Founder & Managing Director of Engender Consultancy
“Gender equality drives our efforts,” declares Omna Sreeni-Ong, whose social enterprise Engender Consultancy boasts a business model which includes the undertaking of social impact initiatives. It is a “model that is gaining recognition as the future of business,” she adds. The journey of the veteran of 25 years in women’s movement and gender equality advocacy started off at the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 where she was part of the Baha’i community’s delegation to Beijing. The conference birthed the Beijing Platform for Action, a global roadmap for the advancement of gender equality.
Omna also chaired the Youth Commission of the National Council of Women’s Organisations and later served as its honorary secretary general. Through advocacy where she worked hand in hand with various joint civil society organisations, it “strengthened my understanding of the national landscape on gender equality, human rights and development, and uncovered structural and systemic challenges that continue to be impediments in the advancement of gender equality, causing discrimination and inequalities to persist,” she says, sowing the seeds for Engender Consultancy, which brings together the government, civil society and communities to advance gender equality. Omna lets us in on their work.
What are some of Engender’s initiatives and what impacts were created?
We are a fairly new organisation having been in operation since 2019. At the outset, it was important for us to reflect on how we can support and add value to the work that is already being done by the many organisations in the gender equality movement across the country. “Advancing gender equality: transforming communities” is not merely our tagline; it is embedded in the ethos that defines the way we work.
Inspired by the way the hummingbird reaches deep into a blossom to source its nectar, we endeavour to go to the root of issues; to read the lived realities of people and uncover core concerns. Then through collaborative and consultative engagements, we draw on the critical experience and learning of the communities we work with to develop transformative, sustainable solutions.
Guided by this philosophy we work on several social impact initiatives which are currently underway. I’ll mention three of these impact initiatives here:
• Gender Lens on the Budget, which adopts a gender responsive scrutiny of the national budget cycle process to ensure equitable distribution of allocations which respond appropriately to the needs of different population groups. In this initiate, we work with government, civil society and legislators.
• SafeCity: Addressing Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces, which is a campaign that evolved from a nationwide survey we conducted in 2020 which found that from the 654 respondents, 59% reported having experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. The survey was able to identify cities across Malaysia where incidents of sexual harassment in public spaces had taken place. Engender and our partner Sisterhood Alliance are also national partners of the SafeCity Malaysia, which uses the SafeCity App that crowdsources anonymous personal stories or experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces and aggregates it as hot spots. We use the data to work with local governments, residents’ associations, the private sector and the community to create safe public spaces, free from sexual harassment for all.
• Mainstreaming Gender Responsive Approach in Localising the SDGs in Parliamentary Constituencies, which is an initiative that is undertaken for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (SDGs), Malaysia to ensure all its SDG projects across its participating parliamentary constituencies are gender responsive, that is, to ensure our work with the communities promote equal participation and fair distribution of benefits, shared power, control of resources, decision-making, and support for women’s empowerment.
We are clear that in order to bring about any kind of sustainable change we need to engender people, policies and processes through strategic, collaborative and transformative solutions.
What sort of partnership and cooperative efforts do you hope to see in the advocacy of gender equality?
Gender equality, economists and development experts say, is the catalyst and accelerator which will ensure the achievement of all developmental goals. There is a growing consciousness that empowering and investing in women and girls have a multiplier effect on the well-being of families, community and society. Now more than ever we need a whole of society approach to tackle the gains lost due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, girls and vulnerable groups. Women’s organisations and other civil society actors have formed coalitions to strengthen the advocacy for gender equality – but that is not sufficient. What we need is meaningful and institutionalised government and civil society partnerships at policy tables to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in all areas of legislation, policy, implementation, monitoring and impact.
Gender equality drives our effortsOmna Sreeni-Ong
What roles can men play in establishing equality?
There is a misconception that gender equality is a women’s issue; when in fact gender equality benefits both men and women. While women are disproportionately affected by gender inequality, men too face gender specific issues such as unhealthy stereotypes, poor health, falling behind in education and lack of paternity benefits. Gender equality is everyone’s business – every man, woman, youth and child has an integral part to play in fostering an environment where every person can reach their potential.
Studies have shown that men living in highly gender equal societies have a better quality of life than men in less gender equal societies. Men’s participation in the home – taking on shared responsibilities alone has an effect on society as a whole. The balance is shifting and we are seeing more young families who are exemplifying gender equality in taking on shared roles at home and the way they raise their children. However, this emerging revolution can only have a ripple effect with deliberate gender responsive strategies in policies, education and public awareness which engage all of society.
As a woman, do you feel the extra impetus to strive for the betterment of other women? One of the greatest gifts of working on promoting gender equality is learning how to view the world through a gender lens. It allows me to recognise the social and economic realities of people from the home to society as determined by power relations between women and men. It reveals the unfavourable treatment of individuals based on their gender. We know that women have been disproportionately impacted suffering discrimination, oppression, violence and exclusion. This reality and the recognition of the promise of gender equality propels and motivates me to support, uplift and empower my fellow sisters but also to support men, boys and families as a whole to play their role in fostering gender equality – our work is not done till no one is left behind.
Your message to anyone for this International Women’s Day?
This International Women’s Day let us women and men, boys and girls choose to challenge ourselves in how we exemplify attitudes and behaviour that foster gender equality in our personal lives and in the lives of our families. The power of change lies in our conscious effort to take deliberate steps. Let it be this generation.