DATUK AMBIGA SREENIVASAN
Ambiga Sreenivasan was President of the Malaysian Bar Council for two years from 2007 to 2009, the second woman to assume the position. As president, Ambiga was outstanding with her strong advocacy for good governance, democracy, and human rights. She organised the “March for Justice” in Putrajaya which called for. among other things, judicial reform. Ambiga was also vocal in condemning politically-motivated arrests.
In 2009, Ambiga was one of eight women to receive the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage from the United States’ State Department. She received the award from US First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
DATIN SERI ROSMAH MANSOR
Our Prime Minister’s wife has carved an active and independent role for herself, befitting the demands and expectations of the 21st century. She takes interest in a wide range of issues and is the patron or driving force of many worthy causes.
Born in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, Rosmah showed her promise from young. She was schooled at the prestigious boarding school for bright Malay girls, Tunku Khursiah College. After completing her tertiary and higher education at Universiti Malaya and Louisiana State University in 1974 and 1978 respectively, Rosmah returned to launch her corporate career, putting to good use her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology and her Masters degree in Sociology and Agriculture Extension.
She served at Bank Pertanian until 1983. She took on the position of business development manager at Island and Peninsular Berhad where she served until 1987. That same year she married Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and began a new chapter of her life as a politician’s wife.
She is the president of the Welfare Association of Minister’s Wives (Bakti). patron of various associations, such as Children in Hope Foundation, Malaysian Nature Society, Society of the Orthopedically Handicapped Malaysia, Malaysia Aids Council, National Heart Institute Foundation, Thalassemia Association, National Athletes’ Welfare Association and the Foundation for the Development of Underprivileged Children and the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). She is also the president of the Girl Guides Association.
But among the many causes, the one that is perhaps closest to her heart is early childhood education and care. This mother of four tirelessly promotes this field through her initiative, the Permata project, which includes Permata Pintar for gifted children.
She also initiated and hosted the First Ladies Summit in 2010 where 15 first ladies and six representatives of first ladies and 20 ministers attended.
Her humanitarian work has earned her recognition in the form of awards and citations, the latest being the “Award of Social Responsibility” by the city of Ankara, Turkey, last month.
DATUK MICHELLE YEOH
Undoubtedly the most famous living Malaysian woman, Ipoh-born Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng’s climb to international stardom began when she was crowned Miss Malaysia at the age of 21. She subsequently appeared in a commercial with Jackie Chan which led to the start of her movie career. The trained ballet dancer took to making Hong Kong action and martial arts movies.
Her prowess and beauty won her the role of Bond girl Wai Lin in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, which made her a bona fide Hollywood star.
The movie that sealed her fame was the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she was nominated for the BAFTA “Best Actress” award.
In 2005, she played Mameha in Memoirs of a Geisha and worked on several more Hollywood movies. Her last movie, Reign of Assassins, saw her returning to the wuxia genre. But the coup of her career could very well be the role of Myanmar freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady. Already, there is Oscar buzz.
TOH PUAN UMA SAMBANTHAN
The wife of the late Tun V.T Sambanthan,
one of the founding fathers of the nation
who was MIC president and the first Labour
Minister, Uma was an activist, social worker
and leading figure in Malaysia’s cooperative
movement. In the 1950s, she was actively
involved in fighting for women’s rights, and
was involved in making rural women aware
of the benefits of Malayan citizenship. She
was one of the founders of the National
Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO),
and co-founder and current general secretary
of charity organisation Sri Ramakrishna
She was also the chairman and director
of the National Land Finance Co-operative
Society (NLFCS) from 1980 to 1995, and its
president in 1995 and 1996. She was awarded
the Tun Fatimah Gold Medal by the NCWO
in 1992, in conjunction with the Women’s
DATUK DR MAZLAN OTHMAN
Malaysia’s first astrophysicist became the
first woman to be awarded a physics doctorate
from New Zealand’s University of Otago.
In 1990, she set up Malaysia’s national
planetarium in Kuala Lumpur and in 1993,
was made director-general of the Space
Science Studies Division in the Science,
Technology and Environment Ministry.
In November 1999, Kofi Annan, secretarygeneral of the United Nations appointed Dr Mazlan as director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna.
At the request of then Prime Minister
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, she returned to
Malaysia in July 2002 to set up the Malaysian National Space Agency, where her work led to the launch of the first Malaysian astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. In 2007, Dr Mazlan was reappointed as UNOOSA director by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon where she is in charge of implementing the United Nation’s outer space-related policies until to-date.
TAN SRI RAFIDAH ABDUL AZIZ
Former Minister of International Trade and
Industry Tan Sri Rafidah who has been in politics for more than 30 years, earned herself the nickname of the Iron Lady of Malaysia, for her no-nonsense style.
Born in November, 1943, in Selama in
Perak, Rafidah – who actually aspired to
become a doctor – went on to University
Malaya and instead, obtained her degree
in Economics in 1996 and also a Masters in
Economics in 1970.
Rafidah was exposed to local political
movements from a young age. In 1967, when
she was 24, she was appointed Economics
Bureau chief for Wanita Umno and in 1973,
she was appointed senator.
She became MP for Kuala Kangsar in 1986. In 1987, she was appointed Minister of International Trade and Industry, a position
she remained in until 2008. In 1999, she
became Wanita Umno chief, a post she held
until March 2009.
After the March 8, 2008 polls, Rafidah was
dropped from the Cabinet.
TAN SRI DR ROBAAYAH ZAMBAHARI
Highly respected and known for her extensive
experience in cardiology, both locally and
internationally, Dr Robaayah is CEO and managing director of the National Heart Institute (IJN) in 2009.
Dr Robaayah, who pursued medicine at
Universiti Malaya in 1977 and received speciality training at the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, is a fellow of Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow, the Royal College of Physicians of London, and the American College of Cardiology.
She became well-known when as part of the team of doctors who treated Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he suffered a heart attack in 1989. She was appointed senior consultant cardiologist and head of department at IJN in 1992.
DATUK P.G. LIM
Malaysia’s first woman ambassador was
born in England to a privileged life. Lim Phaik Gan was the daughter of Lim Cheng Ean, a noted Cambridge-trained lawyer in Penang.
She followed in her father’s footsteps
and read law at Cambridge University in
1935. In the late 1950s, Lim made a name
for herself as an advocate, and by advising
and representing workers’ unions, including
the Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya, the
National Union of Plantation Workers and
the Transport Workers Unions in their legal
In 1971, she was appointed to serve in the
United Nations as Malaysia’s first woman
ambassador. Her 10-year tenure in the foreign service led her across Europe in various diplomatic appointments.
Upon her return to Malaysia in the early
1980s, she was appointed director of the
Regional Arbitration Centre in 1982. She held this post until 2000.
She was honoured in October 2009 with
the prestigious Merdeka Award for her outstanding contributions as a diplomat, lawyer and director of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration.
TUN DR SITI HASMAH MOHD ALI
She was Malaysia’s much-loved and
admired Prime Minister’s wife, a role she
played to perfection for 22 years, and was
also one of the first Malay female doctors.
Born in Klang, Selangor, in July 1926, Dr
Siti Hasmah enrolled for medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore after World War II. It was there she met her husband, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Ten years later, she was the first woman
to be appointed State Maternal and Child
Health Officer in Kedah.
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, authored several
articles on family medicine and the socio-economic factors associated with pregnancy and childbearing in Malaysia.
As the Prime Minister’s wife, she has
served as president, chairman and patron
to various organisations from Bakti
(Welfare Club of the Wives of Ministers
and Deputy Ministers), the Malaysian Girl
Guides Association, Kedah Family Planning
Association, Malaysian Medical Association
Foundation, Association for the Rehabilitation of Handicapped Children, Federal of Family Planning Associations of Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Maternal Health and Neonate and the Malaysian Pediatric Association.
TAN SRI ZARINAH ANWAR
Zarinah was appointed the Chairman of
the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) on
April 1, 2006. She had served as the Deputy
Chief Executive of the SC and member of the
Commission since December 2001. She is the
Vice Chairman of the Emerging Markets
Committee of the International Organisation
of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and was
the Chairman of the Asean Capital Markets
Forum from 2006-2008. She currently chairs
the Malaysian Venture Capital Development
Council (MVCDC) and the Capital Market
Development Fund (CMDF). She is also a
member of the Labuan Offshore Financial
Services Authority (LOFSA), the Financial
Reporting Foundation (FRF), Malaysia
International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC), and the Board of Directors of the Institut Integriti Malaysia (IIM) and the Asian Institute of Finance Malaysia.
Prior to joining the SC, Zarinah was the
Deputy Chairman of Shell Malaysia, a company
she worked in for 22 years. She graduated
with an LLB (Hons) from the Universiti
DATUK SERI SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL
The charming and energetic Shahrizat
studied law at Universiti Malaya and went
on to become a magistrate in 1977. She went
into private practice years later and then
moved into the corporate sector. She became
the chairman of two public listed companies,
pushing the envelope for being the first
woman to chair a public-listed company.
Shahrizat became MP for the Lembah
Pantai constituency in Kuala Lumpur in 1995
for 13 years until she lost her seat to Nurul Izzah Anwar in the March 2008 general election.
She was the first Women and Family
Development Minister – mooted by then
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
In March 2009, she defeated Tan Sri
Rafidah Aziz at the Wanita Umno General
Assembly elections and became Wanita
A month later, she was appointed a senator
and reappointed Minister of Women, Family
and Community Development, a post she
holds until today.
DATUK PROF ZURAINA ABDUL MAJID
As the first female archaeologist in the
country, Prof Zuraina has had an illustrious
career that includes making several
significant archaeological discoveries. Her
work in Lenggong Valley in Kota Tampan,
Perak, proved the existence of Homo sapiens
in Malaysia 74,000 years ago during the
Palaeolithic era. The discovery was featured in a two-hour special on the Discovery Channel.
In 2006, she was appointed to her current
position of commissioner for the National
TAN SRI DR DEVAKI KRISHNAN
Devaki marked many firsts in her long
career spanning 58 years. She was the first
woman to contest in an open public election
in Malaysia. She stood and won the Kuala
Lumpur Municipal Election in 1952, a seat
she won again in 1955. Subsequently, Devaki
joined the MIC and in 1959, became the first
Indian woman to stand in the Federation of
Malaya’s first general election for the State Assembly seat of Sentul and lost by a few votes.
Devaki was appointed Wanita MIC secretary
in 1975, and deputy president in 1984 (a
position she held for 10 years). She actively recruited women throughout the nation for the party. She also served as vice-president of the Selangor MIC and chairman of the Selangor Wanita MIC. She juggled her political career with a 25-year stint as a teacher,and is also a major in the Civil Defence Department.
Among the awards she has received are the
Tokoh Wanita award in 1985 by the National
Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO)
and the “Woman of the Year 1998” award by
the American Biographical Institute.
DATUK NG POH TIP
Ng, who started her career as a reporter
in 1971 with the then Straits Times, set a
benchmark for women journalists in the
country when she was appointed group
chief editor of The Star in 1993. She was
the first woman in Malaysia to hold such a
post, and served in the capacity until 2003.
During her long tenure, the newspaper
experienced a phenomenal growth and
expanded its coverage by creating many
new sections and pullouts to cater to the
interests and demands of its readers.
Upon her retirement, Ng was appointed
The Star’s group editorial and education
adviser and Asian Centre for Media Studies
executive director. In February this year, she was appointed editorial adviser to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.
As Hong Leong Bank group managing director and CEO, Chia holds the distinction of being the first woman to lead a Malaysia
commercial bank. She made her mark in the
Bank of America in the 1970s, which she left
after 18 years as vice president and country
head of marketing. She was the first woman
in Asia to receive the CEO Eagle Pin for consistent and excellent performance. In 1994, she joined RHB Bank as general manager, and went on to become CEO and managing director.
During her tenure there, she helped steer
the bank through the 1998 financial crisis.
In 2003, she was appointed to her current
position at Hong Leong, where she has set
about a number of successful initiatives,
including the full-fledged Hong Leong
TUN DR FATIMAH HASHIM
AGE: 86 (DIED JAN 9, 2010)
The country’s first woman minister was
born in Muar, Johor, and was a teacher before joining politics in 1947. She headed Umno’s Kaum Ibu (which later became Wanita Umno) for 16 years, until 1972. With Datuk F.R. Bhupalan and others, she established the National Council of Women’s Organisations in 1963 and helmed the organisation as president for 24 years.
On May 20, 1969, she was appointed
Welfare Minister, making her the nation’s first woman minister – a role she held until March 1, 1973.
In August 2009, she was chosen as one of
the four outstanding Malaysians to receive
the Merdeka Award for the Education and
DATIN PADUKA SISTER ENDA RYAN
The founder of Assunta Primary School and
Assunta Secondary School in Petaling Jaya
and chairperson of the SM Assunta Board of
Governors arrived in Malaya in 1954 to set up schools for girls. She immediately set up
Assunta Primary School, followed by Assunta
Secondary School the following year. She
became the first headmistress of the schools.
Through her tireless work, the schools flourished, complete with the Leo Club, Interact Club, Assunta Military Band, Girl Guides and the Assunta Welfare Organisation. In 1966, she became a Malaysian citizen. She retired in 1989.
In her 31 years of service, Sister Enda
received the Excellent Service Award from the Ministry of Education (1985), the Pingat Jasa Cemerlang (1986), the Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (PJK.) from the Sultan of Selangor (1987) and the Anugerah Tokoh Guru Selangor (1990). In December 2007, she was conferred the Darjah Kebesaran Dato’ Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah (DSIS) which carries the title “Datin Paduka”. She now resides in the Assunta Convent in PJ Old Town.
TUN ENDON MAHMOOD
AGE: 64 (DIED OCT 25, 2005)
Gracious and elegant Endon, who was of
Malay-Japanese descent, is remembered for
her efforts to revive the local batik industry and her love for the traditional kebaya dress and the songket fabric. As the wife of Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, she was able to use her position to good use by launching a carefully planned long term campaign to raise the standards of the batik industry and its marketing reach. She started the Malaysian Batik Movement which is now being managed by her daughter, Nori Abdullah, in her capacity as chairman of Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia
(Penyayang), Endon’s brainchild, in part, to
promote batik internationally.
Endon was also a keen supporter and
patron of the arts and theatre. She passed
away after a three-year battle with breast
Author, writer, linguist Adibah Amin,
whose real name is Khalidah Adibah Amin,
will always be known as “cikgu” to her
students. She is a prolific writer in both
Bahasa Malaysia and English, and has penned
countless books, drama scripts, short stories and columns. Up until 2006, she was known for her education articles in The Star. She taught for many years at secondary schools and language institutions and even made a name for herself as an actress.
TAN SRI DR ZETI AKHTAR AZIZ
In May 2000, Zeti became the first woman
governor of Bank Negara. The daughter of
Royal Professor Ungku Aziz and Sharifah Azah
Mohamed Alsagoff, she received a Bachelor’s
degree in Economics from Universiti Malaya.
She went on to the Wharton School of the
University of Pennsylvania, to complete a PhD in monetary and international economics,
carrying out pioneering work on capital flows and its implications for monetary policy as part of her dissertation.
Her career with Bank Negara started when
she joined the economics department of
Bank Negara in 1985 and was appointed
secretary to the board of the bank in 1987.
In 1989, she went to Bank Negara’s London
representative office as the chief representative.
She was promoted to Bank Negara adviser
and was later appointed one of the four
Chandramalar was the first woman to
head the Anti-Vice Branch in Penang in 1972,
where she earned the moniker “Woman of
Steel” for her tough stance on pimps, drug
pushers and gambling syndicates. During her
five-year tenure, she conducted thousands of
raids and saved many under-aged girls from
In 1977, Chandramalar became the first
woman to take on the position of an executive staff at the Police College in Kuala Kubu Baru. In 1989, she became the first female Superintendent of Police, as deputy officer in charge of criminal investigation (courts) for Kuala Lumpur. She would soon top herself in 1993, when she become the first woman to attain the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police, and was transferred to Bukit Aman as
assistant director of research and planning.
She retired from the post in 1994.
DATUK SERI DR NG YEN YEN
Kota Baru-born Ng is the first woman
Chinese federal minister in Malaysia and the
first-elected woman vice-president of the
MCA in 2008.
But if it weren’t for her mother, Ng’s life
could have been very different. She was
almost married off by her old-fashioned
father when she was 17, but her mother prevented it and ensured that she completed her education.
She went on to study medicine and graduated
from Universiti Malaya with a medical
degree in 1972. She was awarded a Diploma
of Reproductive Medicine from the Johns
Hopkins University, USA.
She joined the MCA in 1975 and in 1981,
she began her public service career as district councillor for Temerloh, Pahang.
In 1995, she went into full-time politics,
giving up medicine in 1995. Four years
later, she became the national chairman of
the Wanita MCA and was elected MP for
Raub. She was appointed Deputy Minister
of Culture, Arts and Tourism. In 2003, she
became Deputy Finance Minister.
The charismatic amd dynamic Ng was
Minister of Women, Family and Community
Development from March 2008 till April 2009
when she was appointed to her current position of Tourism Minister.
TAN SRI SITI NORMA YAAKOB
She is Malaysia’s first woman High Court
judge, Court of Appeal judge, Federal Court
judge and Chief Judge of Malaya. In 2007, Siti Norma retired after 43 years of exemplary service. She has served in the highest judicial office to be occupied by a woman in Malaysia, marking this as a most remarkable breakthrough for women’s achievements.
In January 2008, she was appointed a judge
of the Dubai International Finance Centre
(DIFC) Courts for a period of three years.
Siti Norma is also a designated member of the Panels of Conciliators and of Arbitrators maintained by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) for a period of six
years effective from 2008 till July 2014.