Celebrating 10 Incredible Malaysian Women this International Women's Day

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.” - Ayn Rand

In my humble view, this quote is the perfect embodiment of the core values, aspirations, and significance behind the establishment of International Women’s Day. It’s a day of global celebration that commemorates women; one that honours their past struggles, acknowledges existing inequalities, and encourages collaboration for a future full of hope and promise.

The celebration dates back to the 1900s when working women in New York took to the streets to call for equal pay and better working environments. 


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Picture from the Russian women’s march for ‘bread & peace’ during the war.

Not long after, women of Russia led a protest against the lack of voting rights during the Great War and were successfully entitled to vote, 4 days later. Following such revolutionary events, Women’s Day was continuously celebrated unofficially on March 8 every year until it received proper recognition from the United Nations in 1975. 

Since then, yearly celebrations of International Women’s Day aims to celebrate the accomplishments of women and advocate for the rights of women across the globe. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made on the path to achieving gender equality as well as emphasises the importance of creating a fair and non-discriminatory society for future generations to enjoy.

This year, the theme for the day is #ChooseToChallenge. In light of this, it’s essential to promote knowledge and understanding about issues pertaining to women’s rights among the public in order to tackle the issues of gender bias and inequality effectively. It’s also imperative that men and people of all gender identities are included in the conversations and celebrations around this day, thus, encouraging them to become outspoken advocates for justice and equality.

Today, the majority of us are well-acquainted with the accomplishments of some of the world’s most influential and inspirational women; Princess Diana of Wales, Malala Yousafzai, and Michelle Obama to name a few, but rarely do we hear of the notable achievements of Malaysian women (other than the likes of Datuk Nicol Ann David and Michelle Yeoh, of course). Let’s take a look at some of the Malaysian women who have made waves in our country and across the world with their diverse, noble, and awe-inspiring stories.

During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Sybil provided resistance fighters with medical care and information. She was then imprisoned and inhumanely interrogated by the Japanese army, but to no avail. Sybil is recognised as the only Malaysian woman to ever receive the George Medal of valour for her selfless actions and immense display of courage. 

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A trailblazer for women in the Malaysian political scene, Devaki is the first woman to contend in the local and general elections — and emerge victorious in both. She’s also the first non-Malay woman to be awarded the Tan Sri title in 1995.

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You may have heard of Pandelela when she secured third place in the 2012 Olympics, making her the first Malaysian female athlete to win an Olympics medal. Did you know she’s the first woman to attain a position in the top three for the 2015 World Aquatics Championship? She was also part of the first ever Malaysian women’s team to win a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics (talk about firsts!).

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A degree in architecture and a passion for business brought this mother of three to venture into the massively successful franchise, Nando’s. Under her administration as director & group CEO of Nando’s Malaysia & Singapore, the business has expanded significantly, with over 50 outlets across the country over the course of 23 years.

Amalina obtained 17 A1’s in her SPM in 2004 — a record for the greatest number of A1’s obtained that still stands today, and became the nation’s young prodigy. Fast forward several years later, Amalina obtained perfect A-Level grades, a medical degree, and is currently pursuing a medical PhD at the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London. While studying, she’s also a Specialist Trainee Surgeon in Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

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With a diploma in aeronautical engineering, Patricia enrolled on the Royal Malaysian Airforce Air cadet programme. Upon completion of her training, she took on the role of an operational and tactical lead fighter pilot for a squadron in Kuantan that flies the MiG-29 Fulcrum, making Patricia the first Malaysian and Asian female fighter pilot to fly the jet fighter aircraft.

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With relentless support from her mother and encouragement from her uplifting peers, this UiTM graduate is the first woman to command a maritime ship. Aida is now at the helm of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s KM Nyalau, based in Perak.

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#8. Kiki Poh

Kiki is one of the magicians working behind the scenes at Pixar Animation Studios, California. She’s the shading and grooming technical director involved in the shading and surface texture animation process for countless beloved Pixar movies like Finding Dory, Inside Out and Cars 3.

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Founder and chief of the Refuge for the Refugees organisation, Heidy is the first and only Malaysian to receive the Queen’s Young Leader award. Her NGO highlights the plight of refugees as well as provides them with support and education through the 35 refugee schools established across Malaysia and Myanmar.

Ever accidentally stumble across a black hole? Astrophysicist and lecturer Dr. Nur Adlyka was part of the team that made an out-of-this-world discovery when they found four enlarging black holes in the galaxy! She’s now one of the principal researchers of the ongoing study and is granted permission to use NASA’s most sophisticated X-ray telescope, the NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) for her continued exploration of the galaxies.

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The successes of these incredible women will most certainly be an inspiration to another. In my opinion, acknowledging their incredible stories and celebrating their remarkable triumphs will significantly empower the women in our lives to be true to themselves, to stand for what they believe in and to have the courage to pave their own path in the world.

Therefore, this International Women’s Day (and hopefully, every day after), show your love and support to all the incredible women in your life, be it mother, aunt, sister, girlfriend, friends, or even an esteemed public figure you admire. To recognise, appreciate, and wholeheartedly cherish them for all that they are and all that they do is the easiest way to honour and empower the amazing women in our lives.

I wish to end with one of my favourite catchphrases associated with the day, Here’s to all the extraordinary women of the world — may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. I truly hope the spirit behind this rings true, now and even more so in the many years to come. Happy International Women’s Day!

Daeshnaa is currently pursuing her Bachelor Degree in Medicine, Bachelor Degree in  Surgery (MBBS) at Taylor's University. She also enjoys writing, baking and spending time with family.

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