30 Under 30: Suki Wan

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Suki Wan, 2o, Glasgow.

Suki was born in Glasgow to parents who emigrated from Hong Kong, and she grew up in a Chinese take away, as she says herself “I was one of those kids that you see in back of the take away playing”. It was this upbringing, being always surrounded by adults that made her want to prove herself, and show grown-ups that she can sit at their table and share her views.  

She was always opinionated about issues, but didn’t know how to channel it into something good, until a friend recommended that she joins the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP). Being part of SYP has shaped her, and allowed her to put that need to have an opinion and a voice into something constructive.  

She has recently been elected as Vice Chair of the SYP and has sat on the Executive Committee of the Glasgow Youth Council for the past two years. Her mission is to raise awareness and understanding of children and young people’s rights. She is also the Deputy Convenor of the SYP’s Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Committee.  

She is unafraid of asking tough questions to people in power, and recently accosted (now former) Minister for Childcare and Early Years to find out exactly what actions he is going to take to progress children’s rights in Scotland. She has also given evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in the Scottish Parliament, specifically speaking up for children, young people and women’s rights. 

Suki is inspirational and strong champion for children and young people’s rights, and she’s truly passionate about challenging inequalities. We need more people like her in positions of power.  


What’s your proudest achievement?

I think you probably expect me to say something great like, eradicating poverty or stopping gender based violence, but I think it’s more the small achievements I’m proud of that I’ve done in my role. From my time in SYP I’ve kind of realised that my biggest passions are equalities, whether it’s feminism, whether it’s racial inequalities, whether it’s LGBTI rights, it’s always been equalities. I think since realising that I’ve managed to channel my passions into something productive and then from that I’ve done a lot of different events, around sexual violence, around violence against women, and the greatest thing that’s come out of that is that at the end of events I’ve had girls come up to me and say, you’ve really inspired me, you’ve made me want to do something. Rather than me doing something on my own, it’s giving people that energy to want to do something themselves that’s the most powerful thing. 

Because I think it was that film, you know Pay It Forward, it’s that ripple effect and I think that’s such a powerful thing to do because I think a lot of the time when you’re working in politics and it’s all about the people that are in power and people who have the fancy titles and stuff, but I think the more important thing you can do is empower people who don’t have that power and don’t have those positions to try and do something. It’s more about inspiring other women and girls to feel like they can do something themselves. 

What women inspire you?

See, the clichéd answer would be “my mum”, I think that’s probably a classic answer. Because my mum – she’s sort of apolitical, she’s not one of those sorts of people that got on with that- but she shaped me in terms of my ethics and the way that I work. She’s a very practical person, she’s very much like, if you’ve got something that needs done, just do it. I had always thought from a young age, the perception was always that, because my dad was in the kitchen and cooking everything that he must have been the one that set everything up, he must have been the one that made everything work, but my mum was like, “I’m going to tell you a secret, before I met your dad, your dad had five different failed takeaways and it was only when he met me that he managed to make it successful, because I had all the recipes, I had all the knowledge”  and I thought, that’s absolutely amazing. 

My mum is someone who’s very powerful, but there’s not very much perception of it, I think because she’s like a mother,  there’s the perception that she’s more submissive, whereas she’s quietly powerful. 

But as well as that there’s my high school biology teacher, Miss Shah. She never actually taught me, I was never in any of her classes, but we started chatting after I’d left and I started getting into the SYP. She was told me, “all the stuff that you’re doing is actually really relevant to what I do”, because she’s an ethnic minority woman in the teaching profession, teaching arguably what’s a very Eurocentric, white centric curriculum, and she decided “no I’m not going to deal with this, I can’t stand for this anymore”, and she started teaching PSHE classes, her own sort of curriculum, about racial inequality and minority rights, about what was actually happening in the world for ethnic minorities. I think that’s amazing that she saw something that was missing from the curriculum and rather than wait for a change to happen, she made that change.

She’s doing a lot of different things, she started an anti-racism group in the school, and she’s going to start doing something on period poverty. I think it’s small acts and changes that are really important. I think she’s kind of taught me that if you want something done, do it yourself, don’t wait for others to do it, because you won’t get anything done. 

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

The obvious answer would be complete equality, but it’s about how you achieve that. It has been really powerful seeing women role models – you’ve got Nicola Sturgeon, you’ve got Ruth Davidson, you’ve got so many women in power – but the fact that they’re women is still a massive part of who they are. You don’t get a politician, you get a female politician, you don’t get a businessperson, you get a businesswoman. So I think I’d like women to be able to achieve things without having that added “but they’re a woman”, without having “but, because they’re a woman, they’ve apparently had these extra advantages”, or they’ve had some sort of affirmative action in their favour.  

When people talk about minority issues they always talk about women’s issues, and it’s like no, we’re 51%, we’re the majority – why is that a minority, fringe issue? 

It should be a mainstream issue. In order to make society more equal, it’s everyone’s problem, because it’s literally half of the society – and the other half has to live with that half of society. I think not having women pigeon holed into this kind of niche corner, because it should be mainstream, it should be something that everyone has to fight for. 

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

I think a big part of it is media. I spent two years doing some journalist work and I was going to go into reporting before I picked up the SYP, and I think the media is so powerful. I think there are three great influences on a child’s life, there’s the education system, family and friends, and the media, because I think that is such an important part of growing up. You watch TV shows, you watch films, you listen to music, and I think a culture shift has to come from the media as well. The way that women are represented in the media is not great at all. Even for white, straight women, it’s not great, there are still those stereotypes. I think if we could see more representations that were positive, not stereotyped and not, “this is what a good woman is”, “this is what a bad woman is”, and also generally seeing more LGBTI women in the media, more ethnic minority women in the media. I think it’s important to have positive role models in the media growing up, and not even just for women. I think it’s important for men to see role models that are a bit more effeminate, that aren’t the strong, alpha male that has to hold in their feelings and never utter a word about being weak. The biggest cause of death for men aged 18-34 is suicide, so I think there is an issue for most genders in terms of the media representation, and I’d like to see massive shift in terms of media representations for women. 

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

One, she’s fictional, but Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation,  I love her so much, she’s my absolute hero. It would be probably one of the best picnics you could ever have because she’d organise it and have a backup folder and backup plans. I just love Leslie Knope a lot for a fictional character, an unhealthy amount. But even as a fictional character the way she is written is very powerful because she doesn’t take no for an answer and she doesn’t give two hoots about what anyone else thinks about her. In terms of her representation as a character you never see her love interests taking centre stage. There are so many shows where it’s like, “this show is about a powerful woman”, but the main story is about her relationship with this guy – but her relationship with Ben is like a side story to her joining the local council. 

Second one, Margaret Cho, she’s an Asian American comedian activist, and she’s really vocal about Asian representation in Hollywood media and in all forms. She spoke out about the whitewashing with Scarlett Johansson and Ghost in the Shell. I admire her because she’s a big activist in the Asian community, because I think a lot of people push Asians as an ethnic minority community to the side because we’re like “the good minority” – we get good grades, we get good jobs, and we do all the sorts of stuff like that – but there’s this sort of submissiveness that I think people expect of Asian people and I think she’s really broke the mould in that. She’s an Asian American woman who does burlesque shows and does a lot of really risqué stuff, and I’m like “that’s awesome!”  

The last person is Michelle Obama, I just love her. I don’t know what it is about her, but you know snap maps – you know how you can get your Snapchat location off a map – I’ve turned it off for most people apart from 5 people, four of which are my closest friends and the fifth is Michelle Obama just in case she ever sees me and wants to know where my location is. 

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

Be loud, be opinionated, and be annoying, because people are not going to be happy with everything that you’ve got to say but the most important thing is that you get to say it. Express those really uncomfortable opinions, express those things that people don’t want to talk about, because it’s so important that somebody says it.  

Find Suki on Twitter @SukiMSYP

Pictures courtesy of Suki Wan

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature  a different finalist every day throughout November.

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