Malaysian history—the kind we grew up learning in school—is in the main an account of rulers, nationalists, and “architects”; those who founded states, established diplomatic and trade links with the outside world, fought (or formed pacts with) colonial powers, and held key government positions in independent Malaysia. While learning about these personalities gives us some insight into their contexts and conditions, any history of the nation cannot be complete without an account of the lives and times of various groups and persons who have been participants, witnesses, and agents of change within their communities. And any history that leaves out the voices and experiences of half the population suffers a woeful deficit. Unfortunately and with few exceptions, women are missing from the pages of our textbooks and from popular historical narratives. The historical thread that connects generations of women from the pre-colonial lands of the Nusantara to modern Malaysia is thus invisible, largely lost to us.
Sejarah Wanita aims to plug this gap by focusing both on “people’s history” (in contrast to the usual focus on powerful personalities and elite groups) and specifically the plural histories of women in Malaysia. We want to encourage both a greater curiosity about and awareness of the political and socioeconomic conditions and cultural mores that women from different periods and walks of life have had to negotiate as well as the various ways in which they have asserted themselves through everyday acts of resistance, submission, and revolution. We hope to see this curiosity and awareness about the lives of women in Malaysia lead to a greater appreciation for women’s roles, contributions, and capabilities, and that appreciation in turn channelled to popular support for women’s agency, rights, and equal status.