Helping Malaysian Homemakers – Mothers On A Mission: eHomemakers Of Malaysia
Source: AdvocacyNet News
The eHomemakers network, launched in Malaysia in 1998, is improving the lives of thousands of homemakers through the innovative use of information and communications technology (ICT).
Founded by single mother Chong Sheau Ching, the primary aim of the network is to provide women with business skills and technical training that will help them become economically independent.
ICT allows people to communicate with each other via the internet and gives people the opportunity to work from home if they choose to do so.
eHomemakers was conceived shortly after Sheau Ching found herself facing economic hardships as a single parent raising a daughter in Kuala Lumpur. She found that there were few resources or support services available to women like her in Malaysia.
Sheau Ching says, “We started out advocating working at home using ICT because we wanted choice and economic self-reliance, without begging and with dignity.”
eHomemakers and ICT
Through its trilingual website, www.ehomemakers.net, the network supports over 12,000 registrants who use the site as a portal for information exchange, business and family advice, and up-to-date news and advice for homemakers.
Over 400 businesses are advertised on the website, showcasing a wide array of services that are on offer. Some include financial and translation services, as well as advertisements for homemade quilts, baskets, and organic soaps. The free membership also allows members to post online ads and jobs notices, and receive monthly e-newsletters and printed bulletins.
Sheau Ching at a conference addressing ICT and women’s empowerment in Putrajaya
In addition to having access to a variety of online tools, members are invited to attend seminars and conferences on entrepreneurship and new developments in ICT.
According to Sheau Ching, seminars help women learn about taking better control of their lives. “Our society has seen an increase of divorce and single moms, so women are afraid of their destiny more than ever,” she says.
At the conferences we say to them: “We have a choice, we don’t have to cry like our grandmothers and mothers did. You can learn to work from home and set up a home business to be self-reliant.”
“This is a powerful message,” says Sheau Ching, “It changes the power relations in the family when women start to think for themselves.”
The Canadian High Commission gave a grant to eHomemakers in 2000 to publish a “how-to” guide for women who want to start home-based businesses. The guidebook, entitled Working @ Home, was printed in English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. Twelve thousand copies of the book were donated to NGOs and other organizations that help disadvantaged women.
Support for eHomemakers’ aims has enabled it to expand its mission to address the needs of home-bound individuals, the disadvantaged, and the urban poor. To support this cause, eHomemakers launched Salaam Wanita in 2002 – meaning “Recognizing Women” in Malay, a project that draws attention to the needs of disadvantaged women in the Ipoh and Klang Valley of Malaysia.
Salaam Wanita works directly with women who are homebound due to illness or disability. Staff provide the women with basic technical and business skills. This gives them the chance to work from home and gain support by networking with others.
Last year, eHomemakers moved into the international spotlight when it received one of the prestigious Gender and Information and Communications Technologies (GICT) Awards. The award recognized eHomemakers for its innovative use of technology as a way to empower and elevate the status of women in Malaysia.
“More women,” says Sheau Ching, “are now taking risks and entering business areas that are not traditional for women here, like IT services, marketing homemade products on the web, and even selling directly over the internet. We are seeing women changing their husbands’ minds when they become successful – earning more income than the husband, all from home using ICT!”
Now in its ninth year, eHomemakers has contributed significantly to the redefinition of the image of women in Malaysian society. Confidence has grown in the ability of Malaysian stay-at-home mothers to contribute to the family income and achieve work/life balance. Sheau Ching has also succeeded in utilizing ICT and the eHomemakers network to draw attention to the needs of and provide help for disadvantaged women.
Since many poor women rely on help through Salaam Wanita and other eHomemakers projects, Sheau Ching and her team have been innovating ways to continue operations without cutting programs. This year, eHomemakers is looking for private and public sector partners to take this knowledge across international borders so that it can replicate its proven model in Indonesia and Thailand.
Using ICT through a Grassroots Approach
- We started out advocating ICT usage right from the start, which is very unusual for Malaysian NGOs. People ridiculed us. Whoever heard of housewives using the Internet?
- As it is now, our events are down-to-earth, with no VIPs, with all the things women want to hear, and everyone sits in the same type of chairs. There is no status difference. And, because of our nature, we were not supposed to survive as a network. After all, how does one growing a network without funds?
- Well, the network is sustaining itself with corporate ads and partnerships on small projects, and by keeping a lean and efficient virtual office. Also, I am able to reach out to the unreachable — local people in important positions and international people from development agencies. All this is afforded by the Internet, the phone and other ICT tools.
– Chong Sheau Ching