Today is International Women's Day, a day where the world unites to celebrate the achievements of women while pushing for greater equality, highlighting gaps in policy that continue to isolate women and keep them from enjoying equality at home, in the workplace and in society. StarLifestyle is highlighting the stories of young women who are stepping up and taking action for causes they believe in to make Malaysia a better and safe place for everyone
Firzana Redzuan first became aware of sexual harassment as a schoolgirl, after a close encounter with a flasher outside her school compound.
It was also then that she realised how important it was to stand up for and protect herself – her mother took her to the police station to file a report about the incident.
“My mother would take any opportunity she had to talk to me about the dangers that lurk which evidently helped prepare me for the real world.
“An eye-opening experience was definitely when she supported me in making a police report about the flasher. It was only years later that I realised that not all parents would be supportive of their children when it comes to facing predators. When I meet child sexual abuse survivors now, I learn that not all parents empathise with their child, ” shares Firzana, who is president and co-founder of Monsters Among Us (MAU), a youth-led organisation combating sexual abuse.
Her parents’ divorce when she was seven years old also forced her to come to terms with different family dynamics and how life wasn’t always rosy for everyone.
“Even at that age, I realised that not all parents are equipped to raise children and that society can be quite unkind to single mothers. I also learnt that some families are just more privileged than others. I became aware of how a wife and mother should not be treated and though I did not think of it as discrimination or gender inequality at the time, it made me aware of behaviour that was right and not right, ” shares the law graduate who is doing her pupilage with a law firm in Petaling Jaya.
Firzana reckons that she was empowered by her mum who single-handedly raised her and her brother to “fight for what’s right”.
“She always made sure we had limitless opportunities so that we could have a ‘normal’ life despite not having a father present in our lives” shares Firzana, 24.
Protecting children from monsters
Firzana co-founded Monsters Among US believing that youths can be agents of change. The organisation hopes to make it possible for all children to enjoy safe and happy childhoods.
“Our principle is that children are capable and competent and getting them involved is the way forward. Though we are here to protect our children, it is equally important to engage with them to come up with ways on how they can protect themselves and their peers,” she says.
When they first started their advocacy work four years ago, MAU partnered with Protect and Save the Children, an established NGO that deals with child protection, to train MAU’s members and advocates on approaching cases involving child sexual abuse.
“We wanted to make sure that we did it right and were properly trained to be child advocates. We believe that our fiery passion alone isn’t enough. We need to know our subject matter well. And, it is a never ending learning process,” says Firzana.
MAU in turn trains teenagers and young adults to be advocates of championing safe childhoods for all children.
“Recently, we successfully trained and certified 13 teens aged 16-17 as advocates through our boot camp, ‘Be A Child Advocate’ which was conducted entirely online (because of the pandemic and the movement control order).
“We are also closing our month long campaign ‘Sailing Safely with MAU’. This campaign aims to increase awareness on online safety and we hope to nurture smarter netizens that can protect themselves from dangers that are prevalent online. And in April 2021 we are launching ‘Lapor Predator’, an online reporting tool in the form of an automated chat bot where children and internet users can report any activities that have elements of online child sexual exploitation and abuse,” she shares.
I can so I will
“What inspires me to push for change is the capacity that I have to push for change. With my legal training and experience working on child sexual abuse cases, it would be a waste if I don’t put my skills to good use, ” says Firzana, simply. “I truly believe that you do not need to be the most powerful person to push for change. And truthfully, I do what I do because I believe Malaysia needs more than one Syed Azmi (Alhabshi) and one Dr Hartini (Zainudin) to fight for children.”
The numbers don’t lie, she points out referring to local studies that have revealed that one in 10 children in Malaysia have been sexually abused and eight out of 10 predators are known to their victims.
“These predators are not stopping, and they are hunting even more aggressively than ever. So why are we so relaxed, as though this is not real. It is time we wake up and see that these monsters do exist among us,” she asserts.