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Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day, from all of us at Perdana Leadership Foundation!

In commemoration of this year’s IWD theme of ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’, we are celebrating ladies of Malaysia who spearheaded progress and advancements in their respective fields.

Tan Sri Devaki Krishnan was the first woman to be elected to public office in Malaya. She achieved the feat after winning a seat in the Municipal Council of Kuala Lumpur in 1952. Through her position as an Executive Council member of the National Council of Women’s Organisation (NCWO), Tan Sri Devaki advocated for the Guardianship Act. Passed in 1999, the Act enables single mothers to have legal guardianships of their own children. Her other work was with the Social Welfare Committee of Kuala Lumpur, the Tengku Budriah Orphanage, and the Serendah Boys Home. Tan Sri Devaki Ayathurai Krishnan passed away earlier this year on the 20th of January 2024. She was 100 years old.

Emerita Professor Tan Sri Dr. Mazlan binti Othman is Malaysia’s first female astrophysicist. She was directly involved in our country’s space exploration project as the first Director of the National Space Agency, Angkasa; and was the first head of Malaysia’s Angkasawan Project that successfully launched Malaysia’s first astronaut, Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, into space. Tan Sri Dr Mazlan also served as the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna from 2007 to 2014. Another interesting fact: Tan Sri Dr Mazlan was the first woman to achieve a PhD in Physics in the entire history of the University of Otago, New Zealand!

Tan Sri Salma binti Ismail was a Malaysian medical doctor and the first Malay woman to qualify as a doctor. She began her medical studies at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. After WWII broke out, her studies were suspended until 1946, when she then proceeded to graduate with a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery in the following year. From her graduation until 1967, she served in the public health sector in various capacities such as a medical officer, and even as the Royal Midwife of Sultanah Bahiyah of Kedah. The year 1967 also saw Tan Sri Salma became one of the first Malay general practitioners to open a private practice. For her contributions to the medical world in Malaysia, she was awarded the Dato Paduka Mahkota Kedah in 1996, and the Panglima Setia Mahkota in 1997, which earned her the title of Tan Sri. Tan Sri Salma Ismail passed away on 20th July 2014 at the age of 95.

Yang Mulia Tan Sri Dr Ungku Zeti Akhtar binti Ungku Abdul Aziz was the 7th Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia. She served as Governor from 2000 to 2016 and was the first woman in the position and at 16 years, the longest to hold the position. As governor, Tan Sri Zeti Aziz was instrumental in steering Malaysia away from the perfect storm that was the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, which Malaysia weathered by imposing capital controls, pegging the Malaysian currency, and cutting interest rates. The moves were regarded as a counter to the prevailing theories of the day, but the result was that Malaysia suffered less than its regional neighbours. Tan Sri Zeti was appointed Group Chairman of Permodalan Nasional Berhad in 2018, the first woman to be appointed.

Throughout the years, there have been plenty of Malaysian women pioneers. Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, was the first female Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia when she was appointed in 2018; another example in the political world, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz is the longest serving Minister of Trade and Industry of Malaysia at 21 years in office; In the entertainment industry, Malaysia’s favourite singer, Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, has achieved an impressive list of achievements including two in the Malaysia Book of Records; in sports, Datuk Nicol Ann David, a squash player from Penang, held the longest record of being world number one for 108 consecutive months; and in the military, Major Patricia Yapp is the first female fighter pilot in the whole of Asia to be qualified to fly the MiG-29, a high performance combat aircraft.

This is only a short list of Malaysian women who have broken new ground and blazed new trails. While there is still much work to be done to achieve true representation of women in the public and private sectors, including in politics and government, and especially in leadership positions, as well as to ensure there is no discrimination against women in law and in practice, Malaysia has always encouraged women’s participation in all sectors since independence.

PLF fully supports IWD’s theme: ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’, and hopes that more women will be given the opportunity to take an active part in the country’s development and advancement.