Meet CLEO Hot Shot 2019: Izza Izelan

Izza Izelan, 31, Executive Director at pertubuhan pembangunan wanita dan gadis (WOMEN:girls)

T-shirt, Supply & Demand New York; sneakers, Nike; all from JD; denim jacket and pants, Izza’s own

Girl power! That’s what WOMEN:girls Executive Director Izza Izelan is all about. Her passion for women’s issues shines through her work at the non-profit organisation as well as during her days as a broadcast journalist. With the goal of getting people to speak out about women’s issues more, she’s contributing to the driving discourse on feminism in our society. Through her initiatives in WOMEN:girls, she hopes to inspire others to realise their dreams and to have the courage to do what they want to do, while lending a helping hand any way she can.

What made you join WOMEN:girls?

I have always been interested in forwarding female issues, and I take a particular interest in girl empowerment. Even when I was a broadcast journalist at ASTRO Awani, I deliberately produced content with women-centric issues. At the time, there were not many topics that consider the “women angle”, but I believe that we should be able to talk about the “icky” subjects comfortably if we are going to progress as a society. Joining WOMEN:girls felt like the next natural move as I have been leaning towards the same core interest as the organisation.

What do you do and what’s your role for WOMEN:girls?

Apart from fundraising to support our programs, I ensure the partnerships that WOMEN:girls has with our supporters are healthy, and fortunately we have amazing, long-standing relationships with them. All our programs also have some type of rubric to measure its impact to the target group, and I am responsible to see that we meet our goals with the programs. On top of conducting programs that help empower our beneficiaries (i.e. marginalised women and girls nationwide), I also make it a daily focus to ensure my team are empowered themselves by letting them grow at their own pace and giving them the support they need to thrive.

How can you help other women to realise their dreams through WOMEN:girls? Any examples?

Sometimes it can get really tough in this line of work and you feel like you haven’t done much to help improve the community. But I have come to realise now that the smallest things matter the most, and I remember what my parents used to say: “charity begins at home”, so I always look around me and try to make someone’s day by helping those closest to me. I am not superhuman, therefore I am unable to help everyone in need in my short lifetime, but I try to lead by example and hopefully people find it as a ‘nudge’ for them to work on their dreams.

“I always look around me and try to make someone’s day by helping those closest to me. I am not superhuman, therefore I am unable to help everyone in need, but I try to lead by example and hopefully people find it as a ‘nudge’ for them to work on their dreams.”

What was the most memorable thing that has happened? Any success stories?

Recently, in conjunction with Mother’s Day, we put together a free mammogram screening test with the National Cancer Council (MAKNA) and another community partner at one of the low-cost flats in Bandar Tasik Selatan. In most of our programs, we try to benefit the B40 women, who are part of the low-income or urban poor bracket and this program was no exception. However, what really touched me was the support we got from the men in the community who were in the beginning quite skeptical. In the end, they realised that they needed to be there with the wives, mothers or sisters and support them no matter what the result of the test will turn out to be. It truly inspires me when I see men and women being allies and working together to make the world a better place.

People often misunderstand feminism as women wanting to fight for dominance but there are some women who think that feminism equals gender equality. So, what’s your definition of feminism?

Over the years, the term feminism has seen quite a tremendous evolution. In more recent times, it has become somewhat of a trend. It has to be beyond a trend though, and I think what we have seen over the last two years, is that more and more people are aware of gender-based violence and they constantly check themselves. This is good because for the longest time, gender discrimination has become so normalised and systemic within the society that it feels as if there’s no way back. Having said that, feminism to me is simply having choices and the agency to make the choice for yourself.

Tell us the things about your work that you hope sets you apart from other people doing the same thing.

I think it’s great if there are more people doing the same thing as I am – ‘cause we need all the help we can get! In all honesty, what I enjoy the most about my work is the different people I get to meet, and seeing the shift in the way they think or being able to unlock the strengths within them when we conduct our programs or when we chat with them. However, the best part about what I do is often when I get to learn something from the people I meet – and the accumulation of the people we meet and things we learn from these people set us apart.

What would you say to young women who are looking to do what you’re doing?

If you truly want to participate in community work, make sure you understand the occupational hazards that come with the territory. My advice is, go with your gut. Most of the time, we waste time doing things we think we CAN do, but not necessarily the things we actually WANT to do. As Mark Twain once said, the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Spend as much time you need to search for your ‘why’, or your purpose. Trust me, you will sleep better at night.

Special thanks to Tropicana Gardens Property Gallery for venue assistance during the shoot.

Official sponsors: Biotherm MalaysiaJD Malaysia and Fossil Malaysia