When she was 12 years old, Izza Izelan started a club called Great Girls Club where she and other girls in her neighourhood created their own great adventures—going up and down hills on their bicycles, selling cookies, and they even have their own march and song. “We were really happy,” reminisces Izza. “We realised that there was no such community for young girls like that, which encourages girls to be active and do sports, so that’s what we did.”
Having gone to an all-girls school and joined the Girl Guides, she hadn’t given a thought about gender disparity until she enrolled into a co-ed boarding school in Pahang. There she noticed that stereotypical views about gender roles ran deep. For instance, class monitors or head students typically had to be boys while girls become the assistants.
Izza recalls signing up for marching band wanting to play the drums but she was told, “You can’t play because you’re a girl.” Girls can only apply for either the clarinet or flute. “So that’s when I started questioning why? I can play the drums, too! But when I got together with my friends from other boarding schools, they said it’s the same thing at their school. Never mind, my spirits were not dampened; I’ll just be the best clarinet player there is.”
After leaving school she went to Universiti Teknologi MARA to study TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). Here she found a group of like-minded souls that share her belief that girls can do anything. Still, when she ran for student council, she became vice president despite getting the majority vote (no surprises that the president was a guy). She thought: “So it’s going to be like this forever ya? Something is wrong here.”
Her resolve to champion equality and equity for women and girls was cemented when she went to the UK at the height of the #MeToo movement. She was working as a broadcast journalist at Astro Awani at the time and due to her outstanding, award-winning work on case studies and special reports covering women, education and youth, she became a Chevening scholar in 2017 and decided to pursue her master’s in education and international development at University College London.
“When I joined the female NGOs there, I found my voice. That really solidified and cemented my life purpose,” she says, deciding that whatever she does next, it has to revolve around supporting women and girls. Around that time, she founded Geng Gadis, an online community about personal growth and period education. A few years later she launched the Geng Gadis Podcast which she produces and hosts, discussing thought-provoking topics such as racism and the importance of your name.