Women In Action Exhibition Highlights Singapore’s Malay Women Rights History

November 11, 2020

SINGAPORE – When Madam Fatimah Azimullah, 72, started her primary education, her mother hid from her father that she was attending school.

The busy businessman only found out when she was in Primary 5 and by then he “couldn’t make me leave”, the former president of the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS) recounted.

“To him, girls don’t need to go to school. When they come to a marriagable age, marry them off, and that’s it. That was the thinking of conservative parents of that time,” she told The Straits Times on Thursday (May 24).

Madam Fatimah is one of the women featured in the Women in Action exhibition, which traces the history of the Malay women’s rights movement in Singapore.

Organised by the Malay Heritage Centre, the exhibition will travel to five libraries, starting with the Central Library on Friday, and will run till Oct 31.

Said Madam Fatimah: “I was in secondary school when I realised education was so important. You see people who are educated, they are able to have better living standards and work, and they can be independent.”

After completing her O levels, she became an English and science teacher at a primary school.

She then joined PPIS as an honorary secretary when she was 25 and helped the non-profit organisation establish social and early childhood education services, as well as assisted in efforts to support single mothers.

“Some women don’t have extended families to help them when they’re divorced so they don’t get enough support. We see the difficulties women face when they’re divorced, and that’s one reason why we set up a centre to help single parents in the 80s.”

Exhibition curator Nasri Shah, 27, spent 2½ years on the project and compiled the timeline display through researching old newspaper articles.

He said: “We then identified some organisations and individuals because articles don’t talk much about emotions, the blood, sweat and tears behind (the women’s) initiatives.”

Apart from PPIS, he also interviewed the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and Madam Rita Zahara, the granddaughter of Malay activist Che Zahara Noor Mohamed.

Madam Rita, 42, a former journalist turned entrepreneur, said: “When I researched about her, I found out about her involvement in the Women’s Charter, and she also raised the minimum age for girls to be married to 16. She lobbied for women to be educated.”

“She inspired me to be involved in humanitarian work around the region, to empower women and children to promote access to education.”

The exhibition will also be held at Ang Mo Kio Public Library, Tampines Regional Library, Jurong Regional Libary, as well as NUS Yale Library.

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