With a communications officer role at the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Tan Heang-Lee is an impressive women’s rights advocate. It also means that she is tasked with a great responsibility: to be the voice for feminism.
Back in 2016, Heang-Lee led a media campaign on gender discrimination in the workplace and it has been referenced by Members of Parliament and multiple government agencies.
For her, a perfect world is one where women get to live in a safe, violence-free environment, treated as equal and respected. This was once thought to be an elusive utopia, but the organisation strives to bring us all closer to this kind of world.
Multiple law reforms are already in the works, including a Gender Equality Act— one of the demands of this year’s Women’s March—, a Sexual Harassment Act, antistalking laws and paternity leave. In light of the recent shift for maternity leave, the public questions the vast gap between the two leaves.
WAO’s petition, which garnered a resounding 44,000 signatures from the public, resulted in the Minister of Human Resources to propose the implementation of seven-day paternity leave for the private sector.
“Much of the debate around that has been the issue of cost. But there are many dimensions to cost,” Heang-Lee asserted. Economic cost aside, some fail to see the social cost of not providing families enough time to develop functional relationships. “We, as members of society, all benefit when children grow up in a conducive environment and later become healthy adults who can contribute to the community and the country. It is therefore in our collective interest to support parents and their families.”
All this was to balance out the scale of how women are treated in the corporate world. A lack of paternity leave proves that childcare is still considered to be ‘women’s work’— when both parties should share parental responsibility. Studies have shown that men who are more involved tend to father children who develop better socially, emotionally and cognitively. As Heang-Lee puts it: “Gender equality at home translates to gender equality in the workplace.”
Gender bias is commonplace these days, and there need to be laws to prohibit such situations. “Women’s political participation is critical to ensure that laws and policies take into account women’s experiences,” Heang-Lee declared.
Despite the protocols and red tapes that she has to endure for the sake of necessary change, Heang-Lee finds her work to be very fulfilling. “It’s work that I enjoy and find meaningful, and I’m grateful that I get to do this full-time.”
It doesn’t take a seat in Parliament to affect change. Sometimes, standing up for what you believe in is all that it takes. This 8th, command equality at Malaysia’s Women’s March.