Gender Studies: Opening Doors Beyond The Classroom

Have you ever read something you wrote from years ago and was surprised by how far you have come since? Or how your past self pondered upon ideas that were now realities? Monash Malaysia School of Arts and Social Sciences alumna, Tam Xueh Wei shares an insight into her degree.

Just a few months ago, I discovered old journals from my college years where I jotted down several themes that were surprisingly relevant to where I stand today — musings on gender equality, reflections on finding a meaning in life, and the desire to work in the humanitarian sector.

Eight months after I completed college, with two internships done, I enrolled at Monash University Malaysia (MUM). I decided to major in Global Studies, because that was the closest degree that would allow me to understand the world, and its issues on a deeper level. However, one semester in, I found myself hooked to Gender Studies and the way it explores our world through a unique lens.

It was the kind of area of study that made you introspective, evaluating the way you viewed the world. Even though we sometimes left the class with more questions than answers, I felt that it gave me a certain freedom in forming my own opinions.

Within the Gender Studies units, we got to examine issues with intersectional elements. This helped us better understand the ways in which our world and our bodies, sexualities, and selves are interconnected. I recall one of my favourite units to be ’Genders, sexualities and religions in Southeast Asia’, because even though I identified myself as a feminist, much of the discourse I participated in online were very much American-based. It was refreshing to have open discussions on gender and sexuality within a regional context which I was familiar with. Classes were always so insightful and really created a lot of discussion that I wished they could be longer.

Another eye-opening unit that I did in the same semester was ‘Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in global contexts’. What I liked most about this unit was its problem-solving methodological approach, which allowed us to analyse contemporary issues globally and come up with recommendations for solutions. This led us to have practical takeaways that could be emulated in ‘the real world’. For the class, my group looked at the interesting topic of how dating apps contributed to the increase of HIV cases among youth in the Asia Pacific, cutting across a contemporary technology with a pre-existing problem.

Consequently, I wrote a paper that discussed tackling the HIV epidemic within the context of youth and technology. This was shortlisted for presentation at MUM’s inaugural Genderworks Conference 2017.

A unit I enjoyed was the ‘World in Crisis’, a fun subject that allowed students to go through a simulation of a crisis. This allowed us to experience the challenges that organisations may go through, in pushing for an outcome in their favour. It provided us a chance to simulate negotiations, roundtable meetings, and release press statements among others. The skills developed through the unit proved useful during my stint as an intern at an established, local women’s rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) before my graduating semester.

I am grateful for the way the Gender Studies units have built my capacity for the career path I have chosen. My college self had written down a prophecy of sorts, as I am currently working for Project Liber8. It is an anti-trafficking nonprofit organisation that works to shift societal perceptions, especially among the youth on human trafficking and to stop exploitation. I am really excited to see where else my degree will lead me to, beyond the classroom.

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