OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Growing Up in Low Income Areas

Interview of a friend who was born in the Philippines and who grew up in Malaysia and Thailand: her experiences and memories.

Photo of Anya Ow
0 3

Written by

Through this interview it seems that a definite avenue of enquiry might be to start during the formative years, in education, particularly in encouraging local initiatives and transforming certain local attitudes. Safety is very much a question of personal and cultural power, which is often tied to general economic power: a solution may lie not only through a protective lens but an economic lens as well, in addressing inequality on a greater scale. 


1. What is your full name and age? If you prefer to be known by a nickname, write that down instead of your full name.

Maria Dela Pena, though I prefer to go by Rei. I'm 26 years old.

2. Where did you grow up?

Born in the Philippines and usually visit once a year, for a couple of weeks. I spent my early childhood in Penang, Malaysia, from around 1990 to 1998; then teenage years in Bangkok, Thailand, from 1998-2005. 

3. Where do you live right now?

I'm currently living in Melbourne, Australia.

4. In your opinion, do women in the countries you have lived in experience more violence-related problems than men? (Harassment, violence, domestic violence etc)

Yes, though there are variations according to ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

5. Are there any local initiatives (such as education) that help to improve women's safety in the countries you have lived in?

I don't recall any specific initiatives when I was in Malaysia, but that might have been more due to my age (as I might have been too young to notice). I went to a local all-girls school there, where the general approach was to teach girls to be "modest", to not "invite violence", etc. In Thailand, there were small projects that focused on keeping children in school because so many Thai children (especially in the poor rural areas) become vulnerable to prostitution and human trafficking. My school ran a project where teachers and classes could sponsor children in this village; the area was so poor that some girls would say that they wanted to go to the cities and work as prostitutes.

6. Have recent major events (politics, natural disasters etc) affected the difficulties women face in the countries you have lived in? If so, have you heard of any in particular?

The Philippines is regularly struck by one natural disaster or another, and women who have lost their homes or have sick children are easily taken advantage of (not necessarily in a physical or sexual way, but also financially). In Malaysia, the event that made me realize just how unsafe it was to be a woman there was when the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad accused his would-be successor Anwar Ibrahim of corruption and sodomy, and I remember reading these interviews and testimonies from women who'd been raped or pressured into sex by the Prime Minister, but there was not a single mention of it on TV or the mainstream press. I already had a vague idea that women experienced a lot of difficulties, but it only occurred to me then that there's probably a great deal that goes unreported.

7. Have you personally experienced any problems?

I have been fortunate in not experiencing anything more serious than the odd grope in a crowded mall in the Philippines and a leery male PE teacher in my school in Malaysia. That said, I actively avoid public spaces as much as possible in the Philippines and Malaysia.

8. Have you personally known anyone who has experienced such problems while living and growing up in the countries you have lived in?

A lot of my friends in Malaysia regularly experience gender-based inequality, from lower pay at work to public harassment by strangers.
9. In your opinion what are some of the biggest challenges that women face in the countries you have lived in?

Education is definitely an important factor; I believe young girls should be given the support they need to stay in school. An extension of this is access to information, such as the internet. There's also the prevailing attitude that women are extensions of the men in their lives (so they're daughters and wives and sisters, instead of independent individuals), not just amongst the men but the women as well. I think this is where representation in the media can be so critical - to show women that there are other possibilities, that they can be complex and imperfect and act with agency. (Of course, even Western media isn't quite there yet on this account.)

10. In your opinion, is there an education/income/social gap between women and men in the countries you have lived in? 

A very definite yes. My father has female colleagues who have worked for decades in the same company and still earn less than men who are newer and in a lower position. I think that the education gap is improving, though; most families I know encourage all their children to go to university. 

11. What would you recommend to female visitors of those countries for them to stay safe? 

I always recommend reading some basic information about any country one visits, and checking the news for any recent events. Bangkok (Thailand) is generally very friendly to tourists and foreigners; I felt safer there than when I was living in Southern California. Philippines is fine in the usual tourist destinations, but best not to wander alone and be extra careful at night. The same for Penang, though I would rate Malaysia as being the least safe of the three countries I lived in growing up. Also, always, exercise due caution with money and valuables.


Join the conversation: