As EMPOWER, we advance women’s political equality towards justice and democracy centred on feminist and human rights principles. We are a non-profit, non-partisan, women’s rights organisation.
Better known as EMPOWER in Malaysia, we are part of the 12-member rights-based coalition of the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality (JAG). Among these women’s human rights organizations, we are the only organization that works on women’s political equality at the community, local and national levels, and as an extension of that focus, on the intersection of information and communication technologies, women’s rights and feminist principles.
EMPOWER systematically examines the obstacles women face and how best to empower them on an individual and systemic level, taking into account too where women are, the informal or formal sector, in order to create a critical mass of women decision-makers – especially women from marginalised communities – who will promote and mainstream the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination in an inclusive and participatory manner.
Our key strategies and activities centre around how best to include marginalized and vulnerable communities of women not only into Malaysia’s democratic spaces and processes but in creating new spaces and processes that are participatory and inclusive towards strengthening community mobilization, the fostering of coalitions and the ultimate building of movements. We therefore place great emphasis on enabling and enhancing the leadership skills of those who remain in the margins of society, specifically the indigenous women, focusing more on the issues faced by Orang Asli women (indigenous women of Peninsular Malaysia), and women from low-income and lower-middle-income groups. By working with the women from the bottom 40 per cent of the income groups of Malaysia, we directly challenge the structural inequalities and discrimination in Malaysia.
To support this strategy, EMPOWER also conducts much needed research to support our evidence-based advocacy. We also work together with coalitions and civil society actors to impart skills and share tools, platforms and ideas that centre on feminism and women’s experiences in civil and political rights activism, as well as in securing women’s economic, social and cultural rights. Our work around “internet rights are human rights” and the UPR process as well as in the CEDAW reporting heightens women’s visibility and leadership in these spaces.
We would have to say that our main achievement is in raising women’s consciousness and in strengthening their individual agency to bring about the social changes sought and in achieving development justice. For example, in just over three years, from 2010 to 2013, EMPOWER witnessed that among the women trainees who participated in EMPOWER’s capacity-building workshops and who stood for elections at the 13th General Election in 2013, two were elected as Members of Parliament, three as State Assembly Persons and three were appointed as State Councillors. We have also witnessed how Orang Asli women whose capacities we have built from 2014, are much more vocal and are able to mobilise support and organize dialogues with State actors. The greater self-confidence to mix and speak with outsiders cannot be over valued. We are able to witness such personal growth within the Orang Asli women we train because they have participated between four to six of our workshops, become part of our growing network of Orang Asli women beneficiaries and partners, and are constantly eager for more capacity-building opportunities. Our achievements in enabling change in the individual’s agency is also reflected in our work in building movements.
Do check out our herstory to learn how far and how fast we have grown.