About this segment: Person of the Month is an initiative by the University of Malaya Law Review which aims to feature a prominent member of the University of Malaya’s Law Faculty towards the end of each month. The purpose of this segment is twofold. First, to give due recognition to the contributions of our student leaders and secondly, so that their achievements inspire other members of the faculty towards greater success.
Nur Iman Najaa binti Saifoldin, a final year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.
Nur Iman Najaa binti Saifoldin, or better known as Iman, is a final year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM). She is widely recognised not just in the Faculty, but throughout the University for her contributions as a Student Representative for the Law Faculty and as a member of the Women’s Affair Executive Committee for the UM Students’ Representative Council 2017/2018.
Born and raised in Puchong, Iman developed her interest in law through active debating in secondary school. She recalled achieving political enlightenment when Malaysia witnessed a wave of protests under the BERSIH banner where the public demonstrated against electoral frauds that plagued the country. Inspired by the relentless efforts of human rights lawyers, she was prompted to read law which she believes to be instrumental in upholding the notion of justice.
Iman also values participatory democracy and adamantly believes that everyone, including herself, plays an integral role in maintaining the mechanisms of society at its optimal state. This particular conviction drove her to set sail towards activism. She narrated her journey as rocky but worthwhile, accrediting it to the pearls of wisdom she procured throughout her four years in law school.
In 2015, Iman kick-started her first year in law school by embracing the responsibilities of an Academic and Activities Officer for the Asian Law Students Association (ALSA). Resonating well with the values of the organisation, she dedicated another year to ALSA when she was appointed as Secretary for the 2016/2017 tenure of the ALSA High Committee headed by Yap Jia Cheng. While ALSA did make Iman feel at home, she decided to spread her wings and amplify her undertakings towards activism in 2017.
Iman, featured in the New Straits Times for an article on student activism in Malaysia.
Steered by her burning passion towards human rights, particularly in women’s and children’s rights, Iman paved her way into activism by joining the XX:XY Project: Kasarinlan Ng Kasarian 2017 camp in Manila, Philippines - a programme organized by the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Alumni to educate the youth on gender equality and violence against women throughout the Southeast Asia region.
In addition, she also initiated the Respect. Consent. Safety. Education. You Project (RESC.you Project) in 2017, a project designed to educate the youth in high-risk areas on the critical issues of respect, consent and sexual grooming. She also took the initiative to organise an anti-sexual harassment workshop at Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) Sri Chempaka, Pantai Dalam to enlighten teenagers on gender-based violence.
Iman (second from the right), during the launching of the RESC.you Project at PPR Sri Chempaka, Pantai Dalam.
After that workshop, she was compelled to develop that project further, realising it was truly her passion. However, her plan was halted when an urgent situation called for her attention —campus elections – and to Iman’s surprise, no one contested for the Faculty seat.
Genuinely believing that law students are augustly vocal and well-equipped with legal knowledge, she thought it was ‘pretty embarrassing’ that no one volunteered to represent the voice of law students. Naturally, Iman felt that responsibility on her shoulders. After much consideration, she decided to run for the elections. She recalled how concerned she felt at that time, especially when harassment issues, an issue she felt for passionately, was not adequately advocated against. It was then when she decided to step out of her comfort zone and vowed to make a change.
Her zeal for women’s rights were further accentuated when she was appointed as the Women’s Affair Executive Committee for the UM Students’ Representative Council 2017/2018. This opportunity gave her a greater platform to augment her activism efforts and carry out her aspirations of creating a safe space for students in campus while elevating the general cognizance on human rights throughout campus.
Being especially keen on the rampant issue of sexual harassment, she tirelessly engrossed herself in various initiatives including handing out free pepper sprays for students and speaking on the matter at a 2-hour workshop for University of Malaya Women’s Bright Day 2017.
Iman (on the left) handing out free pepper sprays to students.
Iman, speaking on sexual harassment for a 2-hour workshop in conjunction with University of Malaya Women’s Bright Day 2017.
Determined on developing the RESC.you Project, Iman initiated the RESC.you 2.0 Campus Edition in 2018. The project was organised in collaboration with the University of Malaya Gender Studies Department, the Academic Staff Association of University of Malaya (PKAUM) and the Malaysian Academic Movement (MOVE). In her words, the project was one of her proudest accomplishments as it was ‘a beautiful collaboration between students and passionate lecturers’. The University also acknowledged the success of the project by releasing a poster exhibiting the campus’s policy in combating sexual harassment. This joint effort inspired students to pluck up the courage and come forward to voice out their experiences. Iman was pleased that the campaign had positively impacted the campus as it had helped create a safer environment for students.
As the Law Faculty Student Representative, she also actively took part in issues that directly affected the students by speaking out against impediments that arose out of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971. Showing her tenacity on the issue, she spoke as a panellist for the Forum Berkaitan Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti (AUKU) 1971: Dari Perspektif Mahasiswa, organized by the Ministry of Education. She even collaborated with the Undi18 movement to organise a forum to debate the pros and cons of lowering the voting age in Malaysia.
Currently, Iman is serving as the Head of Research and Strategy Development for the University of Malaya Campus Election Committee (UMCEC), a student-based committee that serves to enhance student autonomy and leadership. Iman shared how rewarding it felt when the UMCEC was finally recognised by the Vice Chancellor of UM. After relentlessly advocating for student empowerment, UMCEC was finally given the mandate to organise the University’s campus election which created history for being the first campus election fully run by students ever since the UUCA was enacted. She is pleased that this small step of having a student-based election committee was successful and sees it as the turning point for student autonomy. As a firm believer of student autonomy in administration, Iman pledges to brave the storm in advocating for the abolishment of the UUCA.
Iman, (bottom row, second from the left) with the University of Malaya Campus Election Committee (UMCEC).
When asked about the challenges she faced as a Student Representative, Iman confessed that at times, there were bureaucratic matters beyond her control that had forced her to cut back on her plans for the students. She also divulged how tough it was to be working out issues alone while juggling multiple commitments. But, she does her utmost best to fulfil her responsibilities. She emphasized that, ‘I am barely surviving but I am still here because of my supportive batch mates who knew my struggles and limitations.’ On that note, she advised us that in law school, everyone needs each other’s support and selfish sentiments should be avoided at all costs.
As taxing as it was to carry out the duties of a Student Representative, Iman wholeheartedly believes in the purpose of her crusade. She is always looking forward to the betterment of our beloved Malaysia and as a matter of fact, she is keen to pursue policy research for the country in the future. She encourages other law students to consider running for Student Representative as she strongly believes that our constitutional and human rights law knowledge is an asset that will undoubtedly benefit the UM Students’ Representative Council and all UM students as a whole.
Our person of the month also reminds us that instead of just being keyboard warriors, students should grab their own opportunities and create a wave of change. Finally, she imparts a poem that she holds on to dearly for all of us including herself to take heed of;
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.