It's a hot blistering afternoon, and opposite from me sits Izza Izelan, cross legged and comfortable on the floor. The air conditioner behind me is chugging away, blowing out cool air that doesn't seem to be able to quite entirely compensate for the sweltering heat. Izza is the executive director for WOMEN:girls and the founder of Geng Gadis. Both are organisations that help women of all age groups in Malaysia with different focuses and different outlets. Under her belt, is a background in education and 7 years of broadcast journalism, experience that has helped her with her work in non profits.
The theme for 2022's International Women's Day is to "break the bias", how do you think you're breaking the bias in your industry?
Day to day I constantly try to challenge the status quo by inserting the women narrative where I can and especially in realms where it's not so common for women to be in. I try not to harp on the differences between men and women and instead promote equal opportunities and highlight the great women out there who can do the job in a mans world as well.
So you’re trying to push women through your organisation to be more established in whatever they want?
Exactly, we have a lot of programs for Women Girls and I honestly don't believe any women that I’ve met that they don't have a superpower within them. I do believe that they have it in them and what we do in Women Girls is to push that and provide the tools and support system for them to actually pursue those things and that's how we break the bias in my work. One of the programs we run called Kerja Kerja, there are ladies with experience under their belt but lack the necessary qualifications to ascend in their workplace. But in the years that they have worked for instance as a promoter they have gained people skills, intra and interpersonal skills, and know how to deal with different customers but because employees take advantage over them and their qualification set, they don't get raises and opportunities to grow. So this is where we come in, we tell these ladies what they need such as references, updating their resumes, recommendation letter from someone in the industry and maybe rebranding themselves.
What are the main challenges that you face in your line of work?
I think what's tough is its hard to get people to believe in this kind of work. We don't function like a for profit organization because we are a non profit. So our bottom line isn’t how much we make this month. Our bottom line is the impact we make in the society. A lot of our programs you can only see the impact in a few years. Invested time because it cant just be overnight. We’ve been lucky to have partners who understand this and have continued to work with us throughout our campaigns.
How has the NH X Petit Moi contribution been able to help?
The collaboration came at a time where issues surrounding mental health was at its height. When we were doing this collaboration, I suggested that this contribution can go directly to promote mental health awareness among young women and young girls. Through that collaboration, we have managed to help around 160 young girls aged between 13 to 18 who were struggling in school and lack social interaction that they would usually have in school. I think adults know how to cope better but for these girls there are still a lot of barriers that exist so they often find themselves boxed within these four walls where they don't know what to do. We managed to bring in mental health experts from therapists to psychologists to give them the tools to help themselves. Simple tools that can help themselves to reduce their anxiety such as breathing techniques and if its still persisting, we introduce other ways and techniques and ultimately we tell them to call a specific number that will be able to provide them with help. We do work with different segments of age group in other aspects of their life because these different age groups have different wants and needs and we try to help wherever we can with these programs. We have this program called “Goal” where we teach them basic personal life skills, basic finance, and we talk about “Be Healthy” where we teach them about STI’s, consent, and menstruation.
What are your Hopes and Dreams for the work that you’re doing
It’s not easy work and every single day might look different. I hope more people do what I do and it may not be the most lucrative but it is very fulfilling in a different way. I think you can see the impact directly with the people you work with. My hope is that a lot more people will do this and work directly with the communities and think about having an impact in any kind of work you do. Think about how your work might impact everyone else and not just for monetary gains. I also hope that everybody (women) knows that they have that superpower within them. That's why I very rarely use the term Women Empowerment because i feel like women don't need any kind of empowerment they are already empowered themselves. They have that survival instinct and to recognize that superpower within them and unlock it themselves.
What is the one quote that drives you?
I need a little bit of boost in the morning and that boost is listening to my fight song. I always look up to 90s Pop Divas, I like their music because I think there is a sense of empowerment within themselves. My fight song that I really really like is Iconic by Madonna. One sentence i think is my life motto is where she says “ If you don't make the choice, you don't use your voice, someone else will speak for you instead.” and this is true for everyone not just women. If you don't speak your truth, no one will know and people will just put labels on you and that I would say is my motto.
Izza Izelan is wearing Dhia Heels in Mustard.