High School Students Organize Panel Discussion for Women’s History Month

In conjunction with Women’s History Month in March, HS students of ISKL organized a panel discussion in partnership with the U.S. Embassy to help women learn from each other.
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In conjunction with Women’s History Month in March, the High School (HS) students of The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) organized a panel discussion on March 30 in partnership with the U.S. Embassy’s Ann Marie Simpson, the incoming ISKL Director of Risk Management.

The keynote speaker was Erfana Dar, a Foreign Service Officer who has served in various countries around the world while the guest speakers were Aryana Khalid, a partner on the health team at Finsbury Glover Hering; Angeline Thangaperakasam, formerly the Foreign Service Officer for the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and currently, Senior Regional Director at McLarty Associates; Amalina CheAriffin, Program Coordinator of the Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and YSEALI Seeds for the Future award recipient; Ika Muzamal, Talent and Culture Development Lead at ISKL; and Patricia Krivanek, formerly involved in humanitarian relief work and now a photographer based in Kuala Lumpur.

The ISKL students facilitating the discussion were Evelynn (SLT), Georgia (SLT and GirlTalk), Mizuki (SLT), Ashley (GirlTalk), Sana (Pride), Klara (Peer Helpers), Kim (Peer Helpers).

In her keynote address, Erfana said that it would be hard to think of women in the workforce without thinking of women in society. Given the diverse and myriad backgrounds women come from, the sharing of stories was important to help women learn from each other.

Women's History Month panel discussions

“As you collect stories from each other, (know that) the experience of women in the workforce is the cornerstone of the human experience. We still have much to do in terms of understanding, exploring, and developing concepts of gender equality and expectations,” she said.

The lively online session saw the guest speakers sharing their valuable opinions and experiences during the hour-long zoom discussion. Some of the questions put forward by the students were:

What were your experiences in preparing for university like, and what were your struggles and high points like as a woman?

Amalina: “Seeing how my parents struggled to support my siblings and me financially for our education, I decided to get a scholarship and finance myself through public university. I was privileged to have been able to participate in exchange programs in different parts of the world, leadership courses, and various other programs that helped me discover myself.”

“My advice to graduating high school students is to seek guidance from someone you admire to be your mentor to help you navigate through the industry you are interested in. The adult world is full of confusion and conflict, so you need to have your own guiding principles. Adults tend to underestimate the youth; however, you should never put yourself down or doubt your capabilities.”

While studying in a male-dominated field, was there a difference in how you were treated?

Aryana: “While studying systems engineering in university, my father (originally from Venezuela) told me that life isn’t fair, especially for a woman and one of color, so I would have to work twice as hard. However, I made a conscious choice not to let things get to me. The world is better now than in 2001 when I graduated, but there is still much to do, and the only way is to keep speaking up.”

Ika: “In law school, the men are often more aggressive, especially during moot court sessions. It can be very intimidating and make you question yourself. But I’ve since learnt in my career as a lawyer that it is not about getting louder, but knowing about what to say.”

What were your biggest challenges you faced in your field of work as a woman?

Patricia: “One of the main challenges is that women tend to get underestimated. When I worked for the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, initially, my boss didn’t think I could do the job based on how I looked. But my biggest challenge was when I became a mother and had to restructure my work which is how I ended up being a photographer.”

What is your best piece of advice that you have received?

Angeline: “Don’t let people give you advice; do what’s right for you at that point of your life. Have high and professional, ethical standards, and hold yourself to them – that would be the best way to build a career. Be true to yourself.”

Amalina: “Firstly, remember to ‘fail fast’ – things can go bad but learn from this, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Secondly, take a step back for an overview and bigger perspective of the situation at hand.”

Ika: “We are taught to fear failure, but in reality, failure is inevitable, and it is about the recovery, perseverance, and courage to pick yourself up and keep going.”

Aryana: “The 80/20 rule also relates to the fear of failure. Don’t be paralyzed to make a decision just because you don’t have all the information. Instead, trust your gut, and even if you were wrong, it would be a learning experience.”

What does the term ‘male-dominated field’ mean?

Angeline: “These are fields that men traditionally over-represent with very few women who take part in that economic space. While we should be aware of which fields are male-dominated, don’t let it guide your decision or how you do things.”

Ika: “I was always subtly fed the message that you needed to ‘act like a man,’ wear the right clothes and look the part; otherwise, no one will listen to you. But it is really about having confidence, knowing what you do, and excelling at it.”

How can men support women in the workforce?

Aryana: “One of the best ways to show support is when a woman voices her thoughts, make a point to acknowledge her. This act can be very powerful and impactful as it says, ‘I see you’ and recognizes her worth.”

Erfana: “If you see or hear something inappropriate, say something – it doesn’t have to be confrontational. By speaking out against small injustices and standing up for the greater good, it can make a difference.”

Do you believe that feminism should be taught in school despite being controversial?

Aryana: “As a society, we have been marginalizing a part of our population for a long time, but this is slowly changing. How can we get better if we do not educate ourselves? How can we aspire to be better as humans and treat everyone equally if we do not talk about it? We need to have these conversations to improve and move forward.”

Patricia: “People who are living in the privilege of other people’s disadvantage need to make space. The younger feminism is taught, the more it will be accepted, and it will no longer be viewed as controversial.”

In closing, Erfana shared a quote from the poem by Nayyirah Waheed: “My mother is my first country, the first place I ever lived.” She concluded by saying that this was at the heart of why we talked about women in society to support the conversations about inequality between genders and that the classroom setting was a safe space to explore the subject.

Student-led discussions such as this aim to help students better understand, connect, and act toward ISKL’s Vision for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEIJ).

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