RSOG Leadership in Action
Women: Between Desire and Reality
Professor Dato’ Noor Aziah Mohd Awal
When: 29 October 2018
Where: Razak School of Government
Guest Speaker: Professor Dato’ Noor Aziah Mohd Awal
The framework of the Session
In January 1996, an aspiring young lecturer wrote an intriguing article entitled “Wanita: Antara Keinginan dan Kenyataan” in a leading women magazine. The courage to articulate the hopes, concerns, and realities of women at that time was a welcomed addition to the discourse on Malaysian women and their roles in the country’s growing economy and other social spheres. More than twenty years on, it is timely to reflect on the topic further. The law graduate has since grown and established herself as a champion for women’s rights through academia. At home, she is blessed with a happy family and considers that fulfilling her obligation as a filial daughter to her ageing mother as an honourable obligation to shoulder. However, not many women are fortunate enough to have “the best of both worlds”. What are the barriers stopping women from advancing in their careers and fulfilling their personal responsibilities? What could thought leaders and policymakers do to ensure that the ecosystem supports this balancing act? Are there any skill-sets that women should be equipped with to enjoy such balance? These are some of the potential focus areas that the Guest Speaker, who has been involved in numerous stakeholder engagements on this matter, will discuss in this programme.
Key Takeaways from the Session
With 2018 crowned as the Women Empowerment Year, some reflection on the role of Malaysian women in the society, their rights, and how the existing support system enable women’s participation in the economy and other social spheres ought to take place. Take the academic sphere for instance, despite women outnumbering men in university enrolments, high-ranking posts resides mostly with men. The lack of women presence in high-ranking posts also results in women excluded in decision-making processes. There are many challenges that lie for women who desire to hold high-level posts, some of which are beyond the control of the individual. In this Leadership in Action session, the Guest Speaker shared her experience in balancing work and life, providing some insights to aspiring women.
Firstly, family and social support are paramount in providing the right ecosystem for women to thrive in their professional career. The Guest Speaker shared numerous times on the role of her father in shaping her education and career. Having a patriarch who values education is crucial for young women to ensure advancements in the later stages of adulthood. She received an aerogram from her father practically every other day which was later followed with costly phone calls, during her time abroad. Such personalised support was unexpected from an imam in a kampung. Later in her life, the Guest Speaker’s husband was also instrumental in supporting her career progression and motherhood by respecting choices made and decisions undertaken.
Secondly, awareness of ones’ rights is important for women towards informed decision-making. Women who are at an advantage should empower other women by sharing the knowledge one has with others through various means or opportunities such as social network, usrah (a gathering for discussion regarding a certain topic), and through voluntary work. This also forms a way of learning and of sharing, which is more accessible, informal, and personalised.
Thirdly, agility is important to adapt to changes or challenges that may come. For instance, the Guest Speaker was trained in English Family Law but learned the ropes in mastering Malaysian Family Law and Syariah law through her social networks and experiences along the way. At times, women may find themselves in a leadership position due to their functional expertise without having adequate leadership training or appropriate development. This circumstance requires them to enhance interpersonal relationship capability, strategic and visioning capacity, among others. Therefore, it is important to have learning agility to adapt to these changes.
Finally, the Guest Speaker believes in positivity – being grateful to God, having a positive outlook in life and people’s intentions, and to be sincere in assisting others. This positive mindset allows one to have clarity in ones’ purpose in life. Granted, there is no recipe for success for women “to have it all”, especially when gender is yet to be fully mainstreamed in policies that affect women as contributors to the country’s economy.
Drawing from the Guest Speaker’s experience, the pursuit to the advancement of women in the society is individual in nature. Personalised support such as coaching, mentoring, and role-modelling helps considerably especially when it comes from her surroundings. Women blessed with such support should extend it to other women who may not be as fortunate. Women’s agenda is certainly important and the responsibility of all. It is no coincidence that women were mentioned more than once in Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) last sermon.
Key issues raised
- The opportunity to be part of high-level committees is a huge responsibility. Added to that, being outnumbered by men can add further challenges. This is especially in putting forth views or opinions and subsequently influencing decisions, with possibilities of it being brushed off outright. Therefore, one needs to find ways to intervene, especially on pressing issues relating to family and women.
- It is observed that women partly contribute to the “glass ceiling” issue as far as career progression is concerned. Women often decline career advancements to prioritise family, likely to the difficulty in juggling both responsibilities.
- Men must be taught to respect women from young. They need to know what their roles and responsibilities are.
- Tradition and religion are often used as grounds to deny women’s rights. Women who are in an advantaged position must help others who may not be as fortunate enough through awareness initiatives such as clinics and support groups.
About the Speaker
Professor Dato’ Noor Aziah Mohd Awal is a Professor of Law in Family, Women and Children at the National University of Malaysia or Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Apart from teaching and research, she shouldered numerous leadership roles in UKM for the past 33 years including Deputy Vice Chancellor of Student and Alumni Affairs, Master of Residential College, Deputy Dean, and Programme Coordinator. She was the President of the UKM Academic Staff Association from 2009 – 2014. Externally, she serves on various boards and committees of leading organisations. She was the first female to be appointed to the Islamic Religious Council of Negeri Sembilan. She is the Malaysian Representative to ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children for three years since November 2016. She is also a member of the Malaysian National Consultative Council for Children. She has been involved in the discussion to enact and amend family related laws.