TODAY is International Women’s Day, and we are introducing a young man who is championing women.

Women’s issues concern not only women, but also men. But women are almost always the ones actively championing women’s causes.

It is thus heartening to have advocacy officer Yu Ren Chung at the forefront of the work to promote gender equality in Malaysia.

The 26-year-old engineering graduate has been actively involved in advocating for women’s rights at Women’s Aid Organisation, an NGO that has been on the ground fighting to protect women from violence and other injustices since 1982.

“The objective of our advocacy work at WAO is to influence someone or a body to do something to promote women’s rights,” said Yu. His work includes promoting gender-sensitisation training for frontline police officers to urging the government to better protect women activists through the use of United Nations human rights mechanisms.

The desire to be a part of an impetus for change is the reason Yu joined WAO when he returned to Malaysia after completing his degree in the United States.

As a student, he was involved in projects and advocacy initiatives that addressed climate change and renewable energy. Yu also worked in progressive politics and policy making.

“These experiences, and the people I met along the way, have inspired me to pursue a career to contribute in whatever small way I could towards achieving a more just society,” said Yu.

“What drew me to WAO and women’s human rights in particular was the dire need to improve gender equality in Malaysia,” he shared.

Yu has female family members and friends who have survived domestic abuse, had their car windows broken, faced discrimination at work and stalked on the streets. They have also been victims of crime.

“Though it is probably impossible for me to fully empathise with all these experiences, it’s not difficult to see that women’s rights is important to your loved ones, yourself, and society,” he said.

Yu believes Malaysia still has a lot of room for improvement in becoming a strong advocate for women’s rights.

“Compared to other countries, Malaysia ranks poorly in gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012, which ranked Malaysia 100th out of 135 countries.

“Law reform on women’s rights (in the country) has been slow, and sometimes regressive — for example, with regards to the Islamic Family Law,” said Yu. “The government has also not prioritised fulfilling its international obligations on women’s rights.”

The dedicated activist laments that the talent pool in the Malaysian human rights field is not large enough

While there already exists a passionate and skilled NGO community, the number of people who are willing and able to do the work full-time is still quite small. He is optimistic about the changes in the country though.

“It is extremely encouraging to see in recent years Malaysians from all walks of life taking part in civic life in different capacities, from engaging in intellectual discourse and taking part in peaceful assemblies to starting social enterprises,” said Yu.


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