Most of us cannot imagine what equality looks like in real terms. So it may help to think about and recall situations when we felt equal to someone else who appeared to have more power, more influence, more opportunities, more privileges, and so on.

The first time I was forced to think about “equality” is best described as an act of being fair. What’s fair to “the other”? Not to myself, mind you, but to “the other”.

I was working in a Chinese-Malaysian family-run company. It was a place where you’re expected to work hard and to not leave the office sharp at 5 pm, even if you did work through lunch. All the usual grouses that we would have of employers who expect employees to put in more work hours despite our employment contract stating what’s expected for the often meagre salaries that we receive. But it was at this company, that I learnt about what’s fair. I wasn’t happy with my salary. It was a miserable RM1,200 a month, despite having a degree and a post-graduate diploma. It was my second job after graduating. At the end of the working year, the company was giving out bonuses, so I thought, okay, that’s something to look forward to, but I only received a half month’s salary as bonus. Then I heard that others were getting 1 to 2 months’ salary as bonuses and I asked the manager why this was so. She said others earn less in a month compared to me, and it’s only fair that their bonuses were higher, because the absolute amount may be comparative or even lower to what I had received as my bonus for the year.

One could argue, well, that means I was valued less compared to others who didn’t have the qualifications, skills and knowledge that I did. But bonuses should be about when a company does well, and wants its staff to feel like they’re doing well too. So if it were only half a month bonus for those who earned less than me, say a miserable RM600, and that would have meant a bonus of RM300, would they ever have felt that they were really valued equally to others who had the higher qualifications, skills and knowledge? Likely not. To this day, I remember my colleague who worked at the same company and longer than me, and he would cycle all the way from Brickfields to Taman Tun Dr. Ismail every work day. And it was on one of those old bicycles that had no gears. That very short conversation with the manager has always stuck with me.

There was another incident where I observed the managing director of the company pick up a broom and started helping out, sweeping the floor, when we had to pack for an expo. And I was caught by surprise. He didn’t bother asking others to do it and there was more than one staff around. He didn’t do the stereotypical act of asking a woman to do it. He just picked up the broom without hesitation and swept the floor. Here was a man who dropped all his privileges and power because for him, the work had to be done, and everyone else was already busy.

So what pictures of equality do you carry with you? It would be great if you could share them. Please e-mail your stories to info AT kryss DOT network, because we’d love to hear from you.

Angela M. Kuga Thas, 28 March 2020