English World

Puteri Umno sisters are doin’ it for themselves

NIK Zakirah Farhanis says young people hate having things rammed down their throats.

“So we don’t go around shouting ‘Umno’. We certainly don’t go to the streets saying ‘Kami Melayu. Kami Sokong Umno.’ (We are Malay. We support Umno.)

“For our generation, it doesn’t work that way,” says the 22-year-old graduate who studied law in Britain and is in the process of getting her qualifications to practise here.

Young people, she says, won’t be interested in a programme “where they brainwash you, and all that”.

“We have to let young people think for themselves and explore whatever they want.

“They have a voice and they are well-read. We want to be closer to them,” says Nik Zakirah, who is part of Adinda, a new initiative within Puteri Umno to use subtle approaches to bring 18- to 25-year-old girls into its fold.

Syazwani Suhaimy is a child of the 1990s. She says “hipster” and “yuppie” are no longer the “in thing” with kids her generation. The latest cool thing these days is “yuccies” short for “young urban creatives”.

“My generation is all about people pursuing their passions, such as photography or dancing or something creative. Some may have day jobs but after work they pursue their passion.

“We want to tap that market and not just get to the doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

“There are a lot of young people who are creative and expressive and who have a lot to say but no one has really approached them.

“They are actually interested in politics and can express their thoughts in their own way through the arts. We want to touch base with these urban creatives,” says Syazwani, who is 25, a lawyer, and also with Adinda.

She feels the newly launched initiative is a great tool for empowering women. It allows young women like her and Nik Zakirah to come up with ideas, programmes and events that would appeal to and inspire their peers.

For now, they are going big on self-development.

“Girls are ambitious these days. They want to be CEOs by the time they are 40 or make a million by the age of 30. And they want to own their own home,” says Syazwani.

To help them get there, Adinda is having its very own version of TED Talks.

“We are going to encourage public speaking among the girls. To be successful and a leader in whatever you do in the future, you need to be able to speak well and be able to convince people,” she says.

Nelza Rahim, 25, finds it is a trend these days for girls to marry young, at the age of 20 or 21. Many of her friends are already married and starting their own families. That’s why she’s in favour of Adinda – it can give a boost and “provide substance” to the girls, she feels.

“We want them to be interested in doing something with their lives, not just getting married and settling down.

“At university, most of the students are women but in the work force most are men, so there is a missing percentage here. So perhaps they can do something in terms of entrepreneurship,’’ says Nelza, who is a corporate strategic planning executive.

Nik Zakirah also sees the trend of young mums on social media.

“They are proud of it. You see them going out with other 20- or 22-year-olds who also have babies.

“What we can do is to help them work from their homes. Marriage shouldn’t be an obstacle,” says Nik Zakirah, who recently started a clothing line through Instagram with a few of her close friends.

Since she and her friends always end up buying something when they go out together, they decided to do something productive with “something we are passionate about”. They started buying a few pieces, jazzed them up with beads they hand-sewed themselves, and sold the pieces for a profit.

“These are things we ourselves would wear, so we price them so that people our age will be able to afford them.

“A top costs about RM60 to RM69 and a skirt is less than RM100,” says Nik Zakirah, who has no hang ups admitting that “of course” she wants to be rich “one day”.

One of the programmes Adinda is proposing is “Shop Her Fest”, a fair that showcases women entrepreneurs and their products.

“It’s our way of encouraging young entrepreneurs with a platform through which they can sell their products and get their names out there,” says Syazwani.

She says a lot of young people are getting into entrepreneurship. Some have day jobs but do something else on the weekends or after work to pursue their passion or make some extra income.

She admits the Gen Y kids are “very pampered and very spoilt” because their parents, having gone through a lot, made sure that their kids “got the best education, the best clothes, the best food, the best everything”.

“We are not used to a hard life. We hang out at cafes and because of our consumerism, trends pop up. That is why we try and try to make more and more money because we are used to having so much luxury.”

And to keep that up, they have to make their own money.

“A lot of us like to be our own bosses. If you are pampered, there are certain characteristics you have. You can’t accept being bossed around so much. You want to be your own boss. You see your dad being his own boss at the age of 40 and you want to be like that.

“But you don’t think about your dad having had to suffer for 20 years working like a dog for someone else to get there. Yes, our generation is spoilt and pampered.”

Nik Zakirah says youngsters like to attend programmes like the Young South-East Asian Leaders Initiative.

“These are planned and organised by young girls. It is not just an all-men world now. You see girls coming in like a massive movement, wanting to go a step further,” she says.

And seeing this energy, Adinda wants to be a part of it.

“Adinda doesn’t want to be left out. They want to be the shapers of these girls,” says Syazwani.

While Adinda comes under the Umno umbrella, which is politically driven, the girls argue that their events are not politically inclined.

“It’s about self-development, opportunity, career. We want to inspire all young girls.

“If their interest is to be an entrepreneur, go ahead, if they want to pursue politics go ahead, if they aspire to be an artist, go ahead.

“They can pursue whatever their passion is.”

Dentistry student Izza Aleena Mohd Nor Azizi is upbeat about Adinda’s Pentas Ini Pentas Kita (This Stage is Our Stage) programme that allows girls to show off their talents.

“It’s like open mic where they can recite a poem, sing, dance, act, do stand-up comedy or anything that young people are passionate about these days,” says the 24-year-old, who is also with Adinda.

She says travel and photography are big with young people these days, so it is great for young women to connect with other like-minded youngsters.

The girls say the Adinda initiative is not confined to reaching just urban folks. The programme Jejak Adinda reaches out to girls in rural areas.

“We might not understand some of their struggles and they might not understand some of ours but that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate with and help each other,” says Syazwani.

Other than bridging the urban-rural divide, Nik Zakirah and Syazwani believe Adinda can also act as a bridge to link the young with the old.

Syazwani points out that for Gen Yers, it is very important to feel a connection with older people, including leaders.

“Those are the type of leaders we actually like or support. We see them as human, not as someone on the stage who thinks ‘This is what I have to say to you’ and ‘What I say is correct’.

“Our generation likes leaders who can sit down with us, watch football with us, and drink teh tarik.

“With Adinda, the leaders can see maybe this is how to approach the younger generation.”

Nik Zakirah and Syazwani were both Perdana fellows and they did an internship for a few months with ministers Datuk Nancy Shukri and Datuk Rohani Karim, which gave them some insight into political life.

Nik Zakirah says a lot of young people think that politicians are corrupt and don’t do their job “but we got the opportunity to be close to them, follow them back to their constituencies, and we found that what they do is no joke. They work day in, day out.”

Syazwani says rather than be on the outside criticising, she would rather be on the inside trying to do something.

“I am not going to say the older generation is a lost cause but how much are you going to try and change the older generation? So instead of shying away from them, let’s learn from them.

“You have to be inside to understand what is going on. Then when the time comes and the baton passes, you know what to do.”

Izza says young people “always condemn and bash” but don’t do anything to improve what is bugging them.

But she admits that it is “really confusing” for the young when Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is at logger heads with deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and former Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the 1MDB and the RM2.6bil “political funding” issue.

She says during the recent Umno general assembly they met both sides to listen.

“‘This says That’ and ‘That says this’ so it is really confusing for us. As the younger generation we can’t interfere in what is happening up there.

“I just think the people at the top need to settle things really fast before the next general election.”

– The Star

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