Want to fight for social justice in Malaysia? Scroll down to find out how you can dabble in the youth advocacy scene!
“On today’s news, there’ve been reports on… widening wealth disparities… minorities under-representation… limited access to the internet and quality education …”
Pent-up frustration boils my blood as these social calamities with seemingly no apparent solutions weigh on my heart. Rage soon turned into hopelessness, as I asked myself: “Will these injustices and social issues in Malaysia never end? Are we born to such doom fates? Is there really nothing I, as a youth, can do?”
The notion that the youth is powerless is a myth. For we’re not apathetic. They – we – answer the call for social justice.
Prominent youth figures and their efforts include Greta Thunberg, Founder of FridaysForFuture climate change march, Qysira Yusri, co-Founder of the #UNDI18 movement which has successfully lowered the voting age in Malaysia, and Manu Gaspar, advocating for equal opportunities for lower-income youth in the Philippines. These calls for social empowerment by young figures under the age of 30 are referred to as youth advocacy.
Here, in Malaysia, the youth advocacy scene is vibrant. To illustrate, social issues tackled by our local advocacy movements include youth political literacy, media freedom, planetary health, period poverty, sexual violence, refugees’ rights, etc.
Clearly, no longer are there social inequality discourses that are ‘overly sensitive’ or supposedly ‘best left to adults’. In the end, all issues surrounding the welfare of communities around us do concern us and we, as the future of tomorrow, can speak up for change. If you’re still unsure what exactly a youth advocate does, we invited our fellow Taylorians to shed light on their advocacy journey.
For Kathleeya Richard (Kath), co-Founder of two mental health initiatives: KauOkTak (for secondary school students in Malaysia) and Taylor’s very own Connect, her journey began with a potluck.
Following the conversation she had with other Taylorians on the need to create safe mental health avenues for students in 2019, Kath has since won a grant for KauOkTak and conducted numerous mental-health workshops, webinars, and events. KauOkTak was even featured in a bfm radio podcast.
Currently, she’s working on creating education opportunities for underprivileged Siamese children in Malaysia. (@karnsuksa.msia).
Next, we’ve Jeypraba Veerapan (Jey). Besides being a law undergraduate, she’s the current Project co-Lead for Parliwomen, an initiative first developed under Felo Parlimen in 2021. With their mission to encourage Malaysian women's political participation, they’ve two pillars namely (1) raising awareness and (2) empowerment.
Parliwomen has since then received 71 participants sign-up for their signature Camp Politik and was even invited to speak at Women's March Malaysia 2022 picnic on the theme, ‘Rise: Resist'.
Her advocacy journey started in 2021 when her fellow law classmate invited her to join Parliwomen as a project coordinator last year.
We also have Jane Law (Jane), a learning feminist whose interest in advocacy was due to her journalism lecturers’ encouragement to read more and be updated on current social affairs in Malaysia. She also credited the contributions of fellow local advocacy organisations that, during the pandemic, posted informative infographics online surrounding social issues.
From then onwards, she joined Malaysia Youths for Education Reform (MYER) Movement where she advocated for education reformation and Taylor’s Girl Up (now rebranded as Dia/Them) as the events director.
Now she’s the Communications and Media Officer at KRYSS Network, a non-profit organisation working on the freedom of expression from a gender lens. Some of her memorable works include creating a zine about the dissemination of non-consensual intimate images (NCII) and coordinating KRYSS Network's virtual workshop roadshow focused on enhancing local communities, as well as schools and universities students’ understanding and knowledge of online gender-based violence.
Considering that KauOkTak is an independent initiative, Kath highlighted that maintaining her members’ morale and sustaining the organisation for the long run were challenges she faced as a co-founder.
As a law undergraduate herself, Jey experienced moments when she struggled to find the balance between academics and extracurricular. For Jane, her biggest challenge was trying to occupy space in the emerging Malaysian advocacy scene.
When asked if they faced any resistance from loved ones, all three of them shared that they, fortunately, had strong support systems who made their advocacy challenges worthwhile.
From all of these challenges, is it still worth being a youth advocate for social justice?
Despite having to constantly navigate around trials and errors, Kath always reminds herself of the lives she has impacted. “Yes, we can aim for 50 or 20 participants for our events but if only 5 participants show up, it doesn’t mean that our efforts were futile. It means that I’ve succeeded in impacting 5 lives.”
Besides contributing to the community, Jey and Jane obtained indelible learning experiences. For Jey, the overwhelming participation in Parliwomen’s Camp Politik debunked her presumption that Malaysian youth are disinterested in politics and this shift in perception drives her to continue her efforts in increasing women's participation in the largely conservative Malaysian political sphere.
One lesson Jane obtained that she holds on to this day is that we should always make room for mistakes. For there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect activist’. “We shouldn’t look at activists as this sort of ‘godly martyr’ coming to save the world (this ideal is very problematic) but that they’re like regular people and regular people make mistakes so that they can grow from them. What's most important is to take accountability for your mistakes. It’s difficult, especially if you're grown up in a culture where you were never taught to, but we must acknowledge that, in our fight for justice, we ourselves must practise what we preach. Taking accountability of ourselves is important in progressing the movement.”
Hence, as life-long learners, it’s okay to feel uncertain. It’s okay to struggle. All in all, being a youth advocate means that we’re making the world a better place and yes, it’s worth being a youth advocate for small steps lead to big changes.
“Just start”. With the advent of e-advocacy, Kath shared that anyone with internet access and a laptop or smartphone can advocate and fight for social justice. She also emphasised two things: purpose and people.
This is because it’s easy to fall into the trap of being syok-sendiri (Malaysian slang describing someone full of themselves) and losing sight of the actual cause and communities that they wish to contribute to.
Hence, always stay true to the mission and you might just change the lives of others.
Jane shared, “Find a cause you’re passionate about and then find your community, who also shares the same values. This can be in the form of a club or the many youth initiatives in Malaysia or volunteer yourself in local NGOs or organisations”.
At this point, you might be wondering if advocacy (such a BIG word right?) is truly that simple?
Rest assured as Jane saves the day with a little insight. “I think when people hear the word ‘activism’, people always think you’ve to be marching down the streets, you’ve to go all out, when it’s not. You can advocate in your way, in any way that’s most comfortable for you. You can even do it with yourself. For example, if you’re passionate about climate change and you want to change your diet so you reduce your meat intake, then you share it and encourage your friends to do the same. That in itself, in my opinion, is a form of activism as well. You’re still making a change, small or big, it still matters.”
One tip from Jey is to always stay informed about current affairs. How? Well, it’s as simple as following news sites, listening to podcasts, and having deep conversations with others.
Dearest readers, from the sharings of our fellow Taylorians, I invite you to answer the call for social justice. As cliche as it sounds, we’re the youth. And that means we empower our future.
Interested to take that first step into the youth advocacy scene and tackle social issues in Malaysia? You can join any of our many Taylor’s student communities that best align with your interests.
Clarise Tan Pei Sim is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) at Taylor's University. She’s also the Vice President of Corporate and External Relations in the Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance and is active in the mental health advocacy scene. With strong interests in the social sciences domain (i.e. psychology, international relations, and political science), you can always engage with Clarise in late-night philosophical (“what-ifs”) discussions.
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