Duo do their part for ‘fairer society’


Bookish mission: Honey (left) and Yeong have taken it upon themselves to interest students in literature and gender equality issues.

In support of the 2022 International Women’s Day global collective against discrimination and gender bias, The Star, as chair of the World Editors Forum (Asia Chapter), and in collaboration with its regional media partners, will embark on a year-long initiative to highlight stories that celebrate and promote equality. Go to thestar.com.my for more #breakthebias stories.

CALLING themselves book nerds, a duo have come together to spread their love for literature among secondary school students while shining the spotlight on gender equality.

Apart from producing eight podcasts each focusing on a book that features relevant gender equality issues, they have designed classroom activities and learning materials to stimulate discussions on the topic.

The idea to begin the Literature for Equality Project came to Honey Ahmad and Diana Yeong after their “Two Book Nerds Talking” podcast drew the attention of some educators.

As podcasters, they have explored innovative ways of engaging with literature such as performing dramatised monologues, discussing television adaptations of books, as well as doing book reviews and author interviews.

“We were often approached by schoolteachers and university lecturers wanting to collaborate with us to make literature more interesting for students, so we decided to launch this project to expose students to our perspectives on literature and how it can be engaged with enjoyably,” they told StarEdu in an email interview.

As gender equality is an issue close to their hearts, they made it the project’s theme.

“It impacts everyone in society because both girls and boys are deeply affected when they are forced to adhere to rigid gender roles. Thus, we want to do our part to make a better, fairer society for all,” they explained.

Starting out, the book enthusiasts spent almost a month doing research and burying their noses in reading before they picked eight books to focus on from the approximately 50 books in their initial longlist.

In selecting the books, their main aim was to choose those that could easily start conversations about gender roles, as well as are suitable reads for students, they shared.

In addition, as they wanted to enable students to view gender equality from different perspectives, they included types of literature that are less typically seen in classrooms, such as graphic novels and historical fiction.

Books that portray Asian and Malaysian perspectives were also picked to raise the awareness of gender bias and inequality in the lives of Malaysian youths.

“There were a lot of books that we wish we could have included. The final list allowed us to closely examine the problems of gender inequality – from the way a girl’s value is judged in society to the way fairy tales have formed our gender stereotypes,

“We hope that the final list will connect with students and help them to think about the issues we are highlighting,” they shared.

Once the books had been finalised, Honey and Yeong set about designing classroom activities for each book.

As this was their first time working on such a project, they enlisted the help of teachers to better understand what was needed for an engaging lesson and to ensure their materials could be easily incorporated into the curricula to ease the teachers’ workload.

“We surveyed teachers and designed worksheets, in-class discussion questions, homework suggestions and activity ideas based on the teachers’ suggestions.

“We have also come to respect the work teachers put in to make topics interesting to students,” they said.

Honey and Diana hope that both teachers and students will use the books, and their podcasts and activities – which were released from October to December last year – to reflect on the effects of gender roles in their own lives, as well as view literature as a lens from which they can understand themselves and their surroundings and in turn, cultivate a reading habit.

“We push books on children and train them to associate books with tedium and laborious study, which is why many people avoid books later in life when they are not forced to read them.

“As book nerds, however, we think books are wondrous, magical portals through which we can be inspired, find acceptance and belonging, or just be entertained.

“We hope that we can bring just a little of that magic to students to widen their perspectives on the possibilities in books,” they added.

The Literature for Equality Project is supported by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives, which has been established by the Canadian government around the world to promote small-scale projects that improve the prosperity and well-being of local communities.

To access the learning materials, go to https://rngdr.com/lfe/.

Shinz Jo, 18, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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