Tun Fatimah is synonymous with women's leadership and the women's rights movement in this country.
Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin Member of the Nomination Committee,
Education and Community category
Tun Fatimah Hashim was born on 25 December, 1924 in Parit Kurma, Muar, Johor. She married the late Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusuf, and is a mother of six children. Her son, Professor Dato’ Dr Khalid Kadir, was a joint recipient on the inaugural Merdeka Award 2008 in the Health, Science and Technology Category for his outstanding contribution to the study and understanding of diabetes and the relationship between hormones and stresses in various tissues.
As a girl, Tun Fatimah received her early education at a boy’s school in Parit Kurma, because there weren’t any schools for girls where she lived at the time. She went on
to study at a Malay school in Mersing and Convent Johor Baru.
Tun Fatimah started her career in politics in 1947. She joined the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) - the leading party in the ruling coalition - ladies movement called Kaum Ibu, the precursor to Wanita UMNO, at the Kampung Non Chik branch in Johor and went on to serve as its Treasurer. At her initiation, the women’s wing was renamed to attract younger, educated women. She tirelessly worked to encourage women’s participation in politics, giving them a voice in society, and play a role in shaping their future. She led Wanita UMNO for 16 years, from 1956 to 1972.
With Sugar, one of her eight cats.
Her abilities and leadership qualities were evident when she won the Jitra-Padang Terap election in 1959 against a more established male candidate. As the Member of Parliament for her constituency for 15 years, she encouraged the development of education in the community as it mirrored her belief in education as the basis for development.
In 1962, Tun Fatimah initiated Malaysia’s National Women’s Day celebrations. She was also the Founder of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO), and held the
position of President for 24 years, advocating women’s rights.
Apart from NCWO, Tun Fatimah has also held positions in several institutions,and has received many accolades and recognition for her work such as The Most Outstanding Woman in the Fifth Women in Malaysian History Series from the National Archives and the Islamic Women’s Action Organisation (PERTIWI).
Tun Fatimah is a great believer in education, and although she did not enjoy the opportunity to further her studies, she always fought for progress in that area. In 1995, she was Pro Chancellor of University Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). In 2000, the university awarded her an honorary doctorate in Education.
Her disciplined nature and active, hands-on approach has not waned in her golden years. Although aged 85 and in a wheelchair, she still keeps herself relatively busy at home.
“I plan each day properly. If I don’t schedule activities, how can I look after my home, garden and pets? I don’t have a gardener, so I mentally visualise where I want to place the plants so that the job is easier. Before I was in a wheelchair, I used to grow plants myself,” she says.
She also reads and writes daily, and usually starts the day keeping abreast of the news by reading the newspaper.
In 2003, she was bestowed the Seri Setia Mahkota (SSM) award which carries the title “Tun” by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Tun Fatimah writes daily in her journal.
Paving The Way For Women
Tun fatimah was the nation’s first woman Cabinet Minister, holding the welfare portfolio from 1969 to 1973. There were objections and challenges to face, and she had no examples to look to. She took all this in her stride, and set about to do her job.
“As a pioneer for women in this regard, I accepted everything with a sincere heart. I did what I could with the ability I had. Things are more interesting when there are challenges,” she says.
She wasted no time in getting the Welfare Ministry office in shape to make it look more like a proper government office.
“I didn’t feel slighted, I just went about getting things fixed and putting some potted plants to make the ambience better and more conducive to working,” she says.
She also showed her mettle by fighting for the ministry’s professional staff to get the recognition they deserved.
Tun Fatimah has always been a champion of women’s rights and used her political position to bring about change. She did not fight alone, and stresses that there were many who supported her work.
“What drove me was realisation and awareness of the plight of women. They were as qualified and educated but did not have an equal position. I could not ignore the issue and had to fight for the cause. The push to do this has to come from you. If people encourage you but you don’t have the will, nothing will be achieved,” she says.
Tun Fatimah (fifth from left) leading the National Women's Day committee during the celebration in Kota Bharu, Kelantan in 1973
Tun Fatimah is synonymous with women’s leadership and the women’s rights movement in Malaysia.
Through NCWO, she brought together and organised women leaders from different backgrounds and circumstances to work together to improve the status and security of women at work and in society.
Her efforts to push for equal rights and equal pay has meant that Malaysian women today enjoy these rights in the workforce.