Six Unlikely Women To Be Featured On International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Over time it has simply become a day to honor women and feminine qualities.

Whilst it is celebrated as a national public holiday in some countries, it is largely ignored elsewhere. The same can be said about the women who are publicly celebrated on this day. As some representatives are publicly celebrated for their achievement and voice, others never get the taste of fame and glory, celebrating their achievement alone. 

This year the theme of “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” highlights the effort of women and girls around the world doing what they can to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. 

With women standing on the front lines as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic. There are those whose story will not make headlines despite good works and positive impact during the pandemic. So here we are giving them a shout out! 

1. Paulina Henry

Paulina Henry.

As a successful entrepreneur and director of an education group in Kuala Lumpur, whose origin can be traced to one of Malaysia’s poorest districts, Pitas in Sabah, she has broken out of the poverty cycle. Even before the pandemic hit, Paulina Henry believes in equipping the next generation with the proper education to succeed. Regardless of their backgrounds, she empowers youths from low-income families to embrace their roots, work hard and shape a vision for their lives. Paulina is passionate about giving back to her community, specifically the people of Sabah[1]

2. Sarena binti Mohd Yusof

Sarena and the top selling sambals

A resilient mother of seven from the B40 group who is a successful business owner of Saz.Kitchen. Although she was previously put out of business due to the Movement Control Order in March 2020, Sarena could not sit back and worry, as her children and husband were sick and needed consistent medical care. 

Sarena decided to take advantage of the lockdown and start a food business that included catering and ready-to-eat meals.  By creating an online presence — Saz.Kitchen’s flagship products, ‘Sambal Daging Power’ and ‘Sambal Daging Hitam’ hit record high sales that were more than three times the amount she was making pre-COVID-19. The family are now well on their way to escaping poverty, as Saz.Kitchen delivers food throughout the nation thanks to Sarena[2]

3. Saraswathy Periyasamy

Saraswathy and her four beautiful children.

A B40 single mother who works day and night to ensure that her four children are fed and have a decent upbringing. She represents 36% of female-led households that are self-employed and struggling to survive during this pandemic[4].  As the sole breadwinner of her family, she is a mother and homemaker by day and a baker and entrepreneur by night. 

Saraswathy divides her time between teaching her four children with their homework and online classes and keeping her business running. Even walking several miles to print out their assignments just to make sure that no one fell behind in school. 

4. Hartina Bulating Arssid

Hartina Bulating teaching on a jetty. Source: The Star

This volunteer teacher commits her weekends to teach stateless children at Pulau Mumiang in Sandakan, Sabah. Hartina would teach English to about 60 students which she refused payment for. Whilst keeping a busy schedule running a digital media company, and a boutique, Hartina travels 30 minutes by boat to the island, where she holds classes on a jetty. The students sit on the floor as there aren’t any desks, chairs or blackboard in her ‘special’ classroom. Cooled by the fresh sea breeze, no one complains as finally these stateless children are given the opportunity to learn[5].

5. Putri Purnama Sugua

Putri filming. Source: Facebook

Malaysian filmmaker Putri Purnama Sugua, from Sandakan, Sabah uses her talent in filmmaking as a platform to voice “the struggles of the powerless.” Previously Putri had won the FFF film grant for pitching her documentary – “Aku Mau Sekolah”, which shed light on one of the leading obstacles faced by the stateless children residing in Malaysia – access to education. 

It shone a spotlight on how the stateless children were forced to grow up quickly to help support their parents, without being equipped to do so successfully. It highlights the cycle of poverty as these children are left with no other alternative than to work at the local dumpsite for income. Putri’s films aimed to document these struggles and highlight why education must not be seen as a privilege for the few, but a fundamental right for all. She is the voice to the voiceless[6].

6. Vimala Kanagaratnam (Founder of Project Red Dot)

Vimala during interview about Project Red Dot. Source: Syok

Vimala Kanagaratnam is the founder of Project Red Dot. She delivers sanitary pads to women and girls from zero income families during the Movement Control Order (MCO). Vimala started the initiative when she had received a message from a father pleading for sanitary napkins for his daughter, as he had zero income. This plea for help caused her to question if there were more people suffering from period poverty. Collaborating with her friends and volunteers, Project Red Dot was able to supply many women of all ages with access to basic hygiene care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic[7]

You never know who or what will make a difference in a person’s life. Simply providing a meal could light a fire of change in a person’s soul. Teaching a child to read could be training the mind of a future doctor. Regardless of whether it is helping those in need or stepping up in their own homes, these women have gone above and beyond and their efforts will not go to waste. 

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Wiki Impact. (2020). Meet Paulina Henry. Pitas Girl Broke Out of Poverty. Link.
  2. Wiki Impact. (2020). Outstanding Mom of Seven Triples Earnings by Going Online. Link.
  3. Wiki Impact. (2020). Meet Sarawathy. Single Mom Who Bakes to Bring Up Four Kids. Link
  4. UNICEF, UNFPA, & DM Analytics. (October 2020). Families on the Edge (Issue 2): Status of the households post-MCO. Link. 
  5. S. Chandran. (2020). Malaysian entrepreneurs spends own time and money to teach English to stateless children in Sabah. The Star. Link.
  6. Freedom Film Fest. (2018). FEATURING FFF FILM GRANT WINNER – PUTRI PURNAMA SUGUA. Link.
  7. Syok.my. (2020). Thank You, Heroes: Vimala Kanagaratnam. Link. 

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