Published on 08 Mar 2024

Shanti Pereira, educator Hadijah Rahmat among 10 inducted into Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame

SINGAPORE – When educator and author Hadijah Rahmat started out as a writer in the 1970s, many fields were dominated by men.

“I was very determined to show (my male friends who were writers) that I’m capable, I’m as good, or in certain areas, I’m better,” said the 66-year-old.

Her first Malay-language short story, titled Idah Tidak Menangis Lagi (Idah No Longer Cries), was published in a student magazine in 1974. She wrote it to remind all girls not to give up, she told The Straits Times.

“They should have a strong sense of fight, and be positive about the future. They can shape their own future, not the people around them.”

Dr Hadijah was among the 10 women inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame on March 8, which is International Women’s Day.

The others include sprint queen Shanti Pereira, former national bowler and charity fund-raiser Grace Young and mountaineers Sim Phei Sunn and Vincere Zeng, who are the first Singaporean women to summit the two highest peaks in the world, Mount Everest and K2.

Pioneering educational TV producer and newscaster Tan See Lai, who died in 2017, was inducted into the hall of fame posthumously.

The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) set up the hall of fame in 2014 to honour Singapore’s most outstanding women in different fields. There are now 192 inductees.

The 2024 induction ceremony, held at The Fullerton Hotel, was attended by President Tharman Shanmugaratnam and his spouse, Ms Jane Ittogi, who is the patron of SCWO.

Dr Hadijah said she had tried from the start of her writing career to break free of the perceived limitations regarding what female authors should write about.

“I didn’t want to confine the subject of writing to only women. I wanted to talk about greater things, about humanity in general.”

The emeritus associate professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE) later moved into leadership and headed the Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Group in NIE, promoting cross-cultural research.

She also pushed for the introduction of the first bachelor’s degree programme in Malay language at NIE in 2000.

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, chairwoman of the Singapore-based Tsao Foundation, was inducted into the hall of fame in the advocacy and activism category.

She said the honour should be shared with all the women who made her who she is, and with the people in the foundation, which is a champion of eldercare and ageing issues.

“Older women really suffered an accumulation of whatever disadvantages they might have,” said Dr Tsao, 69.

“As caregivers, when they leave the workplace, it’s very hard for them to get a job again. They don’t earn as much as men, but they live longer with disabilities.”

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, chairwoman of the Singapore-based Tsao Foundation, was inducted into the hall of fame in the advocacy and activism category.

Dr Tsao, whose grandmother founded the foundation, added: “My grandmother told me this story 30 years ago and it really resonated with me. And 30 years later, we’re still looking at the same situation.”

She also said women tend to have self-doubt, but she hopes the self-doubt will reduce with successive generations of women.

Humour writer Sylvia Toh was inducted into the hall of fame in the arts and culture category, with the citation calling her the “Grandmother of Singlish”.

The 77-year-old said the literary field recognised her for her ability and talent, not gender.

Advertising industry trailblazer Linda Locke was inducted in the business and enterprise category, and founding executive director of the Singapore Environment Council Kirtida Mekani in the environment and conservation category.

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