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Shamsiah Fakeh


Freedom fighter Shamsiah Fakeh (1924-2008). Born in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan in 1924, Shamsiah received her early education at the Madrasah Aliah Islaiah in Negeri Sembilan and Madrasah Tuddimiah in Padang, Sumatera, experiences that sparked her early political consciousness. As a young woman she stood out as a powerful orator and was sought after by different political parties including UMNO. She chose the path of the Malay Nationalist Party (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya) as she believed in their fight towards independence from the British. Shamsiah became an important leader of PKMM’s women’s wing and the first women’s movement in Malaya, AWAS (Angkatan Wanita Sedar). When the British banned PKMM, followed by a mass arrest of left-leaning leaders in 1948, Shamsiah moved her fight towards independence in the jungles by joining the Communist Party of Malaya under the 10th Regiment of the Malayan People’s Liberation Army in their armed resistance. She was a leader in the Communist Party and was a jungle guerrilla for eight years. In 1956, Shamsiah and her husband, Ibrahim Mohamad, were sent to China for further education. They served as broadcasters with the Radio Peking’s Malay language service. In 1965 they were imprisoned for two years in Indonesia during anti-communist crackdowns. They returned to China and lived there until 1994 when they were finally allowed to come home to Malaysia. In the foreword of her memoir, Shamsiah writes: “I was merely a woman fighting the British for my country’s independence and the emancipation of women.” She died in 2008 in Kuala Lumpur.

For more information on Shamsiah Fakeh, read her autobiography “Memoir Shamsiah Fakeh: Dari AWAS Ke Rejimen Ke-10” published by SIRD/ Gerakbudaya: (English version: . Go to this link for a song tribute to this revolutionary independence fighter:

Puan Sri Puteh Mariah


Puan Sri Puteh Mariah (1914-2006). Born in 1914 in Teluk Intan, Perak, Puteh Mariah started her public service in the 1940s going into the streets and helping families who suffered the ravages of war. Her experience in outreach work, bringing food, clothing and medical supplies for those in need, changed her outlook in life; she decided “could not afford to be an outsider anymore” but instead “became an activist”*. A pioneer in many different ways, she was the first head of Kaum Ibu (the precursor to Wanita UMNO), which she co-founded in 1949. She left UMNO to help form Parti Negara with Dato’ Onn Jaafar and became the first woman to hold the highest post in a political party as the Secretary General of Parti Negara in 1956. Puteh Mariah was also one of the first women nominated to the Federal Legislative Council, serving from 1948-1955. In the Legislative Council, she fought for education opportunities for Malayans, better wages for local teachers and wage equality for women. She was, in particular, a strong champion for the education rights for women. In 1950, she was appointed as a Justice of the Peace, the first woman to be conferred this honour in the Federation. Post-independence, she continued to be active in social work, serving many different committees, including the Central Welfare Council, the Children’s Welfare Council, and she was also the first local President of the Girl Guides Association of Malaya.

* New Straits Times, 3 August, 1987.

Janaki Devar


Puan Sri Janaki Athi Nahappan, also known as Janaki Devar (February 1925- May 2014). At a young age of 17, inspired by Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose’s appeal to the Indian diaspora to fight for India’s independence, Janaki joined the Rhani of Jhani regiment, the women’s wing of the Indian National Army based in Southeast Asia. Janaki excelled in her military career rising to the rank of Captain and Second in Command in the regiment. She fought against the British along the Burma India border. After the war, she focused her efforts on welfare services in Malaya. She was part of the Indian National Congress Medical Mission in Malaya where she travelled throughout the country and learned about the challenges facing the Indian community in Malaya. Inspired by this experience, in 1946, Janaki co-founded the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) with John Thivy as president. She was an active MIC member and later was appointed Senator in the Malaysian Parliament. In 2000, she was awarded the Padma Shri award—one of India’s highest title— in recognition of her social welfare work and her service to the Indian National Army.

*To learn more about freedom fighter Janaki Athi Nahappan and the Rani of Jhansi regiment, read Women Against the Raj: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment (2008) by Joyce Lebra: **Photo from: A Gentleman’s Word: The Legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose in Southeast Asia (2012).

P.G. Lim


Tribute to Tan Sri Lim Phaik Gan or better known as P.G. Lim. Born on 29 June 1915, P.G. Lim was known as a fighter for social justice. Trained in law at Cambridge University, she was an advocate for the underprivileged and of trade union rights. In a quote in the Washington Post, Lim said “If I find that something is wrong, I fight..If there is a need I take the case sometimes when no one else will.” She was counsel in the landmark Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya case that accorded government employee status to 14,000 day-wage railway workers in 1964. She was also instrumental in bringing reprieve for a young woman sentenced to death for being a messenger for the Communist Party in the famed 1953 Privy Council case of Lee Meng. In 1971, she was appointed as the first Malaysian woman ambassador, first to the United Nations and later to Yugoslavia and Austria, Belgium and the EEC. On her retirement from the diplomatic service, she was Director of the Kuala Lumpur Centre for Arbitration. Tan Sri PG Lim passed away in May 2013. To find out more about the inspiring life of this woman of substance, read P.G Lim’s autobiography “Kaleidoscope: The Memoirs of P.G. Lim”

Selangor MB crisis shows that yes, she can

By tan beng hui

Ask anyone on the street if women here should be allowed to go to the polls and vote, and the answer to this is likely to be ‘yes’. In fact, the question could possibly be greeted with astonished looks, as few will remember a time when women did not have the right to vote.

Granted, in Malaysia we skipped this stage as by the time we gained Independence and universal enfranchisement from the British, suffrage movements in other parts of the world had already established this precedent for women.

Most people here will therefore be relatively oblivious to the fact that there was a time when the right to vote did not come easily for women, even in what some consider as advanced nations today.

The suffragettes – as those involved in this campaign were then known – engaged all kinds of means to achieve their goal. Fierce battles were fought and many women ended up fined or incarcerated. When large numbers of those in the UK landed in jail and protested by refusing to eat, they were force-fed.

Fast forward to Selangor and its menteri besar crisis today. At a glance, the questions around the appropriateness of Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s nomination for this post by Pakatan Rakyat appear far removed from what took place at the turn of the last century.

However, if we tease out all the political conniving – which is not unique to this case – we may come to see how the quest to win women the right to vote and the quest for Wan Azizah to become head of the Selangor state government, are not so dissimilar.

Both have to do with ensuring that women can freely participate at all levels of political and public life. Understood this way, the question ‘why do we allow women to pick governments through the ballot box but deny them the right to be heads of states?’ may bear greater meaning.

Numerous reasons have been given as to why Wan Azizah is not suitable MB material. And some have adopted the posture that this has nothing to do with her being a woman.

Even so, evidence will show that in this country, a woman’s path to political leadership is littered with obstacles. Statistics clearly bring home this point.

After over 50 years as a nation, and despite their consistent and critical role in canvassing votes and helping their parties to win elections, women form only 10.4 percent of the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House of Parliament). In cabinet – the body that essentially decides on national matters – only two out of 35 ministers (i.e. 5.7 percent) are women.

‘Remote-controlled’ MB

In short, even if we are told that there is no bias against Wan Azizah because of her gender, the reality tells us otherwise – that the way the political system is currently organised itself does not encourage women to become political leaders, what more heads of governments.

Others have been quick to point out that she has only been nominated because she is opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s wife. Worse, they assume that she will become a ‘remote-controlled’ MB. There are no legitimate reasons given to justify these accusations, only condescending assumptions that as a ‘wife’, she has lost any capacity for agency and independent decision-making, and can only function if controlled by someone else.

These detractors forget that this is a woman who was elected as a state assemblyperson, and not someone her constituents would have imagined to be so easily manipulable when they voted her in to represent their interests. They also forget that she is the same person who led PKR for many years while Anwar was imprisoned. Few complained then that she was incapable and that the party would fall apart under her stewardship.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the Selangor crisis. But the one message that supporters of gender equality need to take home is this: after more than a hundred years, the same ideas which made it so hard for women to have the right to vote, continue to persist today. These insist that women’s place is at home, not out in public, and worse, perpetuates the belief that women are inferior to and worth much less than men.

Perhaps we only need to wait a little longer for this situation to rectify itself. After all, if tertiary qualifications count, more and more Malaysian women are better qualified than men today. Eventually, they will have to take over jobs now reserved for the boys.

Meanwhile, the political playing field for women remains far from level and to say otherwise would be dishonest. More importantly, if Wan Azizah is denied this historic opportunity – because of ‘politics’ and its many (in)visible hands – it would set a bad precedent, one whose repercussions may take a long time to undo and further entrench the values that keep women out of political office.

Source – MalaysiaKini