Tenaganita is a Malaysian human rights organisation dedicated in assisting, building, advocating and protecting migrants, refugees, women and children from exploitation, abuse, discrimination, slavery and human trafficking.
We seek to promote and protect the rights of marginalised and vulnerable individuals who have no voice in this globalised world.
In the 1980s, women worker groups were largely found to be employed in plantation and the manufacturing sectors. As our economy was flourishing, the early 1990s also invited an influx of migrant workers.
Workers were exploited and suffered from gross violation of their rights. We saw a huge need with these worker groups as they grew in numbers, and struggle to survive in the country.
Although our work had started a decade earlier, Tenaganita only came to be in year 1991. As an organisation born out of the struggles of women and migrant workers in Malaysia, we stood and fought alongside these hard working individuals to advocate for their rights as workers: for decent wages, for decent living, and for a stop in discrimination and gender-based violence.
Since we started in 1991, our scope of work has grown in leaps and bounds. Today we work to address issues of exploitation, discrimination, unequal treatment, and violence against women, refugees and migrant workers.
Tenaganita has grown in strength through our initiatives and interventions – challenged by proposed discrimination policies and humbled by the enduring willpower of our communities.
We believe that in order to achieve our full potential as human beings we need an enabling, safe and healthy environment for all people irrespective of race, gender, colour, origin, identity and/or religion. Tenaganita aims to make the dream of the respect of rights and dignity for all an achievable reality.
We hope for a just, free, democratic and sustainable society where all persons are equal with dignity and rights.
We seek and strive to promote and protect the rights and dignity of all women, migrants and refugees while creating spaces collectively to achieve their full potential and liberation in a globalised world.
Tenaganita was founded by our beloved late Irene Fernandez. Tenaganita‘s first program was focused on Plantation and Factory Female Workers. Programs were held on women's leadership, health and safety, union organisation and English proficiency. Initially, our focus was to increase and strengthen women in decision-making especially within the trade union movement. Through Tenaganita's strong program to end violence against women, we were successful in developing gender policies in the plantation and electronic industry benefiting over 93,000 female workers.
Working closely together with organisations such as Pesticide Action Network in Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP) in addressing the issues of usage of lethal chemicals in plantation, we collaborated and published a book known as “Victims Without Voice: A Study of Women Pesticide Workers in Malaysia” This publication reports on real life accounts of how the use of pesticides impact plantation workers. From here, we started the programme of community-based monitoring with PAN-AP. This programme has effectively expanded to policy advocacy
Given the influx of migrant workers in the early 1990’s, Tenaganita also expanded our program with migrant workers. The first programme involved researching various working and living conditions related to Filipina domestic workers. This project marked our first ‘Participatory Action Research on Migration, Health and HIV/AIDS’. As Tenaganita worked with female migrant workers and began to address issues of health and sexuality related to HIV/AIDS, the organisation saw the need to develop new programmes with male migrant workers who were abused and suffered various forms of labour rights violations.
During our initial participatory action research project, it was observed to that migrants were less interested in the area of health or HIV/AIDS, but found to be primarily concerned with arrest, detention, deportation and other forms of exploitation against them. We received significant amount of reports and cases on rights violations. We then began delving into the work of case management and handled these cases accordingly. Given the gap, Tenaganita also provided services for legal counselling and legal support, and helped to organised these workers through community awareness sessions. At that time, the lens of case management was zoomed into a special focus with the domestic workers. Given the seclusion in their work environment, not only were were found to face extensive forms of rights violations, but they were also deliberately excluded from the Malaysian labour laws.
As our work with the migrant workers grow and expand, we also started encountering reports from sex workers and other marginalised communities. In response, we started outreaching to sex workers. We established a halfway house for sex workers, women and children. Today, the half way house has been further developed into a new organization known as WAKE. Working with sex workers, we learn another pattern of exploitation which started emerging. We unravelled the lucrative trade of human trafficking which was increasing, and needed to be addressed urgently.
Tenaganita initiated and launched our very first campaign through a national conference entitled, “Trafficking in Women – A Growing Phenomenon in Malaysia” in May. The conference addressed the existing gaps in support for trafficked victims and survivors. In the conference, there was an emphasis made on the acknowledgment that the Malaysian legal framework did not only fail to execute justice against the perpetrators, but further victimises and criminalises trafficked women and children.
The action plans following the campaign include aggressively monitoring cases of sexual trafficking and seeking redress. We conducted rescues of trafficked women and provided them a safe shelter where they can receive additional support. These women were later safely repatriated back to their home country.
In July, Tenaganita published a report on the living conditions of the migrant workers entitled "Abuse, Torture and Dehumanized Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centers”. The report is the result of thorough investigation, and documentation of the gross violation in the treatment of migrant workers awaiting deportation in our country’s notorious immigration detention centers.
Our late founder and director at that time, Irene Fernandez was arrested on the 18 March. After a trial that lasted for 7 years long, she was convicted and charged under the Printing and Publishing Act for falsely publishing with malicious intent.
She was found guilty in 2003 and sentenced to a one year imprisonment. Appeal was made to the High Court, and the case was resumed on the 28 October 2008. Finally on the 24 November 2008, The High Court overturned her earlier conviction and acquitted her.
Today, the case holds the record for the longest running court case in the legal history of Malaysia.
Tenaganita gave birth to CARAM Asia – Coordination of Action Research on HIV/AIDS and Mobility in March. The initial purpose of this organisation is to be involved in action research, advocacy, coalition and capacity building with the aim of creating an enabling environment to empower migrants and their communities to reduce all vulnerabilities including HIV and enhance their health rights globally.
Today, it has expanded into an active regional network working on migration and health issues
Tenaganita continued exposing many other exploitation through publishing of documentations and reports.
Another publication was produced, entitled “Poisoned & Silenced: A Study of Pesticide Poisioning in the Plantations”
This report had led to the Malaysian government putting a Ban on Paraquat – one of the dangerous and deadliest pesticides. Our work continues to focus on the study of pesticides related to the health of plantation workers through close monitoring. The programme with the plantation workers also expanded to policy advocacy and campaigns.
In the campaign, we were actively involved with the ‘Roundtable in Sustaining Palm Oil’, working with factories workers under the business social responsibilities
In collaboration with the Polis Diraja Malaysia, we initiated and launched our Domestic Workers Action Line. Through this hotline, we provided our services through a 24-hour hotline for intervention and legal support which started in June.
Tenaganita carried out a fact-finding mission as there were estimated to be 100,000 stateless children in Sabah. These children were born of undocumented workers and found to be roaming around the streets.
In November, we jointly organised a 3-day regional conference themed “Acting Today for Tomorrow’s Generation” together with the Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrants and the Christian Conference of Asia in Kota Kinabalu. We released a report on our findings stateless and undocumented children.
Tenaganita has served the refugee community since the 1990’s. Our work at that time started growing rapidly with the Burmese community for resettlement cases and sought for protection assistance. Our interventions gave space for different Burmese ethnic groups to approach Tenaganita. We worked and provided support for the Chin, Kachin, Shan, Mon, Kareni, Arakan, Karen and Rohingya refugee communities.
In 2007, we collaborated on a Gender Based Violence Project among Burmese Refugees – where it allowed us to facilitate discussions and programs among different refugee ethnic groups in Malaysia, to raise awareness and reduce the frequency and severity of Gender Based Violence.
Tenaganita carried out a fact-finding mission in Sarawak and released a report entitled “Enslaved in A Global Catch”. This report published was a survey done on the trafficked fishermen in Borneo – where victims were enslaved and treated like criminals
Tenaganita started on our Modern Day Slavery series and published the first book entitled, “The Revolving Door”.
This publication reveals this truth of modern day slavery through the testimonies and eyes of the refugees themselves. It exposes the abuse, endemic corruption and the trafficking of women, children and refugees in Malaysia and at the Malaysia-Thai border.
Tenaganita published another book in our Modern Day Slavery series entitled, “The Global Catch”.
This publication highlights the abuses inflicted on young men from the ASEAN region who were recruited and sold to the captains of fishing vessels, and the deplorable conditions they were in.
Tenaganita worked together with the Burmese ethnic groups to help form the Coalition of Burmese Ethnic Malaysia (COBEM). COBEM is a coalition of 7 ethnic community-based organisations which organises, assists, empowers, and protect their respective communities.
Tenaganita was actively involved in partnering with the Bar Council in establishing a Legal Aid Clinic for the young lawyers who are chambering and still completing their pupillage. Tenaganita gave substantial inputs in the beginning stage, for formation of the programme.
We currrently run a Legal Aid Clinic in partnership with Legal Aid Centers in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. The programme has been successful in sensitising young lawyers on the issues and realities faced by migrant workers, refugees, trafficked women and children – along with the awareness on the global implications of migration. It has also helped us developed a network of lawyers for legal support.
Tenaganita was invited to be a council member of the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (MAPO).
The council exists to prevent and eradicate human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes through comprehensive enforcement of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons (Amendment) Act 2010.
Presently, our director, Aegile Fernandez represents the organisation in the council.
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