Amplifying women’s voices


GIRLS and women have every right to explore their roles beyond societal expectations.

Firm believers in promoting this message, three young Malaysian women recently took part in a creative writing competition, crafting heartfelt pieces centred around girl and women empowerment.

Their stories won over the judges, culminating in them securing the top three positions at the Demi Gadis Creative Writing Competition 2024.

Themed “Her Voice, Our Story”, the competition, which received 160 submissions, was open to women in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia over the age of 18.

Speaking out: (From left) Nor Alya, Delaila and Etha advocate for gender equality.Speaking out: (From left) Nor Alya, Delaila and Etha advocate for gender equality.

Three winners were chosen per country, with prizes of US$185 (RM871), US$100 (RM471) and US$50 (RM235).

Nor Alya Batrisyia, Delaila and Etha Ravindran emerged as the first, second and third-place winners, respectively, for Malaysia, which contributed 70 entries.

In her narrative, Nor Alya advocated for women to reclaim their identities and abilities.

“I chose this theme because I am tired of seeing girls and women having to suppress themselves to appease societal expectations.

“Oftentimes, girls lose their female autonomy once they enter womanhood and marriage,” the 22-year-old told StarEdu.

Asserting that empowerment of all girls and women is essential, she said the patriarchy’s status quo has been detrimental to everyone, not just women.

She expressed hope that young girls and women will feel empowered to resist societal pressures and explore their potential.

“Never let societal pressures take away your uniqueness and limit your journey, especially in this day and age where you have so many opportunities to explore various parts of yourself,” she said.

Currently a third-year history student at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Nor Alya dreams of writing fiction or academic pieces centred on women’s history, with the aim of highlighting the often-overlooked contributions of women in shaping society.

“To remember the voices and deeds of the women who silently created history, it is only right to bring their voices forward to future generations,” she said. With gender discrimination in mind, tertiary student Delaila wrote a story about a brave woman who defies societal norms by standing up to her husband’s affair.

“Society often expects women to remain silent to avoid embarrassing their husbands, even when they are wrong.

“I wanted to show that women don’t have to accept injustice and can reclaim their voice and power, even under intense societal pressure,” the 20-year-old explained.

Her narrative also highlights the expectation for women to prioritise domestic roles over careers, the normalisation of domestic violence, and the pressure to conform to harmful beauty standards. “I hope more girls and women see, question and challenge the deep-rooted issues of gender inequality due to patriarchal norms. It’s all about recognising that a big change can start with each of us and that everyone has a role to play in creating a more just society,” she said.

Etha, on the other hand, explored the challenges faced by dark-skinned Indian women in her community, specifically discussing in detail the cycles of toxic shame and the polarising reality of internalised racism experienced by these women.

“It is too convenient for abusive people that we sweep our traumas under the rug, let bygones be bygones, and be silent about our traumas. I want my writing to disrupt that facade of peace.

“My writing is not only a testament to the horrors I’ve experienced, but serves as an example that it is possible to fight the norms you were raised in while remaining true to yourself,” the 25-year-old video game tester said, adding that being celebrated for her truth was a moment of triumph.

Etha advocated for budding storytellers to continue creating their art, no matter the scale of their influence.

“Until I see women of colour getting the same privileges as men, I know there is still work to be done.

“Making art is a revolutionary act. Just keep doing it.

“I create my best work when I actively look inwards and disregard how I imagine others will perceive my work,” she shared.

Reflecting on her win, announced on April 27, Nor Alya said: “As creators, we are our worst critics, but receiving encouragement and having our work appreciated can be the powerful force that propels us forward.”

Agreeing, Delaila emphasised the role of literature and storytelling in allowing society to explore and expose issues in a way that statistics and reports often cannot.

“Stories offer empathy and understanding, inspiring social change by making issues relatable and sparking new perspectives. Writing isn’t just about putting words on paper; it’s about making an impact. Every word has the power to spark change.

”Li Lian, 19, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

With the theme of the article in mind, carry out the following English language activities.

1 Look in today’s newspaper for an inspiring girl or woman.

Then, have a show-and-tell with your friends about why this person inspires you.

2 Look for adjectives in the newspaper that you can use to describe an empowered girl or woman.

When you’re done, exchange lists with your friends.

Have your friends assess whether you possess the attributes described by the adjectives.

Then, discuss how you can improve in that regard.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide.

For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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