When you are a woman, juggling the facets of work, family, travel, and society is a different ball game from that of a man.
“Women face pressures that men don’t. We feel like we have to choose between work, marriage and children. Men do not have to make that choice,” Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said at a talk at the women empowerment programme hosted by travel booking site Expedia called Women of Expedia Learning And Leading (WELL) on Thursday, 21 April 2016.
The talk saw Marina sharing her experiences of managing cultural expectations of being a woman at the workplace.
“We have to face the realities of life; to survive at a certain level, women need to contribute to the family and society. Conflict arises when we keep old mindsets about women and fitting that into modern society. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” Marina said when asked about the prejudice against working women.
She explained that people need to realise that things have changed – there are more nuclear families than extended families; more working and single mothers; families cannot survive on a single income anymore. Marina says the government and private sector need to recognise this and provide better working facilities for women such as longer maternity leave. “The environment has to change and be more conducive for women.”
Expedia also asked Marina why she felt a need to establish Zafigo.
“When I pack for a work trip, I always have to think of what I should wear. For example, if I went to India, I have to be careful of what sort of signals would I be sending as an Asian woman if I were to wear a pantsuit,” Marina cited as an example of how travel is a gendered business.
“Attitudes about women at work and in society are different from those about men. Every country is different culturally, and have different expectations for women,” Marina explains that Zafigo came out of a need to help women navigate the cultural minefield that some countries can be.
Though there are many travel websites catered to women out there, she finds that they are more catered for Westerners and had nothing about the culture of different countries. There was not enough such information for women about Asia and the Middle East. Zafigo’s future plans are ambitious, amongst them an upcoming Jakarta City Guide for women to add to the existing KL, Bangkok and Delhi guides and expansion into other countries in the region.
“I hope Zafigo will fill a niche that is much needed,” Marina says.
Before the talk ended, Marina reiterated that cultural expectations are societal constructs and not set in stone. Old mindsets about women need to change, and there are women out there working towards it. What other women can do to move women’s rights forward is to learn more about their rights, about the work of women’s rights groups, support them, speak up, and participate in their campaigns.