Esther Ng, The Star’s Chief Content Officer, is using her role as chair of the World Editors Forum Asia Chapter to record the bias that exists in different countries in the region, noting their different socio-economic and cultural contexts.

“It is important that the unique challenges Asian women face – particularly during an unprecedented pandemic – are highlighted because vulnerable voices do not all sound the same,” she said.

“If we are to effectively ‘break the bias’, we must first show that a bias exists within the different socio-economic and cultural context of the different countries (across Asia)… And it is crucial that we record this. Our stories are meant to provide a regional view on women issues amid an unprecedented global crisis, and more importantly, the ways we can move the empowerment agenda forward.”

The Star kicked off its project on International Women’s Day on March 8 under the slogan #breakthebias. Until the end of the year, it will be running a series of stories focused on four main topics:

Women in the workforce
Challenges women face in the workforce
The value of ‘unpaid work’
A regional comparison of the ‘unpaid work’ women do

“The goal is to draw the attention of policymakers and to engage the community in promoting women empowerment,” said Christina Chin, Editor, Education, at The Star.

“Specifically, the topics chosen are centred on workforce and labour issues because we realised that Covid-19 had greatly compounded the long-standing problem of inequality among career women. During the pandemic, even more women were forced to leave the workforce. Those who tried to return, and those who managed to juggle work and their family responsibilities amid the pandemic, struggled to cope.”

The Star’s collaborators, which currently include The Straits Times in Singapore, Bernama, the government news agency in Malaysia, and Antara, the government news agency in Indonesia, will be working on stories under the same overarching themes, with more partners set to join the initiative in the future.

At the end of next year, stories and data from the different countries will be compiled and analysed to produce a collaborative regional print feature and interactive digital story on woman empowerment amid a pandemic.

In addition to stories focused on women in the workforce, The Star is also addressing other issues with the goal of providing an overall picture of how far women have come in Malaysia, and what still needs to be done in order to break the bias and achieve gender equality.

With this in mind, The Star published a series of stories on the issue of child marriages in May, followed by several articles on rape culture and the struggles faced by rape and incest victims.

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