|BAND OF WOMEN
Women’s history is studded with evidence of women banding together in times of need. In the course of time, women’s groups have opened to other causes such as social, political or professional focus. Malaysia Tatler delves in to investigate
As much as the birth of the Women's Movement in the late 18th century has since led to the flood of women's groups across the globe, according to the author of The Tending Instinct Dr Shelley E Taylor, women's need for a community of other women is quite simply part of women's make-up. In Dr Taylor's words, women are inclined to "tend and befriend" in times of stress which is to lie low, take care of their offspring and turn to their social network of other females. As
history shows, women did first band together during times of stress, fighting for equal rights in a male-dominated world, a cause still dear to all women, as are the other serious issues such as violence against women. However, somewhere between the 20th and 21st century, the focus of women's groups widened to embrace social, political, religious and environmental issues. In light of International Women's Day, we take a look at four distinct women's groups and the clinching factor that brought them together - we meet a close-knit circle of friends, an NGO dedicated to ending violence against women, a bunch of hobbyists who paint, and a professional
Many in high society circles may already be familiar with this bevy of ladies comprised of Datin Laily Hazimah, Faridah Teh, Jenny Tan, Datin Patsy Loh, Adelina Tan and Malaysia Tatler's very own managing director Florence Fang. But not many know of the story of this spirited bunch. As the name suggests, the Happy Six have been identified over the years for their lively presence and infallible camaraderie. The origins of the group can be traced back to 2001, although they've actually known each other much longer. Jenny, who was attached to the Sincere Watch Group, knew Faridah Teh, Datin Patsy Loh and Adelina Tan because they were her clients and one day arranged for lunch with the three ladies and they got on quite handsomely. "It was then that we realised that all four of us were Hokkiens so we called ourselves the Hokkien Group," pipes in Faridah. Florence eventually entered the fold, thanks to Jenny, and finally Datin Laily was wheeled in. "Of course by then we had to change our name and we all agreed with Happy Six because when we are together, we are always laughing and joking around," shares Datin Patsy. And it seems, the more may not necessarily be merrier for when other ladies expressed interest in joining the group, they were politely turned down. "Six is just nice. Each of us is different but we are comfortable with one another, the chemistry is perfect and we can also let our guard down with each other, which I think is important. Having too many in the group may spoil that aspect," reasons Adelina. And it's especially helpful when any of them go through trying times; what's discussed between them doesn't leave the circle of six. Together, these dynamic ladies are a force to be reckoned with where charitable causes are concerned, often supporting causes important to each other and banding together to raise funds. There are occasions when the six make it a point to meet up such as a birthday, "or sometimes simply when we haven't seen each other in a while and decide it's time to catch up!" shares Florence. Naturally, the group has earned some awareness from places they frequent. "When we make reservations at restaurants, we just go under the name Happy Six - eventually people have started recognising us," shares Datin Laily. This year marks the 11th year for the Happy Six.
The Happy Six which was originally known as the Hokkien Group is comprised of Jenny Tan, Adelina Tan, Datin Patsy Loh and Faridah Teh but later included Datin Laily Hazimah and Florence Fang - thus the name change to the Happy Six
Each of them is known for her individual charitable work and together are a force to be reckoned with where a charitable cause is concerned. They often band together to support one important cause or another in our country, by donating money and time to raise funds
The Pixel Project
Although this isn't a conventional women's group that is comprised of only women, the focus of the group to end violence against women gives them unparalleled standing. The Pixel Project was an idea Regina Yau came up with to solve the funding problem the Women's Aid Organisation was facing. The virtual non-profit organisation fervently works to bring funds and awareness for this significant cause into the 21st century by delivering innovative, powerful viral campaigns across various online and virtual channels including the social media and smartphones. "We are a worldwide coalition of grassroots activists and volunteers using the power of the Internet to mount a global effort to raise awareness about the ending of violence against girls and women. We strongly believe that men and women must take a stand together for the rights of women and girls to live a life free of gender-based violence."
The group's programmes include the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign, Twitter Tag Team, Facebook Page and "Wall of Support" programme. Regina gave up a career as a public relations professional to focus full-time on the task at hand because the cause means far more to her than meeting the corporate bottomline. "Working in this field has always been my calling. I've been devoted to feminism and women's issues in one way or another since I was 12." In fact this Rhodes scholar has two Masters degrees in Women's Studies and Oriental Studies specialising in Chinese Women and started working on women's issues by using her professional skills for charity work in her spare time, first doing breast cancer campaigns and then, finally, putting all her experiences to The Pixel Project.
With 40 volunteers from 12 time zones, Regina looks at The Pixel Project as a worldwide virtual organisation. While some of the members are her former classmates at Oxford University, The Pixel Project team grew naturally for the most part with the majority of the team members joining through word of mouth. Each of them has a different role to play, for instance Suloshini Jahanath is the Twitter Tag Team Coordinator, Melissa Ruth Arul is a long-time volunteer and Tjean Nee Yeoh is a Singapore PR representative. Regina says, "We are a volunteer-based organisation and like me, the rest of the team are not paid a single cent for our efforts and contributions." Instead, she puts her first-class degree in English from the University of London to work by doing part-time freelance writing. Recently they launched the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign, of which the beneficiaries will be WAO and USA's National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, by getting a global audience to collectively unveil a million-pixel mystery collage of Celebrity Male Role Models at US$1 per pixel. "Four famous male celebrities among which there's a Nobel Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner with strong family connections, no history of violence and are role models for men in relationships with women and children, have participated in this collage of portraits taken by world-renowned photographer, Jillian Edelstein. After raising the US$1 million, then what happens? "We will always be dedicated to this cause. I'd like to clarify that our mission focus on Ending Violence Against Women includes, but is not limited to, domestic violence. We are in it for the long haul and hope to help change the world into a better place for future generations of women and girls."
Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique who helped begin a new interest in women's rights debunked the myth that all middle-class women are happy in the homemaker role. She was also one of the key founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) who once said that the only way for a woman to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by doing creative work of her own.
This couldn't be truer than to the ladies who paint together. About 10 years ago, after completing a course in porcelain painting, Puan Sri Zaleha Arshad had the desire to share the art with other ladies, especially retired women and homemakers. She opened a studio called ZA Studio and among her students were To Puan Mushrihah Khalid, Datin Seri Rahmah Hussain, Datin Nor Hanum Abdul Jabar and Azizah Som. Through the class, a friendship bloomed between the five ladies as their passion for porcelain painting grew. "It was just by chance I was invited by To Puan Mush to join her for porcelain painting and from then on my interest developed," shares Datin Nor Hanum. In fact, these accomplished artists have now each specialised in one aspect of painting. For instance, Datin Nor Hanum is an expert at gilding, Datin Seri Rahmah who completed her Masters in Teaching Porcelain Art about two years ago, is into creative painting, while To Puan Mush is an expert at faux art. Their skills come in handy for occasions that require gifting such as weddings.
Because of a deep passion for their art, they've even attended porcelain painting conventions in Australia. "It's a wonderful experience. We learn a lot from these conventions because porcelain painters from all around the world attend and some teachers are also there and they hold workshops." It was at one of these conventions that Puan Sri Zaleha who's writing a book on porcelain painting, read about this 90-year-old Australian woman who does porcelain painting. "It's amazing, she still drives to class and paints and there are so many women like her around," says Puan Sri Zaleha who is in her 70s, as is Datin Seri Rahmah. The ladies today continuously give each other support, helping one another grow from strength to strength.
Betty Friedan, the author of "The Feminine Mystique" once said the only way for a woman to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by doing creative work of her own. With just that intent, Puan Sri Zaleha Arshad formed a class to pass the knowledge of porcelain painting to ladies. As the passion for their therapeutic hobby grew, a friendship also blossomed amongst them.
"It's like a tea party every session. We go to the studio, paint, take a break and have a bite to eat and continue painting. So we've become friends over the years. We share our aches and pains, we discuss current affairs, politics, our life stories and so on."
End of last year saw the launch of a professional women's network called M Privé which set itself apart from other women's networks with a focus on lifestyle. The founder, Farena Fatah-Cooper reveals the reason she formed the group was because she felt there was no platform for women to discuss business and life interests. "I realised that I had a very strong group of women in my circle and I felt that even though we met quite often, we did not have any particular platform to discuss our business and life interests on a regular basis. As I couldn't find an existing women's group which met my needs, therefore I decided to try and create my own network." Because women in general have a strong thirst for knowledge and are always looking for better ways to empower and improve themselves, Farena says M Privé provides just that and an opportunity for women to support other women as best as they can through encouragement and sharing information. An invitation-only group, the panel consists of 10 members of mixed nationalities. "You could call us a mini United Nations of KL. I would say we are 50% Malaysians and 50% expatriates so we are truly international." The panel consists of Azrina Effendi, Suzzana Khan, Carol Lynne and Reena Tan who make up the Malaysian contingent and Tina Madsen, Dani Maia, Mashid Maleki, Aarti Parmar and Yiga Josayma who collectively hail from Denmark, Iran, Brazil, England and the United States. "I made sure that these are women who are socially active and have their own networking skills. That was the main focus of this network. The members are all at different stages in their career and are career-driven, trend and fashion-conscious, well travelled and interested in self-development. While the panel meets at least twice a month, all the members of M Privé meet on a monthly basis. So far the group have organised a baking class with Al-Amar, a motivational talk by Arnaud Marolleau, a spa treatment at Angsana Spa, a self-defense class conducted by MuayFit and most recently a special private cooking class by Chef Nicolas Le Toumelin of the famed Muse Hotel in St Tropez at Shook! in Starhill Gallery, KL.
"We are also working on a Mentor Privé programme where we invite successful women entrepreneurs or top business leaders to give us an insight on their career so far, giving them an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with our members." More interesting events focused on fashion tips, beauty workshops and yoga retreats are in the pipeline. There's also talk of turning their existing website into a lifestyle and information portal where members can find out information on recommended places to go to such as restaurants, spas and shops, or find out about the latest promotions or events. They will also have a forum section where members can participate in discussions of interests.