SHAH ALAM: When a piece of news is published about yet another case of baby dumping, some throw up their hands in horror and some make pious statements about the inability of the authorities to fight the country’s social ills.
And then they finish their morning coffee, go off to work and don’t give the issue another thought.
But this didn’t happen with Anja Juliah Abu Bakar, Radziah Mohammad Radzi, Fazlina Ahmad Fuad and Zamzana Mohammad Arifin when they were chatting in 2014. They decided to do something about it.
“We got to talking and realised that baby dumping can be prevented,” Radziah told FMT Lifestyle recently.
Thus was born the Sisterhood Alliance, an NGO advocating social change and aiming to empower young girls. Radziah is its president.
The group carried out its first project in 2015 under the auspices of the Melaka government. It was a workshop conducted in collaboration with another NGO called ‘Focus on the Family Malaysia’. More than 300 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 took part.
“The aim was for us to talk to them about taboo topics such as sexuality and abstinence,” Fazlina said. “We wanted to educate them on the importance of family values and knowing their self-worth.”
One memorable episode during that workshop was when an elderly woman barged in and yelled at the group about the inappropriateness of the whole thing. It served to drive home to the group how important it was to have a safe space for young girls to voice their thoughts.
The workshop was successful however, and the Selangor government requested that the group conduct similar events in various places in the state.
Sisterhood Alliance hasn’t looked back since.
In its signature programme called ‘Big Girls Talk’, participants learn about their roles and boundaries, about risky behaviours and sexual harassment and how to protect themselves.
Parents are involved too. They learn how to be a part of their children’s lives, to understand their emotional needs and to improve how they bond with them.
“We built this platform because we are mothers who have daughters too, and we would want to know what they think or worry about in order to understand them better,” Fazlina said.
In their conversation with FMT, the four women used the word “empower” a lot. “To us, it means instilling values in these girls about their self-worth, which they can use to establish healthy boundaries and in turn healthy relationships,” said Radziah. “Giving them the confidence to say no is crucial.”
Sisterhood Alliance also conducts a programme to address the issue of unemployment among youths and another called SWAG (Students with Ambitious Goals), aimed at helping 16-year-olds develop a strong sense of self and learn from setbacks in their lives.
“We came across this case where a 16-year-old girl was married to a 17-year-old boy and she was worried he was cheating on her with another girl,” Fazlina said. “It saddened us because a girl her age should be thinking about her studies, not her husband’s affairs. This was why we founded this, to prevent issues like this from arising.”
Like many NGOs, the group faces challenges in funding.
“It’s tough sometimes to get the funds we need to continue what we do,” Radziah said.
Some people have asked the group why there was no similar NGO for boys.
“Since we’re an all-female team, we don’t think we’re the right people to do that,” Radziah said. “But it’d be nice to have a counterpart to our group.”