The women who built Malaysia

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Apart from the founding fathers of Malaysia, many individuals played important roles in developing the nation we know today, and not all were men. The women were right there in the mix.

Apart from the founding fathers of Malaysia, many individuals played important roles in developing the nation we know today, and not all were men. The women were right there in the mix.

This Merdeka Day, FMT takes a look at several pioneering women in Malaysian history, some of whom were at Merdeka Stadium when independence was declared, and their significant contributions to our country.

Devaki Krishnan

Devaki was the first elected woman in the country after winning a seat on the municipal council in Kuala Lumpur in 1952. She is also proudly the first Indian woman to drive a car in the capital city.

As a member of the civil defence, Devaki took charge of the medical clinic at Merdeka Stadium during the May1969 riots, when she was recalled to care for some 3,500 riot victims and the homeless.

She also played a pivotal role in pushing for amendments to the Guardianship of Infants Act in 1999 to allow single mothers to care for their children.

Currently at the grand age of 98, the veteran politician is an MIC life member and the longest-standing member in the party.

Fatimah Hashim
Fatimah took part in the struggle for independence in her 20s to fight for the lack of proper healthcare and education infrastructure under colonial rule. She was then head of Kaum Ibu Malaya – which she suggested be renamed as Wanita Umno later – and held the post for 16 years until 1972.

Following the declaration of Merdeka, Fatimah was encouraged by her husband to continue pursuing politics even after independence was declared to improve the status of women and to help the poor. She went on to become the first woman minister in Malaysia, holding the welfare portfolio.

Fatimah also served as president of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO) and initiated Malaysia’s national Women’s Day celebrations in 1962. She died in 2010 and was laid to rest at the Warriors’ Mausoleum at Masjid Negara.

Lim Beng Hong

Among the many achievements under her belt, Lim, often referred to as BH Oon, was the first female lawyer to be called to the Malayan Bar in 1927. The law had to be changed for her, as a woman, to be called. Before that, she was the first Chinese woman to be called to the English Bar together with her brother.

She was one of two women appointed as members of the Federal Legislative Council after the Japanese occupation. The council was formed for Malaya to become an independent and self-governing nation, under the guidance of the British.

The Penang native was also the first Malaysian to become president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. She died in 1979 at the age of 81.

Tra Zehnder

Tra’s political career saw many firsts, one of which was being the first woman in the Sarawak legislative assembly in 1960, known as the state council back then.

Two years later, she was the Sarawak Dayak National Union’s (SDNU) representative on the Cobbold Commission, set up to determine if Sabah and Sarawak supported the idea of the Federation of Malaysia.

Proud of her heritage, Tra pushed for Gawai Dayak to be an official celebration every June 1, in recognition of the Dayak community’s existence in the state. She died in 2011, aged 84.

Rasammah Bhupalan

At just 16, Rasammah joined the women’s wing of the Indian National Army against the British and served in Burma.

Coming from a family of dedicated teachers, she went on to form the Women Teachers’ Union in 1960 and became the principal of the Methodist Girls’ School in Kuala Lumpur.

It was during this time that she was an active proponent for gender equality in Malaysia and pushed for all women teachers to receive equal pay. Her efforts received recognition in 1986 when she was given the Tokoh Guru award.

Beyond the education sector, Rasammah campaigned for pension packages and for the minimum wage to be raised, while speaking up against domestic violence and rape. Now 94, she is also the founder of the YWCA Vocational Training Opportunity Centre for girls from lower-income households.

Originally published on https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2021/08/31/the-women-who-built-malaysia/?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=pmd_GhJkpePCET1EkA58B9AjNjt8Jd5eJGxUqh095PkJSUw-1630549081-0-gqNtZGzNAlCjcnBszQ2R by Faye Kwan
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