice, Totoro said 😒. #mykori

A post shared by DuDu Doodles The World (@dududedoodle) on

He spent about 45 minutes drawing that portrait and he loved the end product so much, he told his fiancee that he wanted to keep it on the table for as long as possible.

“In the next second, I spilled water on it,” he said with a laugh.

That is the ephemeral fate for all his coffee paintings on tables, he said.

“It is a love-hate piece because you really love it but you cannot keep it. It is just a good memory that I store on Instagram,” he explained.

The first time he attempted a coffee painting was a portrait of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, at a ‘kopitiam’.

The art attracted the those operating hawker stalls at the outlet, but the kopitiam owner wiped off his art, saying that Dudu had vandalised his table.

Unfortunately, Dudu said, that was not the last time someone accused him of vandalising their property, for people do not understand it is supposed to be art.

He then related an incident in Singapore, where he drew a coffee painting on an al fresco table of a coffeeshop. He then left.

Later on, when he walked past the coffeeshop again, he noticed that the table he had painted on, which was outside the shop, had been moved inside, and put up as a display.

“That was the happiest thing for me,” he said, to see that his art was being appreciated.

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Blind; but doesn’t lose sight on the importance of education

Blind; but doesn’t lose sight on the importance of education

M'sia's first blind lawyer not losing sight of importance of education

Alyaa Alhadjri, 11 April 2017
He lost his vision at the age of four, but his father’s foresight on the importance of education eventually saw Mah Hassan Omar graduating and practising as Malaysia’s first visually impaired lawyer.

Born in Besut, Terengganu in 1961, at the age of seven, Mah Hassan was sent to pursue his primary education at Johor Bahru’s Princess Elizabeth special school for the blind – a train journey which even today would take up to 17 hours from Wakaf Baru in Kelantan, the nearest station to his hometown.

By the time he entered secondary school, Mah Hassan has integrated into the mainstream system where one or two visually impaired pupils will be placed in an ordinary classroom with other sighted students.

During an interview held at his law firm in Sentul, which is also the office for KL Braille Resources, Mah revealed how his father had fought societal norms and approached the Welfare Department for assistance to provide him with an education that would help him to lead an independent life.

The law graduate from Universiti Malaya went on to earn his master’s degree at Southampton University, United Kingdom, before returning home for a 13-year stint with the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. In 2005, he left to set up his own law firm.

The early realisation that education is the key to assisting people with disabilities has shaped Mah Hassan to be an advocate for their rights to equal access to information – including pioneering a project to produce a braille version of the Quran.

At the age of 56, Mah Hassan is a father of six – three girls and three boys – the eldest three of whom are pursuing their higher education.

He has set many personal records and aims to inspire others like him.

Here is Mah Hassan’s story in his own words:

AS A YOUNG BOY, I WAS SO ENTHUSIASTIC TO GO TO SCHOOL. But for my parents, as I understood it, it was very challenging.

They had to face the reality of how to part with their blind boy. Also, the people and neighbours accused them of them being irresponsible.

My father told me every time I leave the house to go to school, he could not follow me. He always thought about what the people were saying.

My mother will send me because my mother is stronger in that sense.

FOR ALL PARENTS OUT THERE, I wish to urge all of you who have children with disabilities, give your children an education.

With education, you are giving him or her the important equipment to live independently.

You can give them as much money as you can afford but the money will go. If you give them education, it will stay with them forever.

IN ADDITION TO ACADEMIC SKILLS, I always see that primary education provided me with an important background, basic skills that prepared me to lead an independent life. In other words, being a blind person, we were taught how to groom and take care of ourselves. How to live independently.

For every blind child, I see survival skills as a very important factor. Because even with academic success, without the necessary guidance, from my observations it would be very difficult to survive in life.

COMPETITION WAS STIFFER DURING SECONDARY SCHOOL. I managed to continue until Form 6, before pursuing my degree in law at Universiti Malaya. As a matter of fact, I was the first blind person in the country to take up law.

When I was called to the bar in January 1989, again I created a Malaysian record as the first blind person in the country to get legal certification as an advocate and solicitor.

Why do I stress on the records? Because the greatest challenge for blind students is a lack of books.

I PRACTICALLY DID NOT HAVE ANY BOOKS AVAILABLE IN BRAILLE. So I had to double my efforts.

I spent the greatest part of my time in university to transcribe books into braille. During my school time, the blind at the time did not even have any copy of the Quran in braille.

The Quran is the basis for Islamic books so I think it is a denial of our right to have equal access to the Quran.

BESIDES STUDIES AND PROMOTING MY LEGAL PRACTICE, I was also active in NGOs that provide services for the blind.

I was president of the Society of the Blind in Malaysia from 2000 to 2010. I am also co-founder of the Malaysian Blind Muslims Association and served as president from 1989 to 2002, before I resigned for the benefit of younger leaders.

Now I am still active in the associations but perhaps to a lesser degree.

IN 2002 WE COMPLETED THE DRAFT FOR THE PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT. I headed the technical working committee and the Act came into force in 2008.

It was a five-year process. It took quite a while because in 2006 the UN came out with the first international convention on rights of people with disabilities, so we have to fine-tune our proposed bill.

I was given the privilege to represent the country at the UN in 2006 when we negotiated for the convention.

MY EMPHASIS IS MORE TO PROMOTE THE RIGHT TO LITERACY AMONG THE BLIND. The rights for blind people to have equal access to reading materials in braille.

Be it for education or any other pursuit. Our focus is mainly on transcribing Islamic religious books as well as academic books.

We believe these two genres have been sidelined.

WITHIN ONE WEEK OF MY ARRIVAL IN THE UK IN 1991, I WAS GIVEN A COPY OF THE BIBLE IN BRAILLE FOR FREE. It gave me a challenge.

If Christian voluntary groups can work to give free Bibles, why can’t we Muslims provide free Quran? So that’s what I tried to do.

When I came back to Malaysia, we worked on a research project to produce the Quran in braille and now we have the capacity here at KL Braille Resources.

In order to finance the project, I launched what we called the Wakaf Al-Quran. We invite the public to sponsor any number of Quran as they wish and each set is priced at RM250.

With this sum, we finance the production of the Quran and distribute them to the needy.

I HAVE LOVED CHESS FROM A YOUNG AGE. I see chess not only as a competitive activity but for any disabled or blind person, it can also provide you with an opportunity to integrate with normal people.

EVEN THOUGH I AM BLIND, MY UNIVERSITY’S TEAM ACCEPTED ME JUST LIKE ANYBODY ELSE. I had taken part in an open tournament for selection for the university’s team.

I was the only blind person there. But I competed against sighted people and got third place.

They needed four people to fill the team. I also played in the UK’s chess league.

FOR THE 2009 AND 2010 PARALYMPICS, I WON GOLD FOR CHESS. Another achievement was in 2003 when I took part in the ASEAN Chess Championship for the Blind in Mumbai, India, and won second place.

Now I am still president of the National Chess Association for the Disabled and our members are busy preparing for the forthcoming paralympic games in Kuala Lumpur in September.

The current chess set produced by KL Braille is also being used exclusively for the paralympic games.

WHEN BLIND PEOPLE PLAY WITH SIGHTED PEOPLE, both players have to announce their move. The board is modified to allow for usage by blind people.

But we don’t compromise on the rules. There is no difference to the rules.

The black and white pieces, how a blind player can tell is based on touch.

BE IT VISION 2020 OR TN50, I wish to see that disability issues are not sidelined. The way I see it, disabled people should be given equal rights with other citizens.

They are not to be discriminated against or left out. They should be given all opportunities.

The movement to promote equal rights has been talked about since 1981.

IN THAT SENSE WE HAVE SEEN MUCH PROGRESS, but in some other areas, the progress is too slow. For example, we have difficulties with financial institutions.

Just to open bank accounts, have I always received grievances from my blind counterparts. They wanted to open bank accounts but are not allowed to by certain banks.

DISABILITY ISSUES ARE OFTEN NOT GIVEN ENOUGH COVERAGE. The media are prone to focus on issues that can trigger sympathy.

When you talk about disabled people, I think it is more worthwhile to talk about rights rather than individual challenges.

When doing a story, just ask yourself, who will benefit?

If it is just one or two people, how many stories do you want to do?

THE MEDIA RARELY HIGHLIGHT STORIES FROM THE OKU’S PERSPECTIVE. They will take a third person’s view.

If you want to talk about the problem of beggars, those selling tissues on the streets, just go and talk to them.

If authorities want to catch them for selling tissues, the first thing we must ask is, have we given them opportunities to make a living?

OPERATIONS TEND TO INCREASE WHEN THERE ARE BIG PROGRAMMES PLANNED. For example, if the prime minister is coming, they will be detained and put into trucks, sent off somewhere and asked to find their own way home.

If the breadwinner is arrested, how will those left at home survive?

Maybe the spouse will take the children to go out and beg.

WHEN THERE ARE NO JOB OPPORTUNITIES, what other choice do they have, at a time when even healthy able-bodied people are finding it difficult to find jobs?

What do you expect?

MALAYSIANS ARE VERY CARING. I don’t dispute that. But when it comes to giving disabled people their rights to lead independent lives, that’s when the problem starts.

For example, when you want to ride the LRT, the public is very caring. I don’t think we have any big problem anymore. The awareness is there.

But do you know that for people using wheelchairs, to have access, is it still very difficult? That is their right.

BEING BLIND IS NOTHING TO BE SHY ABOUT. As a matter of fact, we want to be treated just like any other ordinary people.

People often call us “golongan istimewa” or “kelainan upaya” (differently abled).

The term “orang kurang upaya” (disabled) shows that we have a disability but we are not pampered.

TREAT ME JUST LIKE ANY OTHER OF YOUR FRIENDS. If you can joke with and tease them, do the same to us.

What is the difference? We are the same. Just that it has been fated that we lost one of our senses.

VOX People

Breaking Orang Asli stereotypes

Breaking Orang Asli stereotypes

Meet the Mah Meri women breaking Orang Asli stereotypes

Harith Najmuddin & Zikri Kamarulzaman, 7 April 2017

At first glance, Diana looks just like any other regular Malay woman. She has straight black hair, a light tan which Malays would describe as ‘kuning langsat’ (olive skin), and speaks without any accent.

She also has a degree in administration from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Malacca, and works as a clerk at Serdang Hospital.

However, despite appearances and educational background, she is not a Malay, though many of her acquaintances initially think otherwise.

The 29-year-old whose full name is Diana Uju, is a member of the Mah Meri Orang Asli community from Pulau Carey, Selangor.

“My colleagues at work tell me ‘I never imagined you to be an Orang Asli, I’m proud to be friends with one’. I ask them why, and they tell me ‘you don’t look like an Orang Asli’,” Diana said with a laugh.

The mother of two is one of several Mah Meri women Malaysiakini met during a trip to Pulau Carey recently.

Though shy at first – as many people are when they first encounter a journalist – Diana quickly warmed up to share her views and life experiences.

She said many Malaysians look down on members of the community and have stereotypical views of them.

“People think the Orang Asli have curly hair, are dark-skinned, live in the forest, and don’t know anything, that’s why they think we can’t succeed.

“They have never met an educated Orang Asli, although there are many of us,” she said.

Diana’s success however, is uncommon in the community.

Among her seven siblings, she is the only one to pursue higher education and has a regular job, while the rest of her brothers and sisters work off the land.

The Orang Asli who don’t finish school face difficulties getting work she said, and those who do are often cheated out of their salaries by their employers.

According to the government’s Statistics Department, as of 2010, 76.9 percent of Orang Asli live below the poverty line, and 35.2 percent are living in hardcore poverty.

%

Below poverty line

%

Hardcore poverty

Malaysian Statistics Department (2010)

The situation, however, is changing. Diana believes, who said that she has met many Orang Asli graduates in UiTM reunions.

She also said that many Orang Asli are working with the government now, while others like her husband work in the private sector.

Meanwhile, other Orang Asli are seeking to empower the community through other means.

Among them is Rosiah Kengkeng, a fellow Mah Meri, who is determined to give Orang Asli women a voice.

A trainer and motivational speaker, Rosiah travels across the country to hold workshops in Orang Asli villages on how women, too, can play an important role in the community.

She said many Orang Asli women believed their only role is to take care of their children and their family.

“But that is not the case. We have husbands but they are less knowledgeable and are always busy finding work.”

“We women can also take action. Like managing our children’s schooling and when we get the opportunity, we can also contribute to the household income,” she said.

The mother of seven also pushes Mah Meri women to be more vocal about their concerns and problems.

She also encourages women to seek help if they suffer from domestic abuse, as she believes many of them keep it to themselves.

“We women have a right to speak out, don’t think that women only belong in the kitchen,” Rosiah said.

While Diana and Rosiah seek to break glass ceilings, one aspect they both seek to maintain is the culture and heritage of their people.

Rosiah said these are important to the identity of the Mah Meri, and should be passed down from one generation to the next.

Diana, however, said that many Orang Asli youths are seeking a more modern and simpler lifestyle.

“They don’t bother, they don’t realise the importance of preserving traditions,” she said.

She is not sure how one can balance traditions with modernity, but believes it is possible.

She added that the best way to preserve the Orang Asli’s traditions, is through education.

“Children should learn about our culture in school. Like my niece is in secondary school, but she is still learning (traditional) dancing,” Diana said.

She herself was a traditional dancer and had even held a traditional Mah Meri wedding when she tied the knot in 2014.

She is worried that if traditions are no longer practiced, it may just disappear.

“When people realise these customs are gone, they will be lost just like that,” Diana said.

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Driven by the country’s economic and political stability that offers diversity of opportunities, education and human rights protection, Australia is ranked by UNDP (United Nations Human Development) as the second-best country in the world for quality life following their “Human Development Index” statistics assessment.

Hari Moyang with the Mah Meri

The food waste fighter

The food waste fighter

Food waste is a massive global problem: the EU alone throws away 88 million tons a year. Much of this ends up in landfill and produces dangerous greenhouse gasses which contribute to climate change. In Europe 53% of food waste comes from households, and one woman has made it her mission to stop Danes throwing away food. We travel to Copenhagen to meet Selina Juul, a key part of Denmark’s food waste revolution.

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Annabelle Lee | 29 March 2017

Norashikin Ahmad, 24, has been rescuing dogs and cats ever since 2014 when she got her first job. She houses 120 cats and 50 dogs in a purpose-built shelter next to her home in Alor Gajah, Malacca.

On top of running the shelter, she works full-time, helps out with her mother’s food business and has to travel to the mosque in the next village to pray as she is not welcome at the one right outside her house.

We first meet Shikin (as she is commonly known) at the Alor Gajah morning market where she works at her mother’s food stall on Sundays.

After the market, we follow her to a small village off the main road. There are several buildings on her property but none that look, or smell, like an animal shelter.

Shiro, a tiny scrappy-looking shih tzu, straggles out to greet us.

Shikin throws Shiro a rubber ball as she points to a maroon-coloured building in front of us, “that’s my shelter!

At the entrance of the shelter is a brown three-legged dog who hops timidly behind Shikin as we come close.

Once inside, cats climb on top of each other playfully to clamour for Shikin’s attention. The smooth cement floor is carpeted with cats in all colours, sizes and resting positions. It is hard to know where to step! In the midst of all the meowing we hear a bark. A mother and her four puppies jump up to get a glimpse of us. Their tails wag from their enclosure behind the cat carpet.

Shikin has repeatedly renovated this shelter to enlarge it. She has built another single-storey structure and is currently adding a drain and cement floor to a third. All to house her ever-growing number of rescued animals.

Besides renovation work and pet food (which costs RM3,000 a month), Shikin says its veterinary bills that cost the most.

Shikin takes several animals to the veterinarian every single day. She rarely has enough to pay the bill and as a result, she has racked up more than RM10,000 in debt.

“I never have enough money but the doctor allows delayed payments and lets me post a picture of the bill to my Facebook group to appeal for donations,” Shikin says.

Members of her Facebook group, Shikin Team Animal Rescue (STAR), regularly donate. She breathes a sigh of relief as she tells us about an anonymous donor who donated RM8,000 towards her veterinary bills just last week.

“I prefer large donations to go straight into the veterinary clinic’s account so people don’t accuse me of using the money for myself. The doctor takes a photograph of the bank statement for me to post on Facebook,” explains Shikin.

Kicked out of the house by her mother

A white house stands next to the shelter. It was built by her mother to be rented out as source of income but “no one wanted to rent it once they knew we had dogs on the property,” says Shikin.

It is culturally taboo for Malays to keep dogs as pets because dogs are considered unclean (or haram) in Islam.

In addition to selling food and drinks at the morning market where we met Shikin, her mother supplies nasi lemak to food stalls in Malacca during the week.

“People started boycotting her food when they found out we were keeping dogs,” says Shikin.

Her mother even stopped praying at the surau right outside their house because villagers kept insinuating to religious teachers that her family was committing a religious offence by keeping dogs on their property.

The pressure became too much for Shikin’s mother to bear and as a result she kicked Shikin, her youngest daughter, out of the house.

“She told me take my dogs and cats with me to live somewhere else.”

Only after Shikin’s older sister interfered did she change her mind.

Shikin now rents the white house from her mother to house disabled cats.

As we enter the house, Shikin calls her cats by name and they respond by brushing their bodies against her legs.

Many are crippled and blind from being run over by vehicles. One such cat could not scratch himself because he had lost his hind leg. This other cat had alimentary tract problems and could only consume liquid food, on top of being crippled. One cat developed nervous problems after she was forced by her owner to breed multiple times in a year. Another shivers uncontrollably due to Parkinson’s disease.

Cats in here thus need special care. Shikin prepares them their individual servings of food and medicine every day. She also takes a number of them to the veterinarian for weekly acupuncture appointments.

Shikin explains her daily routine.

She wakes up at 4am every morning to help pack nasi lemak for her mother. After a short nap, she gets ready for work and feeds all her 120 cats and 50 dogs. She packs any sick animals into her car before driving 40 minutes to her full-time job as a medical equipment technician at a rehabilitation centre.

“I start work at 8.30am but I am always rushing, I am always late,” says Shikin.

On the way to work she often stops for stray cats and dogs.

“It is never my plan to rescue animals but sometimes I take a shortcut to work and there he or she will be. Maybe it was meant to happen. If I don’t stop I won’t be able to sleep at night,” she says.

During her lunch break, Shikin brings her sick animals, along with any strays she has picked up, to a veterinary clinic near her workplace.

She then returns to the clinic after work to collect her animals. Over the years the veterinarians, all whom have become her good friends, have taught her to perform simple procedures like cleaning out maggot wounds or inserting subcutaneous needles. The clinic is often busy until closing time and the veterinarians willingly stay after hours to attend to her animals.

She is exhausted by the time she gets home at 10pm, but still she has to feed her animals their medicine before she is done for the day.

Nevertheless, she is proud that many sick animals, like her disabled cats, have shown progress under her care. Most can now enjoy their food, walk about, and socialise with other cats.

“Just last week, some of the cats got too fat and broke the window panes they were resting on. I had to build them book racks to sleep on instead!” says Shikin while laughing.

Problems with the neighbours

We walk up the hill where we meet her dogs.

Shikin has little wooden dog houses dotted around her property that house individual dogs. She started rescuing dogs when she visited the Alor Gajah pound and saw how dogs were left with no water or food. Now, her work colleagues and even students at a nearby university inform her when they encounter injured stray dogs.

Dogs start emerging from dog houses and they bark excitedly at us. Like her cats, she knows them all by name.

People in her village have in the past accused her dogs of eating their chickens and goats.

“I asked them to show me proof. I asked them to show me photographs and tell me which one of my dogs did it. They could not show anything but still they went ahead to report me to the local authorities,” laments Shikin.

When the local authorities came to her property, she set all her dogs and cats free from their cages and enclosures to prove they would not run away to her neighbours’ houses. She wanted to show that the allegations against her rescues were baseless.

She also asked for proof when her neighbours complained about her cats breaking their flower pots.

“Even my dogs can’t break flower pots, their complaints are so illogical,” she says impatiently.

Like her mother, Shikin has stopped visiting the nearby surau. She travels to the mosque in the next village to pray.

Next, a world-standard animal shelter

At the end of the hill is a fenced enclosure where we meet 35 excited puppies. Yapping and yelping, they compete to squeeze under the doorway fence. Shikin is currently constructing an additional area for the puppies. Complete with a drain and cemented floors, it will give the puppies an even larger compound to run about in.

Her dream is to have an open-air shelter where dogs and cats are free to roam.

“I want to build it on a large piece of empty land and just like the shelters overseas, it will have areas for animals to play, rest and bathe. Animals will neither be in cages nor be leashed up. It will have staff and be very systematic. That is my dream,” says Shikin.

What inspired you to rescue animals in the first place? We ask.

This breaks Shikin’s determined gaze, she starts to cry.

“My inspiration, the only person who really understands me, is dad,” she struggles to continue.

As a child, Shikin spent almost all her time with her father. They could not afford to have animals at home so he would drive her to his friends’ homes just so she could play with their animals. Her earliest memory, she says, is of her dad saving a drowning puppy from a drain.

“He loved animals so much. He would stop his car in the middle of the road to move a monkey that had been run-over to the side,” she tells us.

Her father died of lung and heart problems five years ago, Shikin remembers the exact date and all the details of his stay at the hospital but most of all she remembers his words to her.

“He taught me that all animals are God’s creations. Dogs or cats, there is no limit to what and how we can help.”

Shikin welcomes donations, volunteer groups and adoption requests. She can be contacted at shikin.shelter@gmail.com or through private message on her Facebook page.

Shikin Shelter

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

Geraldine Tong | 16 March 2017

During his student days, Yu Ren Chung was interested in working on environmental issues and took up electrical engineering in university so he could focus on renewable energy and clean technology.

Yu has changed course since then and is now working for Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), where he is the advocacy manager.

He credits prominent Malaysian women activists, especially Sisters In Islam (SIS) founder Zainah Anwar (below, right), for sparking his interest in gender equality.

As an undergraduate in Northwestern University, United States, Yu said he was first introduced to the world human rights activism when he attended a talk by Zainah in the US.

“By chance, she was travelling in the US when I was studying there and I attended an event organised by Malaysian students.

“She talked about her work in SIS and women’s rights in Malaysia, and I was really inspired by that, so I started researching a bit more and read about people like (Tenaganita co-founder) Irene Fernandez and the work she had been doing with migrant women,” he said in an interview with Malaysiakini at the WAO office in Petaling Jaya.

At around the same time, Yu was beginning to get disillusioned with approaching environmental issues through technology as he realised it was more of a political problem.

Instead of turning his back entirely, he delved into politics and public policies instead, taking up a minor in environmental policy and volunteering with political campaigns in the US as a student.

“I felt like the real challenge that needed to be solved was mainly political problems.

“Science and technology was way ahead and politics was way behind, so I focused my energy on (changing) that, so that exposed me to a number of issues like civil rights issues beyond environmental justice,” he said.

WAO a learning experience

When he returned to Malaysia, he was looking for a job in human rights advocacy and WAO seemed like the right fit for him, he said.

He has now worked for WAO for close to four years now, and it has been a “learning experience” for him.

While WAO provides services, crisis shelter, counselling and case management for domestic violence survivors, Yu focuses on advocacy work to change public policies and public attitudes.

He cited the Domestic Violence Act, where they have been pushing for reforms for three years, working closely with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the women’s parliamentary caucus, the police as well as through joint advocacy with fellow women’s groups in Malaysia.

“The policy division within the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is very proactive and forward-looking and we have a very good collaborative relationship with them,” he said.

WAO also works to improve enforcement of public policies, he said, recalling an instance when a hospital improved their one-stop crisis centre services after intervention from the women’s rights group.

They also advocate to change public attitudes about women’s rights, especially domestic violence against women, he said.

“That’s less about what the government is doing and more about what are people doing by themselves.

“Is violence against women something that people tolerate, like if you suspect domestic violence is happening in your neighbour’s house, are you going to stand by or stand up?” he said, giving an example.

Men have role

Though he has seen a positive impact from their work, there is still “a lot of room that needs to be filled”, he said.

Men, he said, have roles to play in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality as well.

There are two impetuses for men to be more proactive in the movement, he said, with the first being the effectiveness impetus, where there are certain situations where a man can be more effective in advocating for women’s rights.

Research has shown that a lot of men are more receptive to listening to other men when it comes to matters of women’s rights, he said.

Spaces that need to change the most are also usually the very spaces where men are most dominant, he added.

“Imagine if you are in a boardroom or any sort of high-level leadership where men are more representative because of other gender inequalities… those are spaces that more men have access to so there is a need (for men) to speak up in those areas,” he explained.

Aside from that, men also have a moral impetus to get involved in advocating for gender equality as most often, men are perpetrators of gender-based violence, he said.

Men top of chain

Even for men who are not directly oppressing women, Yu said all men benefit from the patriarchal system and male privilege regardless.

“In terms of fairness, there is a moral responsibility on men to actually do something about (gender inequality),” he said.

Men do not necessarily need to have special roles to play in the movement, he said, but they do have a responsibility.

There are several ways for men to be good allies in the fight for gender equality, he said, such as simply not perpetrating or perpetuating gender inequality and harassment.

More men should learn to question themselves on how they interact with their female colleagues, friends and family, he said.

They should also take it upon themselves to speak out when someone has said something that might be sexist, especially in a space with other men.

“Having more men that can be role models to champion this issue is something that can be important.

“It normalises the idea that men can take responsibility and be part of the solution,” he said.

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