• No results found

Women and Nation Building: Modern Malay Mothers 1945-1970

How do Malay women fit into Malaysian nation building? What has been the dominant role for women in development and how has women’s role been portrayed in official discourses? Like Hooker’s writers, the new government viewed the notion of the ideal mother and wife as important. Under the coalition government’s Second Five Year Plan 1961-65, women were encouraged to produce a ‘healthy’ generation of children who were nurtured and educated within the ideology of the new nation state. Rural development programs were put into practice to teach rural women home economics so they could manage the home and family better.59 Government representatives advised women to enrol in rural development projects (one of which was home economics), to take the contraceptive pill and to improve their mothering skills. This represented a shift from traditional mother to modern mother for many rural Malay women as women were given the role of changing the rural family to a more modern ‘progressive’ family.60 This change meant that Malay women’s work in the home, where women played a complementary role to men, was transferred to the public arena.61

Ruling-class Malay women, particularly the wives of the royal family and the political leaders of the country, started to call upon women from all sections of society to help their husbands to work for the new Malaysia.62 The Queen of Malaysia, Raja Permaisuri

59 Malaysia Prime Minister's Department Economic Planning Unit, "Interim Review of Development in Malaya Under the Second Five Year Plan," (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Government, 1963).

60 In most villages women gave birth with the help of the village midwife. For further information see Lenore Manderson, Sickness and the State: Health and Illness in Colonial Malaya 1870-1940 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1996); M Stivens, C Ng, and Jomo K S with Bee J, Malay Peasant Women and the Land (London: Zed Books Ltd, 1994); Maila Stivens, Matriliny and Modernity: Sexual Politics and Social Change in Rural Malaysia (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1996); Manderson, "Shaping Reproduction:

Maternity in Early Twentieth-Century Malaya."; Maila Stivens, "Modernising the Malay Mother," in Modernities and Maternities in the Asia Pacific Region, ed. K Ram and Margaret Jolly (London:

Routledge, 1998); Heather Strange, "Some Changing Socioeconomic Roles of Village Women in Malaysia," in Asian Women in Transition, ed. Sylvia Chipp and Justin Green (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University, 1980).

61 Wazir as cited in Jomo K S and Leng, "Not the Better Half: Malaysian Women and Development Planning."

62 "Premier's Wife Lets Out a Secret," The Straits Times, Wednesday, August 30, 1958.

Agong, in her first Merdeka Speech called on Malay women ‘not to neglect their duties to bring up their children to become useful citizens.’63 The Queen also stressed that Malay women ‘must all work together with your men-folk for the peace and prosperity of this country’ … ‘that it is wrong for Malay women to think that as a weaker sex they can not contribute much to the development of the country’.64 In 1958, one year after Malaysia’s Independence, Puan Sharifah Rodziah, wife of the Prime Minister, again ‘appealed to women not to isolate themselves in the kitchen’.65 In the same year Kalsom Burhannudin, the Vice President of the Village Kaum Ibu in Perak and the wife of the Perak Alliance Secretary, called on Malaysian leaders to support women’s involvement in building nationalism, stressing that in a ‘new Nation like Malaya it should be the duty of leaders of all communities to encourage their women to participate with men in nation building.’66

Malay political leaders assumed that women would participate in the development process and play an active role in nation building.67 But some male politicians, such as the Assistant Minister for Rural Development, Haji Khalid Awang Osman, speaking on the role of women in rural development, saw women’s involvement in nation building as being closely associated with their femininity. He emphasised that ‘women have strong influence in the community through their appeal and charm’.68 He was confident that ‘if women and others extended their co-operation, the rural development program would be

63 "Raja Permaisuri Agung, Special First Anniversay Broadcast," Straits Times, Wednesday, August 30, 1958.

64 "Malay Women of Malaya Don't be Left Behind by Other Women ..." The Straits Times, Wednesday, August 30, 1958.

65 Ibid; "Premier's Wife Lets Out a Secret."

66 "Inferior? Now Perak Joins Chorus of Protests: The Angry Women (cont.)," Straits Times, Wednesday, August 30, 1958; "Premier's Wife Lets Out a Secret."

67 According to Manderson, however, it was not known exactly how women would participate in nation building outside their role as wives and mothers. For further information see Manderson, Women, Politics, and Change: The Kaum Ibu UMNO, Malaysia, 1945-1972; Lenore Manderson, "A Woman's Place: Malay Women and Development in Peninsular Malaysia," in Issues in Malaysian Development, ed. James C Jackson and Martin Rudner (Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd., 1979).

68 "Minister Advises Women: Give Up Wasteful Habits," The Straits Times, Wednesday, August 3, 1960.

a success’. He also spoke of the need for educated women and women’s organisations to lead their poorer sisters.

Rural women, rather than urban women, were mobilised to help the government in rural welfare for the poorer sectors of the villages. According to Manderson, many women joined groups during this period.69 By the 1960s, the welfare of the family became especially significant. Middle-class women, the daughters and wives of ruling-class and professional men, had long been involved in welfare and voluntary work. While a large percentage of women in voluntary organisations were non-Malay women, Malay women also worked to help less fortunate peoples in Malayan society.70 Women such as Hajjah Zubaidad, a doctor’s wife and mother of seven, who was interviewed by a newspaper in the 1970s, said that she started doing volunteer work after World War 11. She helped out in school clinics: ‘We went from school to school in vans to wash sores and dress them.

After the war, the people were suffering from malnutrition and they were covered with sores many had scabies too’.71 She also worked with sick children in the hospital, ‘I used to look forward to those assignments because the children were so lovely. I felt sorry for them because at home my own children were well taken care of by servants’. Hajjah said she continued in volunteer work for thirty years.72

In a special broadcast on Radio Malaya, the Queen told Malay women that ‘your service is needed in the welfare field. You must not allow yourself to be left behind by women of other races living in this country.’73 The government at the time, however, requested that women in voluntary groups must ‘stand on their own feet’ and not ask for government

69 For extensive information on women’s groups in this period see Manderson, Women, Politics, and Change: The Kaum Ibu UMNO, Malaysia, 1945-1972. Virginia Helen Dancz, "Women's Auxilliaries and Party Politics in Western Malaysia" (PhD thesis, Brandeis University, 1981).

70 Like Halimah, in the colonial period, elite Malay women continued to help others. See Chapter 3 for reference to Halimah.

71 Maureen Hoo, "Women Who Care," Sunday Mail, October 7, 1979.

72 Ibid.

73 "Malay Women of Malaya Don't be Left Behind by Other Women ..."

money to fund voluntary organisations.74 It appears that Malay women took up the challenge and joined other Malay groups in welfare work. In 1959, the Regent of Negeri Sembilan asserted that ‘it is most encouraging to see the ease and speed with which women of the country have taken their rightful place and contributed to a balanced society’.75 In the same year other dignitaries congratulated women on their ‘progress’.

Dato Abdul Razak bin Hussein said ‘We’re proud of our women [of the] role our women are playing in national progress and improving better standards of living’.76 In May 1961, Raja Permaisuri after meeting eighty leaders of various Women’s Institutes, Rotary’s Inner Wheel, Family Planning Associations and wives of community leaders, praised women for their efforts in voluntary work. The women in Malaya, she emphasised, ‘have proved that they can do what is expected of them’.77

In the same month, the Queen joined eighteen women in establishing the Muslim Women’s Welfare Council of Malaysia ‘to fight for the betterment of Muslim women’.78 The Council aimed to improve the welfare of Muslim women and children.79 It was part of the National Religious Affairs Council headed by the Prime Minister who at this time sought to make the religion uniform in each state, but as each state had its own Sultan under the British and each Sultan had employed the religion differently, this was hard to achieve. However, they were gradually brought together under the All Malayan Muslims Missionary Society.80 In 1960, the Muslim Welfare Organisation was founded. This was followed by an outward dakwah (missionary) movement which focused on Muslim conversion as well as welfare work. Between 1960 and 1979, the organisation converted over 35,000 non-Muslims.

74 "Minister Advises Women: Give Up Wasteful Habits."

75 "Women's Role in Malaya Hailed," Malay Mail, Monday, November 16, 1959.

76 "We're Proud of Our Women," Malay Mail, Wednesday, August 5, 1959.

77 "A Welfare Council for Muslim Women," The Straits Times, Tuesday, May 30, 1961.

78 This Welfare Council was dedicated to representing the interests of Muslim women regardless of political persuasion. Dancz, "Women's Auxilliaries and Party Politics in Western Malaysia", 609.

79 "A Welfare Council for Muslim Women."

80 This is not to suggest that Malaysia was an Islamic state. As Milner has pointed out, religion and politics at this stage were kept separate. Milner, "Rethinking Islamic Fundamentalism in Malaysia," 49.

A milestone in the progress of women’s organisations was the formation of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO) in 1963.81 The Council was non-communal, non-political and non-sectarian in religious matters, but the welfare of women in terms of marriage, child maintenance and polygamy were included in its purpose of commitment to women.82 Many modernists, male and female, of the time saw the Muslim practice of polygamy as derogatory to women’s sensibility. In the welfare discourse, Malay rural women were perceived to be victims in polygamous relationships. Since the 1950s female as well as male leaders with a modern outlook were calling for women to wake up to their rights and make changes in regards to marriage and polygamy. One male leader stressed that ‘Malay women must “rouse from their slumber of the ages” and boldly press for a better marriage deal.’ A member of the Penang Muslim Advisory Board believed polygamy should only be permitted when necessary, it was not the rule but an exception for a man to have four wives. Polygamy was perceived to be a form of sexual abuse towards ‘ignorant’ Malay women. ‘[It] is contrary to Islamic law for a husband to treat his wife badly’, he said, ‘unfortunately many men take advantage of the ignorance and helplessness of Muslim women.’ He suggested that a wife should have a stipulation in the marriage contract that if her husband takes another wife she should be at liberty to divorce him.83 Malay men, ‘special constables’, engaged to fight the communists, were blamed as the greatest single cause of divorce and disintegration of kampong social and economic life. One Malay editorial dealt with the problems of young males returning to kampong life after the Communist Insurgency, stating that many ‘have run wild, marrying and divorcing girls up and down the Peninsular’.84 This, he believed, was the cause of the increased numbers of prostitute women in Malaysia. Rahman Kassim, a female member of the Negeri Sembilan State Assembly, stated that the unfair division of

81 Jomo K S and Leng, "Not the Better Half: Malaysian Women and Development Planning," 29.

82 Ibid.

83 "Malay Women Urged: Wake Up And Claim Your Rights," Straits Times, Friday, August 29, 1958.

84 "The Problem of the Special Constables Who Can't Go Back to Kampong Life," Straits Times, January 26, 1960.

common property among divorced couples forced many neglected divorcees into prostitution to support themselves and their children.85

During the transition period, as already noted in Chapter 4, the levels of prostitution among Malays increased due to the effects of war and the high levels of land alienation and poverty among Malaysians.86 In 1959, the Malay Mail featured articles about both the increase in sex offences against women and the increase in women soliciting.87 In response, Malay women and religious organisations put pressure on the government to address these issues. The police in Penang and Kuala Lumpur raided ‘underground’

hotels and parties.88 Efforts to stamp out prostitution were also evident in other states such as Trengannu and Kelantan where the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP) introduced stricter legislation under Muslim law to deal with prostitution and Western

‘parties’.89 In 1959 drinking and dancing were banned at council and government functions across the country.90 Malay women were also outspoken in regards to their male counterparts. Hawa Abdullah, social welfare officer of the Pan-Malayan Moral Defence Organisation as well as a committee member of the Penang Anti-Vice Organisation, sparked a row while working on the anti-prostitution campaign in Penang when she said that certain hajis were frequenting cinemas and hotels.91 Hawa also accused the other officials of ‘merely doing nothing’. She resigned from the post soon after. 92

As early as 1961 at the Annual Delegates Conference of Kaum Ibu the delegates passed a motion to seek legislation to control polygamy among Muslims and ensure a fairer

85 "Curb Polygamy Call," The Straits Times, Saturday, May 16, 1961.

86 "Tregannue and Kelantan Stamp Out Prostitution," Malay Mail, Monday, July 6, 1959; "Letter to the Chief Secretary, Malayan Union, Kuala Lumpur from the Secretariat General of UMNO," (Ipoh: 1947).

87 "Sex Offences Increase," Malay Mail, Saturday, July 5, 1959.

88 Ibid.

89 "Tregannue and Kelantan Stamp Out Prostitution."

90 "Drinking Banned at Council and Government Functions," Malay Mail, Monday, October 26, 1959.

91 Haji is a Muslim who has made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

92 "'I Quit Says a Fed Up Che Hawa'," The Straits Times, Wednesday, July 29, 1958.

division of common property among divorced couples. It was not until 1968, however, that the Married Women and Children’s Enforcement of Maintenance Bill was passed by parliament to give women a better deal.93 The Bill gave the Shariah Courts extra power to order husbands to pay maintenance to women and children, but it was up to the states to adopt the Bill. The Minister of Welfare Services, Fatimah Hashim, said it was more progressive and all the states should adopt the bill. Nevertheless, the adoption was piecemeal as the states in the east, for example, were not in favour of new laws (in regards to women) instigated by the government. In some states, where religious clerics had a strong hold at the grassroots level, it was perceived as a loss of tradition and there were no changes.94

Women and Work

Similarly, government policies were unsuccessful in alleviating rural poverty but provided opportunities for some women to engage in political administration and welfare work in the rural sectors during the 1950s to the 1970s. Under education and employment programs women were able to take the opportunities offered them to move into the modern government sector and pursue their own careers, but mothering was always espoused by both the government and middle-class women as women’s central role.95 Women who entered the workforce followed their perceived traditional roles as teachers, nurses and welfare workers, also many women’s groups tried to enhance the position of Malay women.

During this period there was very little mention of women’s work in padi agriculture;

except in the context of family labour. Yet the population census for Peninsular Malaysia, in 1957, recorded that 77 per cent of working women were in the agricultural sector,

93 "Give Women a Better Deal, Fatimah Urges State Government," Malay Mail, Tuesday, August 25, 1970.

94 Ibid.

95 Strange, "Some Changing Socioeconomic Roles of Village Women in Malaysia," 146.

followed by 12 per cent in the services.96 As noted in Chapter 2 of the thesis, colonial officials ignored working women in the unpaid agricultural sector. Equally, working women in modern Malaysia were perceived as mothers and wives, not workers. In one newspaper report, published in 1959, a union leader representing male workers noted that the worker’s pay was so low that ‘some worker’s wives were forced to do odd jobs’.97 Even trade unions did not acknowledge women’s participation in waged work in the same way they recognised men’s participation. While this discourse concerning women and work is very similar to the Western, urban, working-class myth that wives do not work, it particularly reflects the ways married women’s work was classified in the rural sector. By ignoring women as primary agricultural workers, official discourses were characterised by a sexual division of labour in which women were largely relegated to the home as homemakers, mothers and wives. Although women were heavily involved in agricultural work, it was usually the men, not women, who were perceived as agricultural workers and it was men who were taught the new methods of farming, not the women.98 It has been well documented that women in developing countries have often been ignored in development statistics, not to mention by the policies introduced by Western male experts.99 Women continued to be framed within discourses about motherhood and family even when opportunities for work outside the home and the rural sector widened.

After Independence and the introduction of legislation that guaranteed ‘Malay Special Rights’, young, educated village women entered the nursing and teaching professions in greater numbers.100 These were forms of employment, which, while seen as modern,

96 As cited in Chia Siow Yue, "Women's Economic Participation in Malaysia," in Women's Economic Participation in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Noeleen Heyzer (Thailand: Asia Pacific Development Centre, 1987), 178.

97 "Union Speaks Out Municipality Workers in KL," Malay Mail, Monday, July 27, 1959.

98 Mahathir, The Malay Dilemma.

99 Noleen Heyzer, Working Women in South-East Asia: Development, Subordination and Emancipation (London: Open University Press, 1986); Jomo K S and Leng, "Not the Better Half: Malaysian Women and Development Planning."

100 "More Jobs For Women," Malay Mail, Wednesday, July 29, 1959; "Nursing for Malay Girls:

Government Rejects PMIP Plan," Malay Mail, Tuesday, December 15, 1959. During this period increasing numbers of women were educated. For statistics see Jomo K S and Leng, "Not the Better Half: Malaysian Women and Development Planning," 16-7.

nonetheless reflect home-centred women’s skills. Thus the need for teachers and nurses in the government’s development projects in rural areas became subsumed within the prevailing discourse surrounding femininity and women’s work. Nursing and teaching were presented as being culturally acceptable professions for women which fitted into nation-building imperatives of the government. This view was exemplified by the views of one young woman described in a newspaper article: ‘Why I Became a Nurse’. She asserted that young Malay girls should take up nursing ‘because it will help them preserve their feminine qualities and the work is very interesting … Moreover, at this time our country is expanding its health services and is in need of more staff’.101 It is significant that the Civil Defence Corps tried to recruit women for its ambulance and welfare sections but was unsuccessful.102 This was perceived to be men’s work and women were reluctant to enter male work areas.

These attitudes were equally evident in particular teaching areas such as home economics where women were preferred over men.103 In this way gender roles were reinforced and cultural mores taken into account. Speaking on the recruitment of Malay teachers for rural areas, Dr Rasdan bin Baba, the principle of Serdang Agricultural College, stated that the government had just started to teach rural peoples and for this line of teaching

‘women are more suitable than men. In this country where a large percentage of agricultural workers are women and since by custom it is not proper for men from outside to talk to women in the villages, women are needed to do this job.’104 This ‘unofficial’

acceptance of women as agricultural workers was not seen to be in conflict with the dominant discourse which positioned women as wives and mothers rather than ‘workers’.

These interacting cultural, economic and political discourses illustrate the dilemmas faced by the government in their endeavours to encourage Malay women to move into

101 Arthur Richards, "Why I Became a Nurse - By a Pahang Girl," Sunday Mail, July 11, 1965.

102 "Ramah, 26, Joins the Civil Defence Corps," Malay Mail, Wednesday, July 7, 1965.

103 Paul Jacob, "Drive by Government to Teach Home Economics in Rural Areas: Women Agricultural Graduates Needed," Malay Mail, Thursday, August 6, 1970.

104 Ibid.