Hubert Burda Media

12 Malaysian women who smashed the glass ceiling

Paying tribute to those who broke barriers and established several firsts in their industries

Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Prestige Malaysia pays tribute to 12 women who broke barriers, achieving firsts in their respective industries.  

 TAN SRI DR. ZETI AKTHAR AZIZ 

In May 2000, Dr. Zeti became the first woman governor of Bank Negara, after playing an integral role during the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s. A notable figure in the international community, Dr. Zeti is the daughter of Royal Professor Ungku Aziz. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Universiti Malaya before proceeding to the Wharton School, 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.  

Last year she received the Wharton Dean’s Medal, the School’s highest honour, to a Penn alumna who has had a tremendous economic impact on the Asia region and beyond. When awarding the medal, Wharton dean Geoffrey Garrett paid tribute to the Central Bank Governor, saying that Dr. Zeti had successfully navigated the Malaysian economy through more than one financial crisis.

TAN SRI ZARINAH ANWAR

TAN SRI ZARINAH ANWAR 

Zarinah became the first woman to head the Securities Commission (SC) when she was appointed its Chairman in 2006, a position she held till her retirement in 2012. She had previously served as the Deputy Chief Executive of the SC and member of the Commission since December 2001. Prior to joining the SC, Zarinah was the Deputy Chairman of Shell Malaysia. In 2013, she was appointed as Chairman to the Board of Malaysia Debt Ventures Bhd. She is currently also a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, United Kingdom. Zarinah graduated with an LLB (Hons) degree from the Universiti Malaya.

DATUK YVONNE CHIA

DATUK YVONNE CHIA

Yvonne Chia holds the honour of being the first woman to smash the glass ceiling of the male dominated banking industry. She first made her mark at the Bank of America in the 1970s, leaving as the bank’s vice president and country head of marketing. In 1994, she joined RHB Bank as general manager and went on to become its CEO and managing director. A stalwart in the banking industry, Chia was a force in steering RHB Bank out of the 1998 financial crisis.  In 2003, she was appointed as Hong Leong Bank group managing director and CEO.

 

TAN SRI P.G, LIM

TAN SRI P.G. Lim

The Cambridge educated lawyer became Malaysia’s first woman ambassador when in 1971 she was appointed as ambassador to the United Nations. Prior to that, Lim had already established herself as a strong advocate for social issues, advising and representing worker’s unions, including the Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya, the National Union of Plantation Workers and the Transport Workers Unions in their legal battles.

Her decade long career in the Foreign Service saw her assume numerous diplomatic appointments across Europe. In the 1980s, she was appointed director of the Regional Arbitration Centre, a position which contributed to her being honoured with the Merdeka Award in 2009, an acknowledgement to her career as a diplomat and lawyer. 

TUN FATIMAH HASHIM

TUN FATIMAH HASHIM

Fatimah Hashim was an integral force in the women's movement. A teacher before joining politics, Fatimah headed Umno’s Kaum Ibu (Wanita Umno) for 16 years and was a founding member of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO), of which she president for 24 years. She was the nation's first woman minister, holding the position of Welfare Minister. For her contributions, she received the Merdeka Award 2009 in the Education and Community category.

DATUK MAZLAN OTHMAN

DATUK DR. MAZLAN OTHMAN 

Malaysia’s first astrophysicist was also the first woman to be awarded a Physics doctorate by New Zealand’s University of Otago. Her accomplishments include setting up Malaysia’s national planetarium in Kuala Lumpur and being named the director-general of the Space Science Studies Division in the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry. In 1999 Dr Mazlan was appointed as director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna.

She returned to Malaysia in 2002 – at the request of then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad - to set up the Malaysian National Space Agency, which eventually led to Malaysia having its first astronaut, Dr.  Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. In 2007, Dr. Mazlan was reappointed as UNOOSA director by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to implement the United Nation’s outer space-related policies.

TAN SRI SITI NORMA YAAKOB

TAN SRI SITI NORMA YAAKOB

Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaakob was the first Malaysian woman to be appointed Chief Judge of Malaya in 2005. Throughout her career she achieved many firsts including the first Malaysian woman High Court judge, Court of Appeal judge, Federal Court judge and Chief Judge of Malaya. She retired in 2007 after completing what has been regarded as 43 years of exemplary service. Siti Norma studied law in London and obtained her Barrister-At-Law degree from the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London in 1962. She also received a Certificate in Public International Law from the Council of Legal Education, London.

TAN SRI RAFIAH SALIM

TAN SRI RAFIAH SALIM 

In 2006, history was made when Malaysia's top two public universities installed women Vice-Chancellors. In May, Tan Sri Rafiah Salim became the first woman to head Universiti Malaya. Rafiah holds a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Law from Queen’s University, Belfast. She had previously served as lecturer, deputy dean and dean  at UM’s Law Faculty before moving to positions at Bank Negara and the United Nations. 

TAN SRI DR. SHARIFAH HAPSAH

PROFESSOR EMERITA TAN SRI DR.SHARIFAH HAPSAH SYED HASSAN SHAHABUDIN 

Also in 2006, Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hassan Shahabudin was appointed as vice-chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). A medical doctor, Dr. Sharifah Hapsah’s accomplishments in education include setting up the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) while serving as the chief executive officer of National Accreditation Board (LAN). She has also been actively involved with the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO). 

DATUK NG POH TIP

DATUK NG POH TIP

Ng became the first woman group chief editor in the country when she assumed that position at The Star in 1993. Under her leadership, the newspaper grew exponentially and established itself as the leading English language daily. Upon her retirement in 2003, Ng was appointed The Star’s group editorial and education adviser and Asian Centre for Media Studies executive director. She later became an editorial adviser to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

MAJOR PATRICIA YAPP

 

MAJOR PATRICIA YAPP

Major Patricia Yapp holds the distinction of being the first woman in Asia to become a qualified MiG-29 fighter pilot. She graduated from RMAF College in Alor Star in 1997 and served as operational and tactical lead pilot with the No 17/19 “Smokey Bandits” Squadron in Kuantan that flies the MiG-29N Fulcrum air superiority jets. She is now an instructor with the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

DATO' SERI WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL

DATO' SERI DR WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL

Though often labelled as the reluctant politician, Dato' Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail made history when became the first woman leader of the opposition in 2008. She held the position till August of that year before making way for her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. She however assumed the position once again in 2015, when her husband was sentenced to prison.  Dr. Wan Azizah entered politics in 1998, when she contested and won with an overwhelming majority the parliamentary seat for Permatang Pauh, the constituency previously held by Anwar.