Women in Asia: Tradition, Modernity and Globalisation

By Mina Roces; Louise Edwards | Go to book overview

2 Becoming modern in
Malaysia: women at the end
of the twentieth century

Maila Stivens

Women's Studies
Melbourne University

As the new century unfolds, these are heady times for Malaysia. The country has been riding the waves of Reformasi, the reform movement unleashed by Prime Minister Mahathir's sacking of his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.This has thrown up an unlikely heroine, Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.A quietly-spoken medically-trained housewife and mother, she has revealed herself to be a woman possessing the political acumen and presence to form an effective figurehead for the reform movement. While the future of this movement is unclear, it has become a powerful platform for Malaysians to express a series of discontents long submerged under the stunning economic successes delivered by Mahathir's authoritarian ruling coalition. 1 What does Wan Azizah's rise to prominence tell us about the contemporary condition of Malaysian women? One answer might be that she is the very model of a modern Malaysian woman: highly educated, articulate, enjoying a degree of independence but also fiercely loyal to family, religion and a vision of nation within the emerging corporate Islamic modernity envisaged by the new order.Amidst a crisis of governance throughout a region awash with accusations of corruption and a

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