Ariah a trailblazing beacon for Sabah women

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s first female deputy chief minister, the late Datuk Ariah Tengku Ahmad, will be remembered for inspiring women in Sabah to achieve their dreams despite any challenges faced, women’s groups and entrepreneurs recall.

Following Ariah’s death on Sunday (June 16), women professionals have come out to express their condolences as they remember her attributions to women.

One of the state’s most prominent real estate and property developers, Datuk Susan Wong said Ariah was a trailblazer for women in politics who had greatly contributed to the community’s wellbeing.

Ariah’s commitment to serve the people was especially felt during her tenure as Social Services Minister, among other roles, she said.

Wong said being the first female deputy chief minister, Ariah had demonstrated that a woman could accomplish whatever a man could, as evidenced by her roles in political life and activism for non-governmental organisations.

She remembered Ariah as a beacon for women to chart their paths in the male-dominated field of politics then, and prove that they were equally as capable and competent as men.

“She will always be missed and remembered as the one who changed the landscape for women in politics,” she said.

She said Ariah’s unwavering dedication, compassion, and strength have left an indelible mark on the community.

“In memory of an excellent woman who touched countless lives in Sabah, we mourn her passing with heavy hearts. We are deeply grateful for her legacy of kindness and service. May her soul rest in peace,” said Wong.

Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association (Swepa) chairperson, Karen Wong said despite not knowing Ariah personally, she had heard much about Ariah’s storied career, especially as deputy chief minister during the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) era.

She said from the experiences and accounts shared by former Swepa members, they knew Ariah as a legend when she was appointed deputy chief minister.

“During her active years, she launched the Sabah Women Advisory Council (MPWS) in 1988 and as a Minister for Community Development, she worked hard to encourage rural development and raised the status for women,” she said.

She added that her senior counterparts talked of Ariah as a compassionate leader who worked hard on anti-drug programmes in the state.

“She was a strong voice for women and initiated the Pritchard Valley Old Folks Home and built the new home in Kinarut,” she said.

Apart from that, they will always remember Ariah as an exemplary trailblazer in politics and women's empowerment.

“She has inspired a great number of women politicians, leaders and our SWEPA members who followed in her footsteps in bringing women to the forefront of the society,” added Wong.

In previous interviews with the press, Ariah had mentioned how women in the 50s and 60s faced gender discrimination in many areas from sports to career choices.

She had expressed how modern women were lucky to have ample career opportunities whereas in her younger days, the choices were limited to either getting married, becoming teachers, nurses or nuns.

It is learned that she was also one of Sabah’s top sportswomen and a record holder for the hurdling event in the 50s and 60s.

Being an athlete, although Ariah trained to teach physical education, she was not given the chance to become a PE specialist due to prevailing concerns then about women’s performance after getting married and having children.

There were also disparities in terms of salaries between male and female workers, she had noted.

Ariah was laid to rest at the Taman Memorial Tun Mustapha near here.

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