A proud Sabahan lad from Penampang who has big dreams of culturalising impact in Malaysia. Rizal Rozhan is a human rights activist through and through, one who enjoys advocating on Malaysia’s international human rights commitments. He is one of many Malaysians who have embarked on a quest to redefine masculinity, by educating and empowering men to be better at dealing with their emotions and vulnerability. In this interview, Rizal reveals about how he first got involved in women’s rights and human rights advocacy.
In a previous interview, you’ve mentioned that you have a strong believe in feminism and human rights. How did you first get involved in women’s rights and human rights advocacy?
To be completely honest with you, it was by chance. My dream was to travel around the world and I thought of becoming a pilot when I was younger, but due to the limited funds I had I chose the next best thing—which was to become a diplomat. I majored in International Relations in University Malaya and when I was told to pick a minor, I was conflicted since I had various options to choose from. Instead of choosing History which would be a little more relevant, I chose Gender Studies. During the first class, I instantly fell in love with it. That was when everything just clicked, I remembered when there were instances where my sisters and cousins were treated differently. That was when I realised I could do so much more in Gender Studies—it opened my eyes to seeing the world in a different way.
In 2018, you started a group called Men Act Tough (MAT), where men from different backgrounds gather to question and understand masculinity, misogyny and other related topics. What are some of the things you’ve encountered when it comes to them feeling unable to be vulnerable and be open regarding their emotions?
I could see that a lot of them were suffering from childhood traumas. But if I were to lump it up into one field, it would actually be due to the lack of positive male role models in their lives. There were many suffering from ‘Daddy issues’ where their dads usually don’t give them enough attention and due to that, they didn’t know what values they had to uphold. They were never taught how to or how not to treat a woman. Thus, they unfortunately duplicate certain behaviours from what they see on social media.
Do you believe we have enough women empowerment in Malaysia at the moment? If not, then what can we do as a community to change that?
No, in fact if I were to compare the progress to our national badminton team, I would say the team is progressing much faster than the women empowerment movement in Malaysia. A perfect example would be the sexual harassment bill which has been thrown around since 2001, and after so many broken promises, we still can’t put it pass legislation and the parliament. I think we’re making slow progress and the advice I would give is for politicians to not make race and religion the basis for this issue, instead they should look at the facts and research on ways to mitigate this issue that has been a big problem for women living in Malaysia. What the society can do as a whole is to basically unpack and address patriarchy. All we have to do is to change the way we parent our children. I think that would make boys and men realise how much potential women truly have.
Are there any advice you would like to give to the young men of this generation?
For both men and boys, I would ask them to be comfortable in being who you are. I think if this was said more often, the world would be a better place. A lot of men were taught to assert dominance in order to be respected, and I think that’s what led them down the wrong path. Constantly being told to act tough makes them somewhat incapable of having sympathy or just plain love towards another human being.
If you could change one thing in society, what would it be?
If we can just get rid of patriarchy, that would be great. I know it’s a big ask but when people see the danger surrounding it, they will understand where I am coming from.