Amazing Malaysian Women

I’m really excited!

I’m on my way to Malaysia today to attend a conference called Tools for Change. I’ll meet amazing women (and men!) from around the world. We’ll talk about innovative ways to make positive change on a global, as well as a personal level.

I’ll be in my element. There’s nothing I like more than meeting new people and exchanging interesting ideas – it’s so energising!

I'll be there for two weeks, but I haven’t made many plans yet. I don’t have an itinerary other than departure and arrival times.

Why is it all so loose? Partly because I haven’t made the time to get organized (as usual). Partly because it has become my style to arrive in a place, and find out on the spot what it has to offer.

I’ll probably miss out on a whole bunch of stuff that I should have seen because I haven’t researched the “must sees” and “must dos” of Kuala Lumpur and its environs.

That doesn’t bother me.

I’ve been a traveler for most of my life, and I’ve seen lots of cool sights in equally cool places around the world. Each corner of the planet has something special to behold and sightseeing has many merits, which I’ve experienced first hand for myself.

But when push comes to shove, I tend to be more captivated by the people in a place than the place itself. And this time, I have even more to look forward to than usual.

A friend of a friend put me in touch with a friend of theirs, who has kindly arranged for me to meet and interview an amazing list of amazing women during my visit to Petaling Jaya (apparently also referred to as PJ, just like its bigger next door neighbour Kuala Lumpur is almost universally known as KL – I wonder if that’s a Malaysian thing….?).

Coincidentally, the friend of friend of a friend and I share the same name: Susanna. There’s no doubt that Susanna is my Malaysian angel.

She has pulled out all the stops in helping me. Within a few days of my initial request asking for potential interviewees, she contacted nine women within her circle of friends and persuaded them all to allow me to interview them.

I was humbled when I read the list of candidates:

  • Mano Subramaniam works with sex workers through the Pink Triangle Foundation, and used to work organising women workers before.  A fabulous community organiser, and much trusted by women from the margins. Sometimes too self-deprecating
  • Jo Kukathas – playwright,actress, co-founder of one of our leading theatre companies, Instant Cafe Theatre.  I know her mostly through her sister, Susie, but I find her enigmatic and her dedication to theatre and her brilliance in acting pretty wonderful to be in the presence of.  The ICT is known for a cutting political satire in the dark days when censorship and fear was the order of the day, and it took courage to speak out against our political system.


  • Tijah – also an organiser, but within the Orang Asli (indigenous peoples) community.  I find her amazing because she straddles different worlds and manages to bridge and create understanding between these different worlds and peoples.
Zainah Anwar – one of the leading voices on Muslim women's rights in the Islamic context.  Outspoken, outrageously brave, very charismatic.  She will be coming for the Tools for Change conference so you can meet with her easily.

  • Ju Lin Ong – independent filmmaker, human rights activist. Currently works as a broadcast journalist in Al-Jazeerah. Jules has a deep integrity and tries to live closer to her values on a daily basis than most people I know.

  • Rashidah Abdullah – an Australian woman who is a naturalised Malaysian. Shidah is a founding member of several women's organisations in Malaysia and regionally.  She has a superb organisational mind. She is a brave feminist thinker (visionary, one might say), with a big compassionate heart to go with it.
  • Sunila Abeysekara – a Sri Lankan feminist working and residing in Malaysia…a very prominent human rights activist and feminist leader. but what's truly amazing about her is the way she thinks…her mind is so fluid, so cogent, so immaculate…then when she talks you think that you are in the presence of a painter or a weaver who is creating a magnificent piece of art. Honestly brilliant.

  • Sister Enda – the former headmistress of my school…an Irish nun and a naturalised Malaysian. Her commitment to creating an environment where young women learnt about independence, altruism, compassion, and honesty…was immense. She was a fireball for sure…but one on one, she never shouted at students called into her office (which I was several times)…she'd listen and offer respect that so few of our teachers knew how to show us.
  • Ong Kiem Sian – an avid birder and wildlife photographer. She produced a book called Passion for Birds that is just brilliant. There are very few women in the world of wildlife photography and she must be one of the best.  In 2006 she was diagnosed with skin cancer…but apparently is still actively birding even now.  I think however that she might be Singaporean and not Malaysian.

No wonder I’m so excited…!!!!!