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Iron Ladies: Tough As Nails Malaysian Women That History Forgot

These women are proof that women have always been fierce


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Iron Ladies: Tough As Nails Malaysian Women That History Forgot

It is the unfortunate truth that a lot of history omits women from it's stories. It almost seem like whoever wrote history took the 'his' part of the word a little too literally. 

Don't believe us? Try to remember if you ever learnt of any of these women during history lessons in school. 

But at the same time, let's celebrate all the amazing women who've contributed to the country through the years this International Women's Day. 

Shamsiah Fakeh

Shamsiah and her family.
We'll give the people who wrote our history books the benefit of the doubt and say that Shamsiah was not named as a freedom fighter because of her leftist leanings. 

It doesn't make it OK, but stories (even history) are often told in a way that serves the ideologies and believes of those who wrote 'em, so like that lah. 

Anyway, Shamsiah started getting actively involved in politics around 1945, when she joined the Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM).

It's been reported that both United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PKMM wanted Shamsiah in their parties because she was that charismatic and driven, but the lady didn't want to work with the former because she felt they were pandering a little too much to the British. 

In 1946, Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS), the women wing of PKMM was formed and Shamsiah became its first president. 

Around 1948, the British banned all left-wing parties so Shamsiah, along with other leftist nationalists, were forced to hide in the jungle and fight from there.

Meet the 10th Regiment.
That was when her fight for freedom turned from peaceful to forceful. This also marked the beginning of Shamsiah's involvement with the Malaysian Communist Party (MCP).

In order to get rid of the British and gain the country's independence, the groups started using guns and violence as they believed at that time that there weren't any other choice.  

It is believed that during this time, Shamsiah had a child and lost it; some even claiming that she killed her own child. She has denied the allegations over the years. 

Shamsiah and her (fifth) husband were sent to China in 1956 to learn more about communism and they even ran a Malay-language radio show there! 

Fast forward a few years, including two years spent in Indonesian jail, Shamsiah and her husband got kicked out of the communist party in the 1970s but continued to reside in China, working in a factory.

Not until the 1990s were the couple and their children allowed to return to Malaysia, as communism was no longer seen as a threat. 

She died in 2008, at the age of 84. 

Suriani Abdullah 

A young Suriani
Another Malayan Communist Party (MCP) member, Suriani (original name Eng Ming Ching), was a buddy of party president Chin Peng, whom she met in school. 

At only 16, Suriani joined the communist party and fought against the Japanese, which led to her capture and torture when she was only 21.

That didn't stop her from continuing her fight. Even in captivity, Suriani made anti-Japanese speeches to her fellow inmates to keep the fire going. 

Suriani never stopped fighting even after the Japanese surrendered. She continued championing the rights of the working class people and the underprivileged. 

Do not mess with Suriani.
Despite her fierceness and the struggles she went through, Suriani is known as someone who is motherly; so much so that she's even called 'Ibu' by many. 

As many communist party members did in those days, Suriani left the country for Thailand and died there in 2013, at the age of 89. 

Cik Siti Wan Kembang

Illustration of Cik Siti Wan Kembang
In the early 17th century, there was a female ruler known for her beauty, wit and ability to fight like the warrior she was. 

Cik Siti Wan Kembang was the OG feminist. She grew the ecomomy of Kelantan by turning it into a famous port, ran a peaceful country and provided equal education to both men and women. 

The queen of our hearts.It is said that the ruler never married despite many royals from all over wanting to marry her (who wouldn't want to marry a beautiful, powerful woman, kan?) to avoid any conflict that could lead to war. 

She did, however, adopt a daughter whom she named Puteri Saadong. 

Cik Siti Wan Kenbang is believed to have ruled for 67 years, making her one of the longest reigning queens in history. 

A. Chandramalar

Ma'am, yes, ma'am!
Even in 2019, the number of policewomen, especially those in high positions, is much lower than policemen. 

But that is not to say we don't have or never had women with caliber holding high positions in the police force.

One example is A. Chandramalar, the country's first woman to head the Anti-vice Branch of the Penang police headquarters and later, the first non-Malay female Assistant Commissioner of Police. 

Chandra's family was originally from Sri Lanka, but she grew up in Kluang, Johor, where she first worked a teacher.

However, teaching was too tame for the woman who craved adventure, so she joined the police force. 

Chandra took it as a challenge.
During her training, Chandra showed great skills in shooting, self-defense, judo, and combat with an armed person. 

As the anti-vice chief, Chandra cracked down on drugs, gambling and prostitution on the island. She went undercover as a gambler and prostitute, kicked down closed doors, and generally made life hell for the bad guys in Penang. 

Chandra stayed in the police force holding several positions in different departments till 1994, when she retired. 

B.H Oon

Lawyer extraordinaire.
Lim Beng Hong, better known as B.H Oon, may not have wielded guns or sword to fight against the oppressors or thugs, but she is a hero in her own right. 

She was the first Malaysian woman to be called to the English Bar, the first female representative in the Federal Legislative Council and the co-founder of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). 

The Federal Legislative Council was in charge of making Federation of Malaya an independent nation, and Oon was a part of it! Cool, huh?

Oon continued practicing till the 1970s. She died in 1979 at the age of 81. 


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