18-year-old student, GIS Alumna Serena Lee from Class of 2020, interned with the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) during their 2020 campaign for a stand-alone Sexual Harassment Bill in Malaysia. Between October and December, AWAM helped turn an online petition with 17.7k+ signatures into a paper petition read in the Dewan Rakyat — a first in Malaysian history. As the youngest member of AWAM, Serena had much to learn from the experience of rallying everyday Malaysians to fight for social and legislative change.
This will be the LINK to Serena’s TED Talk
Please tell us a little more about yourself.
Since graduating from GIS last summer, I’ve been on a gap year to explore my interests in public policy, social change, and politics. This goal has taken me to a range of experiences.
In October 2020, I learned about the petition to table a stand-alone Sexual Harassment Bill in Malaysia. I was surprised our country afforded such few protections and redress avenues, especially when a comprehensive bill’s been in the drafts for over 20 years. I decided to intern at the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), one of the women’s rights NGOs at the forefront of this campaign. We rallied public support via social media, collecting 18,000+ online and physical petition signatures for supporting MP YB Kasthuri Patto to take to Parliament in December.
It was amazing to see lots of my former GIS schoolmates eager to step up and do their part. Right now, AWAM continues to push for this bill while fighting everyday gender biases and sexual harassment; I hope to see even more members of the GIS community support this mission.
Could you please share what this TED Talk is about?
Disillusionment (feeling disappointed upon realizing things aren’t as great as you expected) gets a bad rep. That’s unfortunate because it’s also inevitable in life. I wanted to show that feeling disillusioned isn’t a dissatisfying end in itself. Instead, it’s a means to achieving sustainable, pragmatic change.
AWAM’s setbacks when pushing for the Sexual Harassment Bill spurred them to pivot and adopt new strategies – including the idea to present a paper petition in Parliament (a first in Malaysian history). I felt there was a valuable lesson in not giving up and not giving in to disappointment.
What makes you think that the topic that you choose is important or much-needed for the current situation or current generation?
My talk centers around what I learned and observed as the youngest intern at one of the longest-standing women’s rights NGOs in Malaysia.
When the Sexual Harassment Bill wasn’t tabled as initially planned in November, I was probably the most disheartened person on the team. That’s an interesting reflection of how our generation often just wants to move fast and enjoy big results. However, it’s in our favour to learn patience and recognise the virtues of playing the long game.
Please share with us your fond memories at GIS
I had a great support network of friends, teachers, and mentors at GIS!
I’m especially grateful to my tutor, Ms Ratnam, for always looking out for my well-being. When the stressors of exams and university applications got to me, I also knew I had a group of like-minded peers who were there to encourage me and share in my dreams, frustrations, and successes.
Even after graduation, I was heartened to see the GIS community continue to root for me and share their gracious support – showing up to watch my talk, connecting me to exciting opportunities. I simply would not be where I am today without their guidance.
What would be your advice to our current students who may follow in your footsteps
When advocating for social change, you face a steep slope with big undulations along the way, but what matters is that you put in the work to ensure the general trend is up!
A huge ‘Thank You’ to Serena Lee for sharing her inspiring work with us. We look forward to learning more about your work in the future!
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