In conjunction with the 100th year of International Women's Day, we shine the spotlight on 100 Malaysian women, both past and present, who have made an unforgettable impact in Malaysian society for a variety of reasons.
AGE: 49 (DIED JUNE 12, 1948)
She was the resistance fighter who saved countless lives during the Japanese Occupation. Sybil Daly was born in Sumatra to Irish and Indian parents, and grew up in Malaya. She trained as a nurse and midwife and after marrying Dr Adson Clement Kathigasu, they operated a clinic in Ipoh.
When Malaya was taken by the Japanese in 1942, they went into hiding. Sybil and her husband started providing medical aid and information to the underground resistance at the Kathigasu shophouse dispensary in Papan, Perak.
The couple was captured by the Japanese and tortured. Sybil suffered ripped fingernails, hot iron-scalded legs, beatings with bamboo sticks and the infamously cruel “water treatment”.
She was left with a damaged spine, broken bones and a fractured jaw. She died in 1948 from acute septicaemia due to an old wound on the jaw, resulting from a kick of a Japanese boot.
Her life has been immortalised in the series, Suatu Ketika: Sybil... Apa Dosaku? based on her memoir, No Dram Of Mercy. Sybil was the first Malayan woman to be awarded the George Medal, a recognition of civilian bravery in the face of enemy action, by England’s King George VI.
DATUK RASAMMAH NAOMI NAVAREDNAM AKA MRS F.R. BHUPALAN
Educator, unionist and activist, Rasammah has spent a lifetime fighting for a better society. After graduating from University of Malaya in Singapore in 1955, she became a teacher at the Methodist Girls School in Penang. This led her to notice that women teachers were discriminated against in terms of salary.
She was founder president of the Women Teachers Union of the Federation of Malaya in 1960.
Rasammah was the first honorary secretary general of the Malayan Teachers National Congress, which is affiliated to the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). She was the founder principal of the Methodist College and in 1983, she received the Tokoh Guru award in 1986.
She is also a founder member of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO), and was its first secretary general.
Currently, she is chairperson of the National Council of Women’s Organisations’ Law and Human Rights Commission, finance chairperson of YWCA-KL and sits on the Methodist Education Foundation board.
DATUK RAMANI GURUSAMY
The deputy president of the National Council of Women’s Organisation (NCWO) has been a stalwart figher for women’s rights and development in the country for the last 35 years.
She has focused on professional social and community work to promote women’s empowerment in relation to the family, community and national development.
In the 1960s, she fought for equal pay for work of equal value, for giving women Permanency and Pensionable status which entitled them to equal pay, medical, housing and other benefits.
She served NCWO secretary-general for 21 years and was at the forefront of its many programmes, including the formulation of the National Policy on Women and Action Plan.
She remains actively involved in several organisations, such as the Asean Confederation of Women’s Organisations; Suhakam’s Committee on Human Rights Education for Schools and the Home Ministry’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Council.
MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH
Maria, a lawyer by profession, is a prominent voice for women’s rights in Malaysia.
Her vast experience in NGO work includes serving as the National Women’s Coalition president and All Women Action Society (Awam) president.
She further served as executive director of the Women’s Development Collective. In recent years, she lent her voice to highlighting gender issues relating to Islam as senior programme manager for Sisters in Islam.
She is executive director of Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), a non-governmental organisation working with marginalised groups in the community.
DATIN PADUKA MOTHER MANGALAM IYASWAMY IYER
The co-founder and president of Pure Life Society, Mother Mangalam, as she is popularly known, was awarded the Merdeka Award 2010 for the education and community category.
She was selected for her outstanding contributions in promoting the welfare of the underprivileged and fostering national unity.
It was World War II that had a great impact on the way Mother Mangalam approached life.
She saw poverty all around her and people barely having enough food to eat, leading her to reflect on life and death. It was then that she resolved not to marry and have children, as she felt there were so many others who needed her help.
Together with her spiritual mentor, Swami Satyananda, they set up Pure Life Society in 1952. PLS has become a symbol of hope and a home for orphans and underprivileged children.
DATUK SITI NURHALIZA
Siti Nurhaliza Tarudin is a singer, pop idol, songwriter and businesswoman. She has more than 200 awards to her name, among them 34 Anugerah Industri Muzik awards, 22 Anugerah Bintang Popular awards, 20 Anugerah Planet Muzik awards, 18 Anugerah Juara Lagu awards, four MTV Asia Awards and the holder of two records in the Malaysia Book of Records. She won MTV Asia’s Best Musical Artiste and Channel V’s Biggest Asian Artiste in 2005.
She started when she was 16 and has never looked back. Her great talent and sweet looks immediately won her lifelong fans. Her popularity has reached the entire region, and she is mobbed by fans wherever she goes.
Throughout all this, Siti is a savvy entertainer, reciprocating her fans’ adulation with her time and talent and playing up the media attention that she gets.
Her whirlwind relationship with Datuk Khalid Muhammad Jiwa and marriage to him in 2006 caused controversy, as she was said to have come between him and his then wife. But even that did not mar her stellar reputation.
She continued her music career, and even launched a beauty line called SimplySiti in 2010. Last month, she launched her talk show, Siti, and had Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as her first guest.
As director and co-founder of non-governmental organisation, Tenaganita, Fernandez has worked tirelessly to promote the rights of migrant workers and other marginalised people in Malaysia.
She was arrested in 1996 on charges of maliciously publishing false news, following a report she published on the deplorable living conditions of migrant workers in local detention centres.
After a seven-year trial, one of the longest in the country, she was found guilty in 2003, and released on bail pending her appeal.
Despite restricted civil rights, she continued to take an active part in human rights issues. In 2008, she was acquitted of her earlier conviction.
In 2005, Fernandez was awarded the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award, referred to as the alternative Nobel Prize which honours those “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.”
Leong Jing Ru, born in Bahau, Seremban, is the most successful Malaysian singer in the Chinese speaking world. Her album, The Power of Love sold in excess of 1.5 million copies in Asia.
She started her career in Mandarin Pop and in 1997, joined Rock Records in Taiwan. She was nicknamed Fish because the last character of her name sounds like “fish” in Cantonese.
As her career blossomed, she became the “Queen of Love Songs”, with love and friendship as the recurring themes in her songs. She is now an international star, having found success in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
She often collaborates with prominent Chinese songwriters and producers. She has received numerous industry accolades in the region. She is married to Taiwanese businessman Tony Chao.
She is synonymous with NGO group, Women’s Aid Organisation or WAO. WAO was established in 1982 by the late Tun Tan Siew Sin and it was one of the first organisations in Malaysia dedicated to helping battered women and children.
Josiah – born in Kuala Lumpur and raised in Brickfields – was one of its pioneer volunteers.
WAO helps women and children who are victims and survivors of violence and it also conducts public education campaigns to create awareness of violence against women and women’s rights.
For over two decades Josiah has been a leading advocate of women’s rights, an opponent of violence against women and children.
MEJAR PATRICIA YAPP SYAU YIN
Malaysian’s first and only female MiG fighter pilot graduated with honours from the RMAF College in Alor Star in 1997.
Operating under a call-sign of “Foxy”, she is an operational and tactical lead pilot with the No 17/19 “Smokey Bandits” Squadron in Kuantan that flies the MiG-29N Fulcrum air superiority jets.
Yapp is married to fellow air force pilot Captain S. Thayala Kumar Ravi Varman.
AGE: 51 (DIED JULY 25, 2009)
Her sudden death shocked the nation; the outpouring of grief was universal. Yasmin Ahmad was the executive creative director of Leo Burnett Malaysia and filmmaker extraordinaire and her body of work epitomised what the 1Malaysia concept was all about.
She touched hearts with the Petronas commercials about the average Malaysian. Her message was always laced with humour, simplicity and accepting of each other’s differences.
Her string of critically acclaimed and award-winning films – Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin, Rabun, Muallaf and Talentime – were thought-provoking and beautifully shot. Her death, caused by a stroke and brain haemorrhage, instantly lifted Yasmin to legendary status and deservedly so.
Sharifah Amani Syed Zainal Rashid Al- Yahya was discovered at 17 when she was cast by filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad in her film Sepet. The film went on to be a phenomenal success and Sharifah Amani went on to become Yasmin’s favourite actress: she was the lead in two other of Yasmin’s movies, Gubra (2006) and Muallaf (2008) and a cameo in Mukhsin (2006).
Sharifah Amani won the Most Promising Actress award for Sepet at the 2005 Festival Film Malaysia and Best Actress award for Gubra at the same festival the following year.
She has appeared in numerous local movies since such as Gol And Gincu, Possessed, Puaka Tebing Biru and 1957: Hati Malaya.
Sharifah made her directorial debut with Sangkar, a short film which was part of the HerStory Films Project which brought together five women artistes to make five short films that explore various issues regarding women.
Ithaini Mohamed Taib, better known as Anita Sarawak, is one of the country’s biggest names in show business and often dubbed the Queen of Malaysian Entertainment.
Born in Singapore, she comes from showbiz stock, her father was the late actor, producer and director Datuk S. Roomai Noor aka Datuk Mohamed Taib Salleh, a legend on the silver screen from Temerloh, Pahang. Her mother was actress Ramlah Abdullah aka Siput Sarawak.
She started singing in her teens and became famous in the 1970s, known for her showmanship.
Today she is a diva extraordinaire, a star of international proportions. She has appeared in entertainment programmes on Singapore’s Mediacorp and Suria networks which included Phua Chu Kang, Bersama Anita and Mahligai Kita.
The seemingly ageless Anita has successfully carved out an identity as a great entertainer of this generation.
With over 20 albums to her name, this rock star continues to thrill fans by being in the business for 25 years.
Ella or Norzila Aminuddin earned the title “Ratu Rock” in the 1990s, and she is one of the few female rock stars in Malaysia.
She has had three platinum-selling albums, and is one of the best-selling female artistes in Malaysia. She was the first Malaysian to record a full album in the USA, titled ELLA USA, and has worked with famed guitarist Slash for her ninth album.
In 1998, Ella was chosen to sing Standing in the Eyes of the World, the theme song for the Commonwealth Games which were held in Kuala Lumpur.
DATUK SOSILAWATI LAWIYA
AGE: 47 (DIED AUG 30, 2010)
She had built up a sizeable cosmetic empire but remained relatively unknown until her shocking murder last year.
While the initial report of her disappearance with her lawyer, financial adviser and driver garnered little interest, the case rapidly developed into a major crime story that gripped the nation.
When their murders were confirmed and gruesome details unfolded of how they were bludgeoned, their remains burnt and their ashes scattered over a river near Ladang Gadong in Tanjung Sepat, near Banting, the story went international.
A lawyer, N. Pathmanabhan, 41, and three others are charged with the murders and awaiting trial.
Soo’s first acting break was as an extra in Gorgeous, a 1999 Jackie Chan movie starring Shu Qi. She later got a part in an Aaron Kwok musical special. These were preparatory roles for her now successful acting career.
Her breakthrough role was in the film The 3rd Generation where she acted opposite pop singer Nicholas Teo and won the Most Promising Actress award at the 2006 Malaysian film awards. She also collaborated with Teo on the theme song for the movie.
She has also acted on stage and on TV. In 2008, she starred in an ABS-CBN soap opera with Filipino actors Jericho Rosales, Cristine Reyes and Christopher de Leon called Kahit Isang Saglit that was aired worldwide.
The show later earned an International Emmy Award nomination. Thanks to the TV series, Soo is a megastar in the Philippines.
In the 1980s, Francissca Peter was The Voice with her powerful vocals. With 20 number one hits, Francissca and her then singing partner, Royston Sta Maria (they were known as Roy & Fran) were the singing sensation of their time.
Among her most popular hits were Sekadar Di Pinggiran, Kerana Terpaksa and Aku Kehilanganmu.
This accomplished actress is known not just for her work in television and movies, but also on stage, where she has done plays and comedy shows.
Over the years, Ida has worked with some of the biggest directors in the local film industry, including Yasmin Ahmad, Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba and Datuk Yusof Haslam.
Among the numerous awards she’s received are: the 1992 Anugerah Skrin TV3 Best Actress award for Anak Angkat, 1998 Malaysian Film Festival (MFF) Best Actress award for Layar Lara and the 2005 MFF award for Best Supporting Actress for Sepet.
In 2008, Ida tried her hand at reality television when she and her friend Tania Khan were selected to participate in The Amazing Race Asia, Season 3, where they finished in third place.
Despite suffering a serious spinal injury from a fall at her home in 2009 which has confined her to a wheelchair, Ida continues to remain active in the entertainment and arts fields.
As a lyricist, Habsah has penned songs for some of the biggest names in the local music scene, including Sudirman, Noorkumalasari and Zaiton Sameon.
In 1984, she became the first local lyricist to receive the Gold Disc award from WEA Recording Company (now Warner Music) for writing the most number of hit songs.
She was also the first woman to win in the Best Lyricist category in the 1987 Muzik muzik competition.
Some of Habsah’s award-winning songs include Menaruh Harapan, Kukehilangan Mu and Merisik Khabar. She also dabbles in screenwriting and film producing; most recently, she wrote and produced Qaisy & Laila in 2005.
DATIN PADUKA MARINA MAHATHIR
Eldest child of former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Marina is best known for her work as president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, an umbrella body of 40 NGOs working in HIV/AIDS in Malaysia – a role she held for 12 years from 1993 to 2005.
She was instrumental for putting treatment for HIV/AIDS patients on the table and getting the Government to provide anti-viral treatment for Malaysians living with HIV for free.
She is currently a member of the Board of Sisters in Islam (SIS), an advocacy group which fights for justice and equality for Muslim women.
An avid blogger and twitterer, she also writes a long-running fortnightly column, Musings, in The Star; produces TV programmes for young women, writes and speaks regularly on women’s issues, particularly where they relate to Islam, gender and HIV/AIDS.
She and Zainah Anwar are the only two Malaysians in “Women Deliver 100” , a list of the 100 most inspiring people who have improved the lives of girls and women worldwide by Women Deliver, a New York-based advocacy group.
She helped set up a fledgling movement to look into the problems of Muslim women in 1990 that has become synonymous with Muslim feminism. Sisters In Islam (SIS) covers such issues as legal rights, polygamy and domestic and sexual violence within marriage. As its executive director for many years, Zainah was the face and spokesperson of SIS. SIS has opened public space for debate and is at the forefront on efforts to amend the Islamic Family Law. It has espoused equality and justice for women, discussed dress and modesty, the right to guardianship, women as judges, fundamental liberties in Islam, and apostasy and freedom of religion.
In 2008, after two decades, Zainah handed the mantle over to Marina Chin Abdullah, who took over as senior programme manager. Zainah remains on the board of SIS.
She concurrently serves as project director for Musawah, the SIS-initiated global movement for justice and equality in the Muslim family.
With Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, she is one of two Malaysians in “Women Deliver 100” , a list of the 100 most inspiring people who have improved the lives of girls and women worldwide by New York-based advocacy group Women Deliver.
She shot to fame when she beat 10,000 contestants to become the first Malaysian Idol in 2004. Jaclyn’s post-Idol career has seen her release three albums and perform in sold-out concerts both locally and abroad. She subsequently also participated in and won Ikon Malaysia, another reality singing competition.
She has been given numerous awards for her unique voice, including five Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) awards and the XIII Shanghai Asian Music Festival Golden Prize in 2005. She was also featured on the highly-anticipated Special Edition of Disney’s High School Musical 2 soundtrack.
In 2009, Jaclyn debuted as an actress in Talentime, for which she received a Most Promising Actress award at the Malaysian Film Festival.
The songstress even tried her hand at musical theatre in 2010’s Cuci the Musical Season 2. She was most recently seen onscreen in local Tamil film, Appalam.
As the founder and director of the Instant Cafe Theatre Company (started in the late 1980s), Kukathas is an accomplished veteran of the local theatre scene who dabbles in almost all aspects of the craft as actress, director, comedian, writer.
She and the company are known for their humorous yet bold critiques of contemporary society and politics. As as actress, she has received many awards for her work both here and abroad, particularly for her solo performances in plays such as Atomic Jaya and Election Day. She is especially well-known for her involvement in cross-cultural productions such as Breaking Ji Poh Ka Si Pe Cah and Air Con.
DATUK ILANI ISAHAK
AGE: 58 (DIED MARCH 2, 2011)
The lawyer-turned-politician took up the challenging role of Inter-faith Relations Working Committee chairperson when she accepted the appointment by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in April last year.
Her appointment was widely lauded because she was “the epitome of moderation and inclusiveness” for her stand on the need for mutual respect among the different religions to face challenges and settle disputes.
She took up politics when she joined Umno in 1980 and then Semangat 46 in 1988 and won the parliamentary seat of Kota Baru. She defended the seat in the following general election and rejoined Umno when the “new” party was formed in 1996.
Her work on inter-faith matters begun when she was appointed in 2004 to head the National Unity Advisory Panel, the precursor to the Inter-faith Committee, by Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
As Inter-faith Committee chairperson, she sought to bring Muslim and non-Muslim leaders together with continuous dialogue to bring about understanding.
Her promising start was sadly cut short when she succumbed to breast cancer early this month.
Lai Meng, who is known in the industry as Meng Yee (Aunty Meng), started out singing before venturing into acting.
Her first TV series, Empat Sekawan, is remembered to this day. Her acting touches a chord, whether she is playing a busybody aunty, a beastly mother-in-law or a loving grandmother.
In 2008, she was nominated for best supporting actress at the 45th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, for her role in Money No Enough 2 when she was 81.
Today, this woman who is considered by many to be a national treasure, continues to act.
Lee Sinje got her start when she was discovered by famed Hong Kong actressdirector Sylvia Chang at a Kuala Lumpur film audition in 1995.
Moving to Taiwan with her mentor, she started singing but later switched to acting.
She is best known for her role in The Eye, a horror film by the Pang Brothers, for which she won the coveted Golden Horse Award for Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Festival and a Hong Kong Golden Bauhinia Award.
She was also awarded the Best Newcomer Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004 for her role in Betelnut Beauty.
She has carved out a niche as a serious actress who many believe is the next Michelle Yeoh.
Last year, she starred in her first Malaysian production, the critically acclaimed and box office hit, Ice kacang Puppy Love, with fellow Malaysian stars Ah Niu and Fish Leong. She is married to director Oxide Pang.
Lee is also known for her voluntary work as an ambassador for World Vision.
LEE LEE LAN
Having first founded the Federal Academy of Ballet in 1967, Lee’s academy is now the country’s most established dance school, with five branches and over 1,500 students.
Lee, who first took up dance at the age of 14, started teaching ballet part-time to put herself through university, but it soon became a full-time profession.
Her academy has now ventured into different dance genres, including jazz, tap and cultural dances.
She further formed the Kuala Lumpur Dance Theatre in 1984, to create a performing arm for her academy.
Having led her team to perform in hundreds of concerts around the world, Lee holds several awards including the Saitama Choreographic Prize and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing International Award.
She was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to the Malaysian performing arts at the 2009 BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.
The Universiti Malaya law graduate became a familiar face when she joined 3R, the long-running TV series that focuses on women’s issues in 2000, as one of the original trio of hosts.
She left at the end of the 5th season to pursue a Master’s in Scriptwriting degree from Goldsmiths College, London, on a British Council scholarship. Upon her return, she has conducted scriptwriting workshops, written commercials, TV dramas, presentation videos, educational videos and a feature-length movie.
She returned to 3R as the lead writer for its 10th and 11th season. Her first feature film, Gol & Gincu, which premiered in 2005 was turned into a popular TV series.
Rafidah has been an active volunteer for NGOs like Food not Bombs that provides food to the homeless in Kuala Lumpur and participates in activities organised by Sisters In Islam. She was Unicef’s Malaysia Goodwill Ambassador from 2005 to 2008. She returned to the screen by co-hosting Astro’s children’s science programme, Clever.
Known for her coy looks and the mole beside her lower lip, this black-and-white screen icon was at her peak from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Many of her films are still held as classics today, such as Gurindam Jiwa and Hang Jebat, but she is most associated with the 1959 classic Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah.
DATUK FARAH KHAN
Singapore-born Farah opened her first store, The Link, along Orchard Road in Singapore, straight out of school. She gave up her stake in the store when she got married and moved to Malaysia.
The fabulously chic Farah was responsible for bringing luxury brands into the Malaysian market since the late 1980s.
In 1989, she founded The Melium Group with its first franchise for Aigner, a well known German leather brand, followed by Hugo Boss, a premier menswear brand.
Today, The Melium Group comprises over 50 premium luxury and lifestyle brands from Ermenegildo Zegna, Stuart Weitzman, Furla, Tod’s, Emilio Pucci, Cole Haan, Juicy Couture to Yves Saint Laurent.
Her efforts in promoting trade between Malaysia and Italy was recognised in 2007 when she was awarded the Italian Star of Solidarity Order by the Italian Government.
She launched The Melium Galleria, a promenade-style galleria in Suria KLCC – offering an assortment of international brands, including the homegrown multi-brand store, Aseana.
In 2003, she created her own label, Farah Khan, which became the first Malaysian designer brand to be sold in 31 cities around the world.
To complete the lifestyle element in her business, she introduced Australia’s international café chain, Dome Café, and Britain’s leading sushi restaurant, Yo! Sushi, in 1995 and 2007 respectively.
DATUK NICOL ANN DAVID
She is the most successful woman squash player in the world. At 16, when most of her peers were immersed in either their studies or social activities, she won the 1999 British Junior Open, where she was champion for both the Under-17 and Under-19 categories, the SEA Games (senior and team categories champion), and the German Junior Open (Under-19 champion).
In the same year, she became the youngest winner of the Women’s World Junior Championships in Antwerp, where she beat compatriot Leong Siu Lynn in just 30 minutes.
Today, after numerous wins at national and international levels, Nicol David is ranked world number 1 in women’s squash, the first Asian woman to achieve this. In 2008, she became the youngest person ever to be conferred a Datukship in Malaysia, the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri from her home state of Penang.
She is currently one of the most recognised and admired sportswomen in the country.
She holds the record for the largest majority in any constituency when she retained her parliamentary seat of Seputeh in Kuala Lumpur with 36,492 votes in the March 8, 2008 general election.
She is Assembly woman for Kinrara and is the senior Selangor executive councillor in charge of investment, trade and industry.
This feisty and hardworking politician is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, she was arrested under the Internal Security Act after a newspaper alleged that she “advised” a mosque in Puchong not to use loudspeakers for the azan call to prayer, an allegation which was later proved to be false.
She was detained for seven days but was released following widespread public outcry.
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.
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 Sarada Foundation.
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 Day celebration.
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 battles.
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.
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 Heritage Department.
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 Malaya.
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 2001.
In March 2009, she defeated Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz at the Wanita Umno General Assembly elections and became Wanita Umno chief.
A month later, she was appointed a senator and reappointed Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, a post she holds until today.
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 Islamic Bank.
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 Community category.
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 cancer.
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.
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 prostitution.
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.
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.
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.
ASHA became a household name with her stint as a Channel V veejay.
In her shows, she has interviewed celebrities like the Bee Gees, Lenny Kravitz, Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child. She has also co-emceed shows with Christina Aguilera and Kelis.
As the host of the Lonely Planet’s Six Degrees travel series, she won many fans with her warm, down-to-earth style. The Punjabi-English beauty has also appeared in ads, TV series, film and radio.
She was a Tag Hueur ambassador in 2005. What makes her stand out are her intelligence and unconventional streak of independence.
She not only writes, produces and directs, she is an outspoken women’s rights activist. Her involvement in the women’s rights movement goes back to her university days in England.
She has participated in many fund-raising and awareness campaigns and events, including the highly controversial 2002 Malaysian production of The Vagina Monologues.
In 2004 she became a spokesperson for Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
After a two-year hiatus to have her son, she now juggles single motherhood with part-time jobs as emcee, host and model.
This statuesque beauty is one of Malaysia’s most well-known personalities, and holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian beauty queen to win an international title, Miss Charm International 1990.
Kavita has also modelled for Jean-Louis Scherner in Paris annd Escada in Munich. She has been involved in numerous television and fi lm projects, including award-winning movies like Layar Lara, Mimpi Moon and the Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam fi lms.
In 2009, she modelled a RM100mil diamond- encrusted dress by Mouawad at the STYLO Fashion Grand Prix KL and launched her own clothing label last year.
The three-time Designer of the Year award winner has dressed royalty as well as Hollywood celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears and Mena Suvari.
In the decade she has been in the business, she made waves with her so-called story-telling art pieces and her signature avant garde Gothic style which even quirky film director Tim Burton would love.
Looi has also successfully designed Muslim inspired collections and as well as bridal wear.
She continues to reinvent herself. Now married with three children, she has embarked on a challenging course of developing an ecofriendly cotton range of clothes.
DATUK TOM ABANG SAUFI
Best known for successfully marrying the country’s rich heritage with contemporary design . Her distinctive creations are often in fl owing silhouettes, vivid colours and vibrant prints.
She has amassed numerous awards such as Designer Of The Year award at the Malaysian International Fashion Awards in 2004, the Stylo Classic Award at the fi rst Stylo KL Fashion Festival in 2008 and the Fashion Tribute to 1Malaysia Best Adaptation award at the Stylo Mercedez Benz Fashion Gala last April.
DATUK SARIMAH AHMAD
She made her acting debut in classic Malay movie Ali Baba Bujang Lapuk in 1960 and went on to be the glamorous and popular star of Malay classics of the 1960s and 1970s including Ibu Mertuaku and Madu Tiga. Sarimah has enjoyed a long movie career and later film credits include Tiada Esok Bagimu (1979), Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan (1983) and Tarik-Tarik (1993).
DATIN SERI DR WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL
She was the shy doctor-wife of a charismatic politician, who was happy to stay in the background. All that changed for Dr Wan Azizah when her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, was sacked as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister on Sept 2, 1998, and she was thrust into the limelight.
Following his dismissal, Anwar launched a people’s reform movement in September 1998. After his arrest, Dr Wan Azizah continue her husband’s reformation movement.
On April 4, 1999, she was elected as Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) fi rst president. In the 1999 general election, she led the party to win fi ve seats in Parliament and was elected MP for Permatang Pauh (a seat formerly held by Anwar). She successfully retained her seat in the 2004 and 2008 elections.
On July 31, 2008, she resigned from her seat to make way for her husband’s return to Parliament.
Despite her lack of experience and barbs that she was a mere puppet, Dr Wan Azizah won public admiration for maintaining her grace and dignity under very trying circumstances.
WAN ZALEHA RADZI
In 1985, when TV3 started broadcasting news, a fresh-faced broadcast journalist made her debut alongside Mahathir Lokman and captured the hearts of Malaysians for many years after that. Wan Zaleha Radzi’s combination of beauty and intelligence is well-remembered to this day.
She is currently doing what she loves best: riding and organising equestrian events in Kuala Lumpur. An accomplished equestrian herself, she had been in competitive sports since she was 15.
Under her company Asiapromote Ventures Sdn Bhd, she and her husband, Peter Imran Winton, has brought the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Five-Star KL Grand Prix to Malaysia since 2003. Malaysia is the first Asian nation to stage the world’s highest-rated horse show-jumping event.
She wants to get the Malaysian public excited about the sport and also promote it as a Malaysian event for equestrians and horse enthusiasts as well.
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 assistant governors.
This singer and actress was the nation’s darling in the 1970s and 80s. She has recorded more than 15 albums with hits like Semakin Hari Semakin Sayang, Mengapa Derita Yang Di Cari and Rindu Ku Semakin Mendalam.
A talented actress, she was in over 100 dramas for TV and the theatre. Her debut film,Permintaan Terakhir (1974) was signed under Shaw Brothers Hong Kong.
In her heyday, Uji travelled extensively with the Malaysian Tourism Department as an ambassador of Malaysian arts and culture.
She was the presenter for TV3’s Muzik Muzik programme in 1985 and was awarded the Anugerah Bintang Popular award by Berita Harian for her outstanding achievements in the business in 1994.
She has been modelling since she was 18 but she shot to fame at 22 after being chosen as one of two Guess ambassadors by Paul Marciano, creative director of Guess in 2004.
Since then Chia has been one of the country’s most sought-after models, known for her “bee-stung lips” and for her professional attitude during shoots. She has graced the covers of several local and foreign magazines.
Chia has also begun acting and has appeared in several Chinese movies such as The 3rd Generation, Possessed, and Trio & a Bed.
The business-savvy Chia, who recently became a wife and mother, has embarked on a new career direction by setting up the Amber Chia Academy to train and groom young models.
AGE: 28 (DIED JUNE 13, 2003)
Canny Ong will always be remembered as the woman who was at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
On June 13, 2003 at about 10.45pm after having dinner with relatives and friends at Bangsar Shopping Complex, Kuala Lumpur, Ong went alone to the car park to retrieve her mother’s car. It was her farewell dinner as she was due to fly home to San Diego, United States, where she lived with her American husband.
When Ong did not return, her mother alerted security. Close-circuit cameras in the car park showed the Proton Tiara driven by her, crashing through the parking boom.
The heart-wrenching news of her abduction was played out in the media over the next few days, with a series of alleged sightings of her.
On June 18, 2003, her charred body, with hands bound and neck showing signs of strangulation, was found in a culvert in Jalan Klang Lama, Her car was discovered 3km away.
Three days later, Ahmad Najib Aris, a 27-year-old aircraft cleaning supervisor, was arrested and he confessed. In February 2005, the Shah Alam High Court sentenced him to death for murder and a further 20 years jail for raping Ong.
Sadly, it took the death of a young and beautiful IT analyst to bring about greater security measure in car parks in shopping centres and malls.
It was her combination of winsome looks and speed that made Chin such a star on the track and off it.
She was the national women’s 100m champion as well as a top hurdler in the late 1970s. During her career as a national athlete, she won seven SEA Games gold medals and a gold and two silver medals in the Asian track and field competition.
She is most remembered for winning both the 100m and 200m hurdles at the 1977 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
She was further named Sportswoman for the Year two years in a row, 1976 and 1977.
Chin, who was actively involved with the National Sports Council to draw up strategies for athlete training, is currently the principal of the Bukit Jalil Sports School.
Appointed to the post in 2007, she is the first former national athlete to head the school.
DATUK M. RAJAMANI
The “Queen of the Tracks” was the first Malaysian woman to win a gold medal in any sport at the Asian Games when she won the 400m in record time at the 1966 Games.
From 1964 to 1968, she also won seven gold medals in two SEA Games and represented Malaysia at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Rajamani was awarded the coveted National Sportswoman of the Year Award two years in a row, in 1966 and 1967.
Following an accident at the age of 24 in 1968, Rajamani retired from athletics and took up coaching, and saw the emergence of sprint star Marina Chin under her guidance.
Shalin Zulkifli started bowling at nine and in 1994, she became the youngest player and first Malaysian to win the Ladies Open of the Kent Malaysian All-Stars. This professional 10-pin bowler and former Asian number one has raked up numerous wins in national and international tournaments, winning the hearts of her countrymen.
She holds a degree in Sports Science that specialises in Sports Psychology and Coaching. Her latest project is the baby she’s expecting with her husband, Azidi Ameran. In fact, she was pregnant during the recent Asian Games in Guangzhou. The women’s team, led by Shalin, won one bronze medal.
Ng made history at the 1978 Commonwealth games in Edmonton, Canada, by becoming the first Asian woman to win the badminton singles gold, as well as the first Malaysian female athlete bag a gold in the history of the Games. She was also the only player to win a gold medal for the country at the 1975 SEA Games. She was honoured as Sportswoman of the Year twice, in 1975 and 1978, and won the national badminton champion title five times before she retired in 1980.
In 2004, Ng was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame.
The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support is an ex-St George’s girl from Penang.
Cheng-Hopkins holds a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Beloit College in Wisconsin, a Masters in economic development from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and diplomas from Universite de Haute, Bretagne in France and Harvard University.
She applied for a job with the UNDP and received her first posting to Africa in 1982 where she spent a decade in Zambia and Kenya.
From Africa, she was reassigned to the World Food Programme (WFP) headquartered in Rome where she headed the WFP for Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Balkans.
From 2006 to 2009, she was made Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, in charge of operations in over 118 countries.
On August 17, 2009, she was appointed to her present position by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a role she earned after having served 30 years in the UN in many different areas.
She is married to Dr Thomas Hopkins, a consultant in development work, and they have two daughters.
AGE: 62 (DIED MAY 26, 1987)
It was a “wardrobe malfunction” that launched the career of the country’s best known striptease artiste. Her bra snapped and the audience went wild. At 27, she changed her dance routine to a striptease act and a Malayan legend was born.
Rose Chan’s real name was Chan Wai Chang. She was born in Soochow, China, in 1925 to acrobat parents and moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1931. She did not receive much schooling, and started work in a buttonmaking shop at 12. When she turned 16, she was married off to an older man for some cash and jewellery, all taken by her mother.
When her marriage broke down, she was left alone and penniless. She went to work as a cabaret dancer at The Happy World in Singapore, to spite her husband. She became an accomplished dancer, even winning a dance championship and a beauty contest.
She was now in great demand, dancing in several cabarets at a time.
She started her own touring show in Malaya. As the Striptease Queen, she pushed the boundaries even more, introducing more and more risque acts into her repertoire.
She became internationally famous. She was married four times.
In conservative Malaya, Chan often had to avoid arrest for contravening indecency laws.
By the 1970s, it had become impossible for her shows to go on. She performed her last striptease in 1976. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983 and spent her last few years in Butterworth, Penang, leaving behind a husband, a son and three daughters.
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.
AGE: 45 (DIED NOV 2, 2001)
Her name is synonymous with black magic and murder most foul. She killed a politician in such a gruesome and spectacular fashion that it is almost the stuff of fi ction.
Mona Fandey was a self-styled bomoh who had lured Batu Talam assemblyman Datuk Mazlan Idris into her lair with promises of, presumably, political invincibility through the use of black magic.
Mazlan paid her RM500,000 and gave her 10 land titles as security for the remaining RM2mil “fee”. The ritual was set for July 6, 1993. Mona, her husband and her aide murdered and decapitated him and chopped his body into 18 pieces which they buried on their property. After that, the couple went on a shopping spree before the law caught up with them.
During the 65-day trial, Mona and her Rasputin-like eyes gained further notoriety when she appeared always fashionably dressed with bright red lipstick in court. She seemed to love playing to the gallery, smiling for the camera and the public developed a morbid fascination with her.
The trio was found guilty and sentenced them to death. They were hanged on Nov 2, 2001 at Kajang Prison, Selangor.
In 2006, a movie, Dukun, which was based on the sensational case was made, starring Umie Aida. But it was never released due to “sensitivities”.
DR HARTINI ZAINUDIN
Hartini Zainudin is well known for her work with marginalised children. She cofounded Rumah NurSalam, a 24-hour crisis centre for children under 18 in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. The centre provides abused, neglected, abandoned and trafficked children with basic needs and counselling and protection services.
The centre is a collaborative effort between Yayasan Salam Malaysia and the Department of Children’s Welfare, KL.
DATUK SHEILA MAJID
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the career of Datuk Sheila Majid, or Shaheila Abdul Majid, the youngest of eight siblings.
She sang in her teens and released her first album Dimensi Baru in 1985. Many more albums followed, most notably Legenda in 1990.
She performed at the Tokyo Mysic Festival in Japan, the first Malaysian singer to penetrate the Japanese market. She is vastly popular in Indonesia as well, and held her 25th anniversary concert in Jakarta to sellout crowds.
In 2000, Sheila became the first Malaysian singer to perform with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
Today, the mother of four who is still passionate about singing but has also become an entrepreneur, owning a spa, a rehearsal studio, Jerneh skincare products and an artiste management company.
JOANNA KAM POH POH
Regarded by many as Malaysia’s funniest woman, Joanna Kam Poh Poh has been a comic for well over two decades. She started in the late 1980s when she had a comedy/ cabaret act in one of KL’s most popular night clubs at the time, the Boom Boom Room.
Joanne was known not just for her bold, bawdy humour but because of her size: she was a whopping 99kg at the time.
Now, 30kg lighter, she is still a riot and continues to perform and recently joined forces with Jit Murad and Bi Bi Kay Poh to stage The Real Comedy Queens.
Here was the ultimate “cougar”: centenarian Wook Kundor from Kuala Berang, Terengganu, who made headlines worldwide when she married Mohd Noor Che Musa, 70 years younger than her, in 2005. Wook Kundor claimed he was her 23rd husband.
Despite being separated for about a year while Mohd Noor underwent drug rehabilitation, the couple reunited last July. However, he was re-arrested a month later for a drug offence.
DATUK DR JEMILAH MAHMOOD
SHE is the widely admired president of Mercy Malaysia, an organisation she and her husband, Datuk Dr Ashar Abdullah, founded in 1999 modelled after Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders).
It is the only Asian organisation certified for humanitarian accountability, which delivers world-class programmes and have a reputation as a respectable, responsible and accountable international humanitarian NGO.
Mercy Malaysia is active internationally and has sent relief missions to Kosovo, Cambodia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan, Maldives and Lebanon.
Dr Jemilah studied at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and obtained her medical degree in 1986. In 1992, she earned her Masters in Obstetrics & Gynaecology. She is a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK).
In 2008, she was appointed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Advisory Group of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
In 2006, she was the first Malaysian to win the Gandhi, King and Ikeda humanitarian award.
AGE: 84 (DIED OCT 20, 2008)
She was a nationalist who took a dramatically different route from most of her peers.
She embraced communism and became a prominent Malay leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), and spent almost 40 years in exile, mostly in China. Following the 1989 peace agreement between the CPM and the Government in Haadyai, Thailand, she was granted permission to return, which she did on July 23, 1994, with her husband, their three sons and their four grandchildren.
With her business acumen and geomancy knowledge, Too has successfully brought feng shui to an international audience through her 80 books written in English and translated into 30 languages. She speaks to sellout crowds at conventions all over the world.
But before she became Lilian Too, feng shui guru, she was a banker with an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
She was the fi rst woman in Malaysia to head a public listed company and was chief executive of Dao Heng Bank in Hong Kong.
After retirement, Too devoted her time to the ancient art of feng shui and is now one of the country’s foremost authorities on the subject.
Thanks to her stunning looks, she started off as an endorsement model — she was the Pantene girl for the longest time — but Maya Karin Roelcke is best known for her role in Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam.
She received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a pontianak and won Best Actress honours at the 49th Asia Pacific Film Festival 2004 in Fukuoka, Japan, and also at the Estepona Fantasy and Terror Film Festival 2005 in Malaga, Spain.
In 2005 she won the Most Popular Actress award at the Anugerah Bintang Popular.
Other films she has done include Waris Jari Hantu, 1957: Hati Malaya and Anak Halal for which she won Best Actress in 2008’s Malaysia Film Festival for her role as a tomboy.
The country’s fi rst international supermodel was discovered by a Mandarin-speaking commercial director from New York, Danny Wolf, who convinced her to move to New York in November 1994.
In the Big Apple, Ling landed her fi rst runway job with fellow Malaysian, designer Zang Toi. Ling has since broken stereotypes.
At a time when Caucasian models dominated the runways and editorial pages, she was able to land top advertising campaigns for big labels like Armani, Prescriptives, Guess, Wolford, Daryl K, Bruno Magli, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Banana Republic to name a few.
She’s walked the catwalks of top couture houses such as Zang Toi and Givenchy and is still much sought after.
DATIN JOSEPHINE FONSEKA
She was just 18 and travelling overseas for the first time. But her beauty and natural poise made her a favourite and she indeed made it to the semi-finals of the 1970 Miss Universe competition held in Miami Beach. It was the first time a Malaysian made it so far in the competition.
Ipoh girl Josephine Lena Wong , youngest girl in a family of 10, started taking part in various pageants as a teenager and won the biggest trophy with the Miss Malaysia Universe title.
She later attended college and worked at three beauty companies before settling at Japanese beauty company, Kanebo, where she worked her way to the position of manager or Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Wong is married to Datuk Dr C.G.A. Fonseka, former deputy director-general of the Health Department, and they have four daughters – the youngest, Andrea Fonseka, followed her mother’s footsteps when she was crowned Miss Malaysia Universe 2004.
The only Miss Malaysia to make it to the top three in the international Miss World 1998 pageant in Mahe Island, Seychelles. She was second runner-up . Though she continues to model, Teoh is now more focused on her work behind the camera, making documentaries.
Among others, she produced Among the Great Apes, a 50-minute, high-definition documentary for the National Geographic Channel with actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh and was associate producer for Smart Tunnel, a documentary about KL’s famed stormwater tunnel, also for the National Geographic Channel.
DATUK YASMIN YUSUF
Another beauty queen who made a lasting impact. She was the second runner-up in the Best National Costume category at the 1978 Miss Universe competition in Acapulco, Mexico.
As she grew older, Malaysians also discovered she also had a beautiful voice when she became a radio DJ in shows like Yasmin in the Morning (on Rfm). She remains a well-known name and a sought-after emcee.
MUMTAZ BEGUM JAAFAR
Negri Sembilan-born Mumtaz was one of the nation’s best woman athletes. She won the gold medal in the 100m dash at 1981 SEA Games in Manila.
She was named the Woman Athlete of the Year and Selangor Sportswoman for 1981. After a thigh injury in the same year, she never regained her former glory.
She retired in April, 1986 after eight years of competition.
She has served as vice-president of the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) and was the Woman Sub-committee chairwoman of MAAU. Currently, she heads the National Athlete Welfare Foundation, formed in 2009 to provide better welfare for the former athletes.
The Bukit Lanjan Asemblywoman became active in national politics in 2004 when she joined Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Before that, Wong spent many years as a social and human rights activist, and served as Head of Research and Advocacy in Nepal’s premier development NGO for two years.
She was also involved in many local environmental campaigns which holds her in good stead in her present role as a Selangor executive council member in charge of Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment.
In 2009, photos taken of a partially dressed sleeping Wong were circulated via MMS.
She offered to resign but the incident gained her massive public support and sympathy and after a brief leave of absence, Wong returned to work.
NURUL HUDA ABDULLAH
She was just 13 and with her shy smile and mope of curly hair, she was the country’s first swimming star. The granddaughter of Singapore President Wee Kim Kee, Nurul debuted at the 1983 SEA Games at that age.
She holds the distinction of being the first female swimmer in Southeast Asia to break the five-minute mark for the 400m individual medley and to break the 60-seconds mark for the 100m freestyle. She further won seven gold and one silver medals in the 1985 SEA Games, and in the process broke six SEA Games records.
The following year, she bagged two silvers and two bronzes in the Asian Games. Nurul Huda was named Sportswoman of the Year in 1985 and 1986, and, in 1987, became the first Malaysian to win an IOC Trophy. In 1989, she bested herself when she bagged eight golds at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, after which she retired.
DATUK OOI CHEAN SEE
PENANGITE Ooi, who resides in Bonn, Germany, holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian woman conductor. She was appointed to the post of resident conductor of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) in 1997, which she continued to lead until 2005 when she returned to Germany.
Currently, a guest conductor with German orchestras, Ooi was also appointed an ambassador of Tourism Malaysia in 2009. A trained concert pianist who also plays the violin, harpsichord and percussion, she won the first prize in the International Conductors Competition in the German cities of Halle and Hamm in 1991, and held the position of First Conductor of the Classic Philharmonic Orchestra, Bonn, from 1991 to 1994. Most notably, she was a guest conductor with the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, Austria, arguably the capital of classical music, in 2005. Ooi was conferred the Federal Cross of Merit, a German national honour, in 2003.
With Ning, the words “strong, sexy, sultry” come to mind. With 10 albums to her name, she has established herself as one of the country’s most accomplished pop and R&B singers. She started recording radio and television jingles when she was just six. When she was nine, she began formal singing lessons when she was nine under the renowned Indonesian opera linguist and soprano Siti Chairani. Ning was also part of the National Choir and was offered a full scholarship in music at the prestigious Vienna Conservatoire. Ning also acts and has been in musicals and films.
DATUK FARIDAH MERICAN
The First Lady of Malaysian theatre has been active in the performing arts for over 50 years and her name has become synonymous with The Actors Studio, which she co-founded with husband Joe Hasham in 1989.
Today, it is a thriving platform for local playwrights and actors. For her tireless work in performing arts, she was awarded the BOH Cameronian Lifetime Achievement Award for 2004.
In July 2005, Faridah was conferred the Darjah Dato’ Paduka Tuanku Ja’afar by the Yang Di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan on the occasion of His Highness’ 83rd Birthday. In August 2006, she received an Honorary Master of Letters at University Sains Malaysia’s 35th Convocation. She strives to convince the next generation that there is a place in the arts for all, but it’s demanding and requires total discipline.
MARION D’ CRUZ
Dancer, choreographer and teacher, D’Cruz’s career has spanned 30 years. She is one of the five founding members of Five Arts Centre and is now its executive producer.
She is a graduate in Performing Arts and Dance from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. She has studied and performed classical, modern and contemporary dance in Malaysia, Indonesia, London and New York.
In 1983 she formed Marion D’Cruz and Dancers and is recognised as one of the pioneers of contemporary dance in Malaysia.
SALOMA (PUAN SRI SALMAH ISMAIL)
AGE: 48 (DIED APRIL 25,1983)
Saloma was P. Ramlee’s third wife. Born Salmah binti Ismail in Singapore, her stage name was either given by Run Run Shaw of Shaw Bros when the film Salome hit the box office or by her husband. She started singing at weddings at 13, and gained fame when she joined the Panca Sitara Group, a band of musicians led by P. Ramlee.
She started acting as well, often playing P. Ramlee’s love interest. Her beauty captivated the audience, cutting an iconic silhouette with her coiffed hairdo and kebaya-clad hourglass figure.
Her unparalled singing voice was legendary and set a very high standard for Malaysian female vocalists. Her contributions to the Malaysian art scene earned her the Biduanita Negara (1979) award. She died a decade after her beloved husband P. Ramlee. The official cause of death was liver failure, but it was widely said that she died of a broken heart.
JEAN PERERA SINAPPA
AGE: 33 (DIED APRIL 6, 1979)
In death, she was immortalised. Gerard Benedict, producer of the documentary, Jean Perera: the Beauty Queen Murder, for Astro’s Crime & Investigation Network that aired in December 2009, described her murder as “very Shakespearean” with “passion, love, hate, jealousy, betrayal and a love triangle”. It is certainly one of Malaysia’s most sensational criminal cases.
Jean, a former Miss Negri Sembilan, and a mother of three, was found murdered in a car near Subang Airport in 1979.
This was the second tragedy for her family as her husband, chemist S. Sinappa, died in a road accident four months earlier on New Year’s Eve in 1978.
Jean was found in the front passenger seat of her car, with multiple stab wounds. Her brother-in-law, S. Karthigesu, was found unconscious behind the car.
He was charged with her murder. The case went to trial in june 1980. The prosecution made out that Karthigesu flew into a jealous rage after finding out that the young widow – whom he was in love with – had been having an affair with a Sri Lankan doctor, Dr Narada Warnasurya.
During the 38-day trial, the court heard lurid details of her affairs with her love letters being read out. Karthigesu was found guilty and sentenced to death. But Karthigesu was freed two years later after an appeal.
Her beauty has been likened to that of Elizabeth Taylor and she has been given the name “Permata Negara” by Information, Communications and Culture Minister, Datuk Seri Rais Yatim. In her career, she has produced 93 albums, including seven in English. She has made a name for herself in Asia and the Middle East.
She was also the first Malaysian and Asian singer who had the honour of performing at the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore in 2000, which is usually dominated by Western artistes.
In 2003, she started Pods and Petal Giftlab, a successful florist and gift company. In the same year, she was awarded the Pingat Panglima Jasa Negara by the Yang Di Pertuan- Agong for her contributions to the entertainment industry.
DATUK NANCY YEOH
The larger-than-life Yeoh is hailed as the PR Queen of Malaysia for her mastery in organising glamorous events for prestigious, highend clients with an assured guest list from society’s creme de la creme. Yeoh joined RAPR Mileage Communications in 1993 as general manager after heading the PR division of a multinational company.
Together with her team, Yeoh formed the Initial Public Offering (IPO) arm of RAPR and marketed to clients seeking investments the need for PR. She also introduced “lifestyle branding” with the company’s consumer division, targeted at luxury-goods companies. Rising to managing director in 1996, Yeoh gathered an impressive portfolio of clients and made huge strides in the industry. She is also the president and CEO of STYLO, a key social and fashion event during Malaysia’s Formula One.
DATIN SERI TIARA JACQUELINA
Though an established singer and actress, it wasn’t until Puteri Gunung Ledang in 2004, in which she starred, that Tiara Jacquelina made her mark. The film won 11 awards at the Malaysian PPFM Oscars 2004 including Best Film, Best Producer, Cinematography, Best Actress, Costume Design, Art Direction and Best Sound. She then translated it onto the stage with the runaway success Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical under her company, Enfiniti Productions, a Malaysian company in the arts and entertainment and television production fields.
In 2005, she won Choice Actress at the Fourth Oskar Awards, organised by the Film Workers Association of Malaysia. She also produced P. Ramlee the Musical which won six awards at the 2007 BOH Cameronian Arts Awards. She is married to Datuk Seri Mohd Effendi Norwawi, who formerly served as a senator and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
Tiara is a vocal arts activist who is passionate about the betterment of the arts sector in the country.
TOH PUAN DR AISHAH ONG
The wife of the late Tun Dr Omar Ong Yoke Lin (a founding member of the MCA and a key figure in the country’s road to independence) received her medical degree from the Royal Free Hospital, University of London, in 1969.
After marrying Dr Omar, she gave up her career as a doctor and became involved in charity work and fund-raising.
She is a patron, board member, founding member or trustee of a long list of organisations, including the Foundation of the National Heart Institute, Bakti, Tun Abdul Razak Foundation, International Medical University, National Council of Women’s Organisations, Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation, The Women’s Aid Organisation, Mental Health Association of Malaysia,Wanita Perkim, as well as The Malaysian Association for the Blind.
She also served as Pro-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya from 2003 to 2008 and chairman of Universiti Hospital from 1987 to 1996.
DATIN PADUKA SHUHAIMI BABA
As one of the few female film directors in Malaysia, Shuhaimi has made her mark with her unique storylines and bold approach. Well-known for films like Selubung and Layar Lara, she is also credited with reviving the pontianak folklore onscreen with the Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam films in the 2000s.
Her films have picked up five awards at the Malaysian Film Festival, including Best Director Awards for Layar Lara in 1997 and Waris Jari Hantu in 2007. Layar Lara was also awarded the Special Jury Award at the 1998 Pyongyang International Film Festival, and Shuhaimi received a Best Director for Foreign Film award at the Brussels International Independent Film Festival in 1997.
Besides being the managing director of Pesona Pictures, she is also the vice-president of the Malaysian Film Producers Association (MFPA).
Winning the Miss Malaysia Universe 1973 title was merely a stepping stone to bigger things for the enterprising Loo. She started the The Originals Fashion Studio in Merlin (now Concorde) Hotel and sparked off the trend of having afternoon tea and fashion shows. She herself was a prolific model, known as the “Queen of the Catwalk” for her formidable stride.
She became known as the “queen maker” as under her modelling agency, she coached many other girls into winning the Miss Malaysia title, including, Nancie Foo, Yasmin Yusuf and Puspa Salleh among other. In 1987, she met Eileen Ford and Ford Models Incorporated New York gave her the Supermodel of the World Pageant franchise for Malaysia. Today, she continues her modelling and grooming workshops.
With a face and voice of angel, this classically trained singer is one of the country’s top female vocalists.
Her choice of genre is R&B, but she also sings arias. She was the soprano solo in the Carl Offs Carmina Burana with 100 choir members and the National Symphony Orchestra of Malaysia, conducted by reputed Australian conductor Roland Peelman, and was the Gold Medal winner in the R&B/Pop/ Rock/Contemporary category at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles in 1999.
Syafinaz was nominated twice for the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) Best Female Vocal award and was the judge on the singing competition One in a Million. She’s currently a lecturer at the UiTM, the National Arts Academy, and adviser and vocal master of the National Choir of Malaysia.