International Women’s Day: The changing role of women in communities

8th March 2018

It’s International Women’s Day – A day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world! Raleigh Borneo is celebrating today by recognising the strength and achievements of women in the communities of Sabah, and progression towards gender equality as we work alongside them.

Raleigh Borneo has worked in Sabah for over 30 years. The awareness raising sessions that form part of our community projects’ scope have involved and empowered members of those communities, regardless of gender. This year we celebrate International Women’s Day in the two water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project communities via the international awareness campaign #PressforProgress.

Women across Sabah are increasingly having more of a say and have a bigger role to play than ever before within their communities. Traditionally women and men have taken on gender specific roles. These roles however are now becoming more and more blurred as men and women share duties.

Together with our project partners, Raleigh Borneo has previously worked within communities to encourage women to take a more prominent and influential role. In partnership with Sabah Womens Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association, SWEPA, Raleigh Borneo helped grandmothers in a remote community in Sungai Magandai become solar panel engineers. Using the workshop constructed by Raleigh Borneo, the grandmothers maintained the solar panels and ensured continued supply of electricity to the community. Another project in Kampung Rumantai, where both a community learning centre and gravity fed water system were constructed, received support from Raleigh Borneo to establish a sustainable microenterprise with the local women’s group. The women recycled plastic litter to create a range of bags and purses.

Over the past 20 years there have been noticeable changes regarding gender roles within communities across Sabah. Kirstey, Project Coordinator for Raleigh Borneo’s sustainable alternative livelihoods project in Sabah, explains, “Parents and grandparents generally still think that women should be in the house looking after children, but nowadays there has been a change. Men and women are now helping each other. For example, if there is a problem in the community men will no longer leave out the women in the process of solving it.”

From their experiences of working and living within communities, Kirstey and Ivy, Raleigh Borneo’s National Volunteer Coordinator,  believe these changes are a result of a number of factors which include education, technology, increased living costs and increased exposure to NGOs. Kirstey expands on this, “In the 21st century, living costs in Malaysia have increased so now women have been given a chance to go outside to earn an extra income to support the family.” Kirstey continues that the increased exposure to other issues through interactions with NGOs and technology has placed a greater importance on education and community development. “Education is now becoming more important. So now, not only boys but also girls are able to leave the community to look for a better education and then come back to help develop the community.”

NGO Raleigh Borneo has received feedback from women within the communities they have worked in which express the women have been inspired by meeting our female volunteer managers and venturers, who lead and participate in our projects on parity with their male counterparts.

Ivy is responsible for encouraging participation from Malaysian volunteers in Raleigh Borneo programmes. The Host Country Volunteer programme is seeing increasing numbers of girls apply. Ivy is delighted to report that, “We are seeing almost equal numbers of boys and girls sign up for the Host Country Volunteer programme.”

The programme facilitates the cultural immersion and personal development of Malaysian volunteers through placing them in new communities, on environmental and trek projects. Ivy elaborates, “I recruit mainly from rural areas. What I can see from after they have completed the expedition is you can see the progression. People from rural areas who haven’t finished their studies now have the opportunity to join the programme and learn more. For example, the culture, skills, ideas. Mostly personal development. From not being a confident person, they now become a confident person.”

Raleigh Borneo continues to support, empower and facilitate the development of young people in communities across Sabah through the awareness projects we run and Host Country Volunteer programme.

Contact any of our volunteers by completing the linked contact form. We will pass your messages and words of encouragement on to the volunteers during our project loops.

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Words by Communications Officer Rebecca Raab.

Photography by Daniel Buttifant.

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