Womens Day

8th March is International Women’s Day and it’s no revelation plenty of businesses, Youtubers and social media influencers want to engage on the subject of women. Championing causes sell. And given the current sociocultural landscape of feminist activists advocating #metoo and #timesup movements, brands almost seem compelled to join in or risk being left out – or worst, being perceived as unsupportive. Of course, weighing in on a social cause doesn’t come without its benefits; linking your personal brand to a social cause connects audiences to be emotionally engaged with your values.

It certainly is nice to see brands create inspirational marketing campaigns around International Women’s Day. Marie Claire’s powerful and practical ‘NOT. MY. JOB.’ campaign pushed for genuine equality in the workplace; Mattel launched its bold line of 17 ‘role model’ Barbie dolls modelled after real female figures such as filmmaker, Patty Jenkins and NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson; Google replaced it’s logo with interactive doodles from 12 different female artists from around the world in honor of the day. It certainly appears the US is the championing face of feminism and gender equality.

But what about in Malaysia?


Curious, I asked a lady friend, “Do you think big name brands in Malaysia are doing anything around International Women’s Day? Because I don’t think so.”

“Oh, got. But usually sales and discount promotions la (laughs).”

So other than discount vouchers, sales and gifts, brands have done squat to create and navigate discourse around gender equality in Malaysia.

Did you know an online poll has found that 44% have kept silent about sexual harassment at work, while only 12% have made an official report to their human resource departments? Or how about the fact that there are more Malaysian women than men who go to university and yet women’s participation and opportunities in politics remain low; to be exact, women barely make up 10% in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. Women in Malaysia earn 79 sen to a ringgit earned by men on average. More interestingly, there is a significant mismatch in perception of this gender pay gap. Hays, a recruitment agency found that 79% of men think there is equal pay between genders, as compared to 44% of women who think otherwise.

Let’s not even get to what practical steps companies have made to ensure women are protected and fairly valued. I’m speaking merely, even if at a superficial level, about how there are virtually zero brands in Malaysia that have addressed this culture of silence surrounding women’s issues on all fronts (domestic, corporate, public, political). Is the culture of silence regarding these issues the result of a deeply ingrained patriarchy? I don’t even think a lot of people are aware Malaysia still has miles to go in achieving gender equality. It appears these issues are accepted and understood as part of our social sphere because the media and brands haven’t done anything to highlight gender inequality in Malaysia.

How has Malaysian media portrayed our female identities?


As it stands, all we’re seeing are female figureheads, stereotypically as faces of cosmetic, clothes and cooking brands. And even then I fail to recall any prominent ones from memory.

It’s important, today more than ever, that Malaysian brands need to rise to the fore of empowering and influencing women in Malaysia – especially young girls whose only role models are ones propagated by Western media. It’s great that African-Americans now have relevant representation and role models in the media for their daughters to aspire after (props to Black Panther). But what strong, differentiated, and steadfast female figures do our Malaysian daughters, sisters and mothers have? I’m not saying Malaysia needs its own breed of Jessica Jones, but it’s time brands started to shape our own unique Malaysian identities of diverse and daring women.

Many brands preach being bold and making a better world, but how many are vested in creating a better Malaysia for our mothers and daughters? Brands need to challenge conventional and western identities of what strong women are and understand how keeping silent does nothing to shape our daughters into becoming our nation’s next Yasmin Ahmad, Dato Ambiga or Datuk Nicol Anne Davis.

International Women’s Day is to be celebrated to remind us to keep fighting the fight because even if we’re not oppressed, it doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who are.


What is your brand doing to empower the women of Malaysia?

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