Saturday, July 31, 2010

MP Choong Eng of DAP is one lady you have to admire but what she says here is quite wrong and petty! No Doubt she has the right to say anything but I wish she say it with careful thought or not you will sound as chauvinist like Perkasa and that is sad! Read here the article from Nut Graph

Bucking traditions of inequality

By Deborah Loh | 29 July 2010 | Read [2] Comments | Print This Post Print This Post

(All pics below courtesy of Chong Eng)

(All pics below courtesy of Chong Eng)

BUKIT Mertajam Member of Parliament Chong Eng bucked some traditions in her younger days. Coming from a Chinese new village, she was the first girl in her family who managed to persuade her father to let her continue secondary school. Her interracial marriage later on was also considered uncommon, given her background.

Born in 1957 in Kerayong New Village, Pahang, Chong Eng learnt about gender inequality at a young age by observing how women in the village often did more work than men. Later, she would discover ethnic and language inequality as a student.

She joined the DAP in 1990, first as a staff to help with the general election that year, and subsequently as a member. Now head of the Wanita DAP, Chong Eng met The Nut Graph in Parliament on 14 July 2010 to trace how her growing up has shaped her politics.

TNG: Can you trace your ancestry?

Chong Eng: My parents were born here, but my grandparents came from China. My mother, when she was about seven years old, was left behind in Malaya together with her elder sister. Their parents went back to China because their father was sick. They took along their sons and a younger daughter. My mother and her sister were sold as tong yan shi – girls who were sold to be married later to the sons of other families. It was common at the time, and my mother’s parents needed the money to return to China.

Chong Eng, standing far left, with her family

Chong Eng, standing far left, with her family

So my mother grew up in my father’s family. She was expected to do all the house chores and she never went to school. My father went to school for only two to three years. They were poor and it was during the Japanese occupation. My father and mother got married when she was about 18 years old.

My parents worked as rubber tappers. At one time, my father ran a coffee shop. I also seem to remember him not working for a period of time. It was mainly my mother making a living for the family.

On my father’s side, I never saw his parents. For one, he didn’t know where his father was while growing up. And his mother passed away quite young. So I didn’t know my grandparents on either side. However, we now know where the graves of my father’s parents are, and we visit them.

Where did you spend your childhood, and what was it like?

I was born and grew up in the Kerayong New Village, in Temerloh, Pahang. Now it is in Bera. There [were] ten children in our family. An elder brother, followed by six girls and three younger brothers. I am the fourth child.

Our family was poor and even the children had to work. My two elder sisters tapped rubber for RM3 a day when they were in Standard Five and Standard Six. They didn’t go to secondary school because at that time, you had to pay RM7.50 every month per student. If they went to secondary school, it’s not just the school fees, but loss of income for our family.

I told my mother that I wanted to go to secondary school. At that time, my role models were women teachers. I told my mother, women don’t have to tap rubber only, they can also be teachers. My mother said this was a decision my father had to make. Surprisingly, my father said okay.

So that’s how I got to go to Form One. In remove class and Form One, I still had to get up at 4am to tap rubber before going to school. I earned RM3 a day. My mother would only give me 20 sen to go to school. That was enough to buy a few kuih.

After me, my younger brothers and sisters could go to secondary school as long as they passed Standard Six. It was easier for them as the economy had improved, too.

What stories did your parents tell you, or what lessons from your childhood do you remember until today?

As a student

As a student

Not so much stories that my parents told, but I think my life is very much influenced by my mother. My mother never went to school, but she could do a lot of things. She could count and calculate money because she not only tapped rubber but sold it. She was also very prudent. Today, she would be called a “green consumer”. She reused, recycled and repaired old and broken things. She also avoided problems with people or quarrelling with them.

Did you get your sense of women’s rights from your mother?

No, I got my sense of women’s rights when my sisters didn’t get to go to secondary school, but my elder brother did. From there I realise there was inequality. Girls did not have the same opportunity to further their studies.

Also, being in a rural community where everybody went to work in the morning, I saw that after work, the men were the ones relaxing in the coffee shop. Only the women had to continue working. We picked firewood, fed the pigs, cooked for the family. The girls had to do all the chores. We girls took turns to wash shoes, including all our brothers’ shoes. We washed everybody’s clothes and the dishes. But not the men and boys.

How have these childhood experiences shaped your identity as a Malaysian and a woman?

If you ask me what my identity is, I will say I am a Malaysian Chinese woman.

As a woman, even though I’ve had the chance to go to university, I still see that society is male-dominated. Men make all the decisions, and the rules of the game are also male-formulated. And I think women today do not feel the difference and inequality between men and women. It has become mainstream – that the rules are made by men, and women just assimilate themselves into it. They are not conscious that there is a gender gap.

People say, “What’s the difference, women are allowed to do a lot of things, so what?” I think it’s only when you reach a certain level that you feel the inequality and the difficulty. People don’t see that the glass ceilings in society are due to gender inequality. They say, “As long as the law doesn’t discriminate, what’s the problem?” They say, “You can contest [in elections] as long as you are good.” But they do not see the gender barriers.

So what challenges do you face as a woman politician?

There are very few women politicians. In Parliament, only 23 out of 222 Members of Parliament are women. Women are really a minority at this level of decision-making.

As a young party worker

As a young party worker

In politics, the focus is often about the economy, Gross Domestic Product growth, and physical development. But nobody talks about social or human development. And such development will continue to be marginalised because there are already very few women leaders to begin with. On top of that, some women leaders will only talk about mainstream political issues. Because that’s how you get attention and support to move upwards. “Softer” issues do not get as much attention. The mainstream view is wary or resistant to what you are trying to lobby.

I see this as the biggest challenge: how to make those in the mainstream, the decision-makers, see that women should be considered. Because women are half the population, they take care of children, the senior citizens and the disabled. Women do a lot of work but are not influential. They cannot influence policy or the national budget, because the budget factors in race and geographical considerations, but not gender.

That’s why progress on women’s issues is slow. The United Nations has the [Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women], which a lot of countries have signed but until now have not implemented it because it is not the most urgent thing for them. Malaysia has also signed it. For politicians [in Malaysia], as long as something does not negatively influence your support or voter base, if it doesn’t bring harm and doesn’t oblige you to fulfill it, you just sign lah, because even if you don’t [fulfill it] you will still get elected.

What about your identity as a [Chinese] Malaysian?

With DAP stalwarts Lim Kit Siang, Dr Chen Man Hin and Karpal Singh

With DAP stalwarts Lim Kit Siang, Dr Chen Man Hin and Karpal Singh

I first saw racial inequality after I finished Form Five. I was a science student and got okay results , which entitled me to enter Form Six, except for the fact that I did not get a credit in Bahasa Malaysia. I come from a Chinese-education background so Mandarin is my first and best language. I did Form Six in TAR College instead.

I had also wanted to be a teacher in a Chinese-language school. But because I didn’t have a credit for Bahasa, I couldn’t go to a teacher training college. So it was the first time I felt unfairness and inequality in language. I wanted to teach Mandarin in a Chinese primary school, why couldn’t I, even though my Bahasa was not that good? I felt that making it compulsory for students to get a credit in Bahasa marginalised students like me.

After TAR College, I went to university and saw that people with much worse results were getting into good courses. People with 2.0 as their aggregate were sent overseas to get their Masters and to come back and teach. I felt it was really unfair.

In university, the medium was Bahasa. And again, I felt that our language policy did not take into account students’ ability or what might be the best language for them to learn in. Our education and language policy is politically motivated rather than being focused on human development.

You married an Indian Malaysian. Did you face any challenges in your relationship coming from different backgrounds?

We met at a university sports meet. His family is more open because his brothers have married Australians and New Zealanders. But my family, being from a Chinese new village, had never known Indian [Malaysians] as neighbours. To my parents, Indians are JKR (Public Works Department) workers. My parents worried and didn’t understand why I wanted to marry an Indian when there were so many Chinese [around]. It was my elder brother who managed to persuade them.

With husband K Gunabalan

With husband K Gunabalan

What kind of Malaysia do you hope for in the future?

A Malaysian Malaysia! That’s why I joined the DAP. I feel it is the party that can give equality to all. Not just racial equality but also gender equality, because without gender equality there won’t be social equality.

Comments made from Readers and me!

10 Responses to “Bucking traditions of inequality”

  1. Sooth says:

    I admire your desire to fight for equality, but I feel that as Malaysians, we should at least have a strong grasp of our national language regardless of our background. Therefore, I don’t think that requirements of a credit for BM is too big to ask.

  2. TC Ang says:

    “Gender inequality” does not accurately describe the issue and should be changed to “unreasonable gender bias”. Men and women were NOT created to be equal, if they were, then there we would all be reproducing asexually. There are no hard and fast rules on gender issues, and the real issue is treating everyone with respect.

    We cannot judge the actions of our [forebears] from our standpoint. Habits/ rituals/ social stigmata usually evolve from the necessity to survive, and during trying times, the need to survive trumps all else. Investing in the male members ensures earning power remains within the family, sustaining a family unit.

    Fairness is a concept that only exists in the english language and nowhere else. Fairness is subjective, while justice applies to everyone. Is it coincidental that the people who invent and embody the spirit of fairness also have the highest divorce rates in the world?

  3. Adrian Eng-Hock Goh says:

    Dear Chong Eng,

    Your view is wrong. It would not stand in Malaysia and it would not stand in any other country. Every citizen should master their national language. Bahasa Malaysia is our national language and everybody should have a fair command of it. Nobody should live in a cocooned world where they only master their mother tongue and do not obtain the proficiency of other languages, especially the national language, which can only be gained through interaction with other people.

    It does not have anything to do with racial discrimination regarding admission to university courses which you proved in your other point regarding mediocre students getting into university. Your view is so wrong that I believe it would paint the DAP very badly, and provide [fodder for] the likes of Perkasa and Utusan to solidify their stereotype of the DAP being un-Malaysian and chauvinistic towards the general Malaysian populace.

    Your view would hurt your party if it is misconstrued as the general reflection of DAP members. I am disappointed in you.

    • Sean says:

      I wonder at the ‘Malaysian Chinese’ hoping for a ‘Malaysian Malaysia’. Shouldn’t she be insisting on being a Malaysian Malaysian if she’s sincere about ‘Malaysian Malaysia’? Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Chong Eng. DAP don’t seem to have their act together on this essential policy at all. How can “Malaysian Malaysia” ever be compatible with “Malaysian first, Chinese second”? Surely Malaysian Malaysia lives or dies on whether Malaysians are – you know – Malaysian or not?

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      It has nothing to do with mastering the national language.

      Even if the DAP were to master the Malay language, even if all the Chinese-Malaysians speak eloquent Malay, they would still be called un-Malaysian.

      It is just the way the people in Perkasa and Utusan Meloya are.

      You don´t have to look further than Indonesia for a good example.

      A large percentage of Chinese-Indonesians speak perfect Bahasa Indonesia. There are many who speak no other languages at all. They even find it weird to be called “Chinese-Indonesians”. But yet, those who are non-Muslim Chinese-Indonesians are discriminated against — presumably because they are not Indonesian enough.

      So, tell me why the same thing would not happen here in Malaysia, and I will go sign up for a course in the Malay language.

      • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        Dear Mr Kooo Keng Kuat

        What you say is not true at all! It is wrong to say the Indonesian Chinese are discriminated against or are second class citizen quite the opposite. In hindsight the policy of One Language and One Name(Indonesian) although cruel when first introduce has created a more Indonesian Chinese as oppose to Chinese Indonesian.

        We should strive for Malaysian Malay, Malaysian Chinese instead of Chinese Malaysian or Malay Malaysian which is wrong. It does not create an Identity. Chinese made up 3% of the population of Indonesia but I am happy when I look at them because they identify themselves as Indonesian first but in Malaysia under DAP it is the opposite.

        We are not Indonesia, we are more democratic in many ways but we fail to create a national identity and after 50 years of independence it is sad. We as(k) only a credit in the National Language even me being a Malay did not achieve that credit. Many Malays in the civil service due to not having a credit were denied promotion. We accept that in good faith.

        If being proficient in the language would help in creating a Malaysian Identity why not? Although I must say they are a lot of things that need to be done. In Razak report and an Education Report done by the British before independence both agreed that a singular stream of education was needed to unite the country but people like you would oppose it. Prof Khoo Kay Kim on record agreed to it but then he is not a politician but an Academician.

        It is a small step but it is a baby step but the government under Tunku and Later Tun realize that an educated masses is needed for the well being of the country so private institution like TAR was set up to cater for these segment of people regardless that it does not make sense but to deny one’s right to educate themselves is wrong but for the purpose of government policy a minimum credit for Bahasa is requested even if you want to work in a government aided chinese school but not private run chinese school.

        I see no wrong on that so it is sad we have an MP like Chong Eng but i am proud that she has overcome her difficulties in life to achieve success but I hope she always look at the bigger picture and not harp on issues like this!

        As for Indonesian Chinese during BJ Habibie time the issue of Pribumi and non pribumi was made unlawful and in Gus Dur time the Chinese New Year or Hari Imlek was recognize as an Indonesian Holiday! Dismantling laws that divide the people is a step just like Lincoln did during the civil war in the 1870′s was a step although it took nearly hundred years later before the civil right movement achieve the desired result but if you see the breakdown of votes to Obama there is a significant number of whites who still (cling) to idea of white supremacist.

        But it is a step and we together must make the step how small it is we must make it together!

    • The Shrimp Warrior says:

      Well pointed out, Adrian. DAP falters on this path too often.

  4. Lainie says:

    TC Ang: Sounds like a very patriarchial, heteronormative view :)

  5. Rhan says:

    I think what CE mean is that she didn’t see a need to have credit in BM in order to become a teacher in Chinese language school, or to be an engineer, or doctor and etc. A credit in BM doesn’t signify that you are fluent or have a fair comment of that language. And I believe DAP is more inclusive than what you have imagined, so why care about what Perkasa or Utusan says or writes?

    TC Ang,
    Hmmm….I cannot understand how you could relate CE’s “Gender inequality” to “Men and women were NOT created to be equal, if they were, then there we would all be reproducing asexually.” I think it is more like semantic disagreement rather than factual portrayal from CE context.

    “Fairness is subjective, while justice applies to everyone.”
    Why is fairness subjective? You mum give both you and your brother RM5 each, I would say it is fair and justice, but if your mum gives you RM6 while your brother get RM 4, I would say it is unfair but I can’t say it is no justice, because money was given to both.

  6. Kong Kek Kuat says:

    @Adrian Eng-Hock Goh

    I think both of you subscribe to the concept “that as Malaysians, we should at least have a strong grasp of our national language regardless of our background.”

    In most of the cases, the Chinese-Malaysians who lack at least an intermediate-level of proficiency in the Malay language did not choose to be so. There are 3 reasons:-

    1) It was their parents who made the decision for them, e.g. either to send their children to Taiwan universities [which actually have a very high-level of education-standards, by the way], or to de-emphasise the Malay language, or whatever. In an Asian society like ours, they don´t really have a choice when they were between the ages of 1 to 18. And in today´s world, it is not unrealistic for parents to still be making decisions for their children who are well into their mid-20s — more so if they are still fully or partially dependent (financially) on their parents.

    2) (Compounding the problem is) The kind of amusing politics we have here in Malaysia, e.g. the continued virtual segregation of the various ethnic communities, among other things. In such a system, a member of a particular ethnic group would rather (and naturally as a matter of instincts and survival) learn the language which is most commonly used in his environment. So, if you are a Chinese-Malaysian, like Chong Eng in the 1950s to 1970s, or a yuppie working in the private-sector in 2010, why in the world would you want to kill yourself to have the ability to string a proper sentence in the Malay language? [I am not saying that this is the right attitude, no no, but melayu pasar is sufficient.]

    3) (As a result of No. 2 above) There are still many Malaysians (including Sabahans and Sarawakians) who did not go through the official education-system. Many go through parallel systems of education, and many more, none at all. [Note that "gone through the education-system" and "literacy" are different, e.g. you may not have gone to school, but you have taught yourself to read and write the simplified form of a language. So, Malaysia´s statistics of 87.4% literacy-rate in 2009 says nothing much about the real problem.]

    So, the nationalistic statements in your respective comments sound like fancy ideas in Malaysian reality. It´s like a mind with an odd implant from a racially homogeneous foreign country (say the UK, Germany, Russia, or Perkasa´s fantasy-Tanah Melayu)… much like the fancy believe that gender equality can really exist in an Islamic society.

    And just to show me and the readers here that you do have a “strong grasp” of, or have “mastered”, the national language, please reply to my comment in Malay so that I may reply to you in Malay — if you do have anything to reply to.

  7. Zen says:

    TC Ang:

    1. “Men and women were NOT created to be equal, if they were, then there we would all be reproducing asexually.” Gender equality doesn’t prevent or disrupt sexual reproduction.

    2. “Investing in the male members ensures earning power remains within the family, sustaining a family unit.” This doesn’t make sense. It’s an especially odd thing to say when Chong Eng explicitly says that the men in her village did much less than the women to support their families financially.

    3. “Fairness is a concept that only exists in the english language and nowhere else.” Um, what?



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