In celebration of International Women's Day, we pay tribute to amazing Malaysian women who are not only known for their contributions to their respective industries, but also in enriching the lives of others. These influential women are the epitome of confidence, grace and everlasting strength. As days go by, they continue to build success not only in their hometowns but also overseas. Here are the influential Malaysian women who are making waves overseas (in no particular order)!
Influential Malaysian Women You Should Know
1. Sabariah Hussein
Credit: Sister Sabria Foundation on Facebook Warmly known as the Mother Teresa of Montreal, Sabariah Hussein made headlines when she cooked for more than 200 people a day during the month of Ramadan. Credit: Sister Sabria Foundation on Facebook
Three decades ago, Sister Sabariah moved to Canada to work as a special education teacher. Her inspiration started about 18 years ago when she felt concerned after seeing women begging for food in the streets. Then, she decided to run a women's shelter from home, and that was how everything started for Sister Sabariah. Credit: Safura Tawil on Facebook
Sister Sabariah partners with two churches, a food bank and an NGO to provide food and shelter to the poor and homeless. She also runs a stall at a local mosque where her team of volunteers come to help around. Sister Sabariah welcomes anybody regardless of their religion as she always believes in giving back to the community. What an inspiration! #HHWT Tip: Check out our interview with Sister Sabria, the Muslim Mother Teresa of Canada, who inspires us with her wisdom and genuine compassion
2. Anita YusofCredit: ANITA YUSOF on Facebook
Like many of us, Anita Yusof dreams of travelling the world but this inspirational woman has taken her dream up a notch. Originally from Ipoh, this adventurous motorcyclist has been recognised by the Asia Book of Records as the First Woman To Ride Around The World ?Credit: ANITA YUSOF on Facebook
Anita is a huge fan of riding and she is clearly not afraid to travel alone. She has explored hundreds of routes in over 50 countries with her trusty FZ150i motorbike. And can you believe she is a mother of 2 sons?!Credit: ANITA YUSOF on Facebook
With so many accomplishments, the daredevil has shown us that age is not a barrier to success and Anita's story will continue to inspire women all around the world ? Check out our interview with This Malaysian Muslim Woman Is On A Mission To Travel The World On A Motorbike to learn more about Anita!
3. Dato' Sri Siti Nurhaliza
One of Malaysia's best-selling artists of all time, it's easy for music lovers to be enchanted by the sweet and melodious vocals of Dato' Sri Siti Nurhaliza. Famously known as Malaysia's Queen of Pop, her strong influence and presence in the entertainment industry is undeniable, and based on record sales alone, she has sold more than 6 million units today!
With many awards given in praise of her achievements, she made headlines when she performed for the first time at Royal Albert Hall in 2005, in celebration of her 10th year in her music career. She also embarked on a grand tour in 2019 where she performed in Indonesia, Singapore, Britain and her home country, Malaysia.
4. Dr Elies Alias
It’s easier nowadays for Muslim women to find a store (whether physical or online) selling modest wear and headgear tailored to their every need, giving them more freedom of choice in deciding their everyday looks. But there are still some obstacles to allowing Muslim women to live out their day-to-day lives without forgoing their faith. Malaysian Dr Elies Alias would know - she not only used her PhD in Biomaterial and Biomedical Engineering to found a company dedicated to providing Muslim women with a convenient yet fashionable hijab range.One of her recent projects includes working with the British police force to create hijabs for their Muslim servicewomen! Check out our interview with Dr Elies Alias where we chatted about travel, entrepreneurship, and how she’s changing the day-to-day lives of everyday Muslim women one hijab at a time.
5. Datuk Nicol Ann David
There's no other squash player who dominates the court quite like Datuk Nicol Ann David. At 15, she won the Women's World Junior Squash Championships and from there, she continued to win more tournaments including 18 Professional Squash Association (PSA) titles. Recognised as the greatest squash player of all time, she also bagged the world's number one spot for 112 consecutive months from 2006 to 2015.
After retiring from the sport in 2019, she is now actively involved in the Nicol David Foundation that aims to empower disadvantaged children through sports. In February 2021, she was also recently voted as the World Games' Greatest Athlete of All Time!
This ultimate hijabi queen made waves back in 2006 when everyone started wearing shawls as part of their daily looks. Yuna, the Malaysian songbird who is also a songwriter and businesswoman has been making the country proud, splitting her time between KL and the United States.
From an independent singer-songwriter to a world-class performer, Yuna has collaborated with a number of big names like Usher, Pharell Williams and Jhene Aiko. Besides receiving the National Youth Icon Award in 2012 for her exceptional achievement in arts, she was also nominated for Best Southeast Asian Act in the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2014 and 2016. Did you know that she was awarded the Malaysian Book of Records as the first singer listed in the US Billboard Top 10 R&B Chart? Her inspiring achievement has definitely paved the way for up-and-coming artists and songwriters in Malaysia!
7. Shila Amzah
Who can forget Shila Amzah - the first Malay-Muslim singer to break through the Chinese music market? Shila wowed the crowd in the Chinese reality singing show Asian Wave when she sang in English, Malay and Mandarin. That's an impressive feat if you ask us! Her popularity skyrocketed after the show - her single achieved 1 million downloads in just 2 days on Weibo music and her Sina Weibo account has more than 2.5 million followers.
More than just her beautiful voice, Shila has also been a significant influence on relations between China and Malaysia. As a cultural ambassador, she sang for Chinese president Xi Jinping when he visited Malaysia in 2014. Although Shila says she has to work harder to prove herself in China, ultimately it has pushed her to become the amazing and inspiring singer that she is today.
8. Dr Amalina Bakri
Who could ever forget Dr Amalina Bakri, the one who shook the country by obtaining 17 1As in her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination in 2004? Beauty with a brain, Dr Amalina continues to amaze us with her success and endless contributions to the world of medicine.
Currently serving as a Speciality Trainee Surgeon at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Dr Amalina specialises in general surgery, trauma/emergency as well as breast surgery. On top of that, she also gives out talks at universities with regard to her specialities!
Dr Amalina is truly the definition of a strong and independent woman. She was recently awarded the Darzi Academic Clinical Fellowship from the Imperial College London and is currently pursuing her PhD. She continues to be a driving force in empowering independent women to become fearless, and strong and to follow their dreams!
9. Tan Hooi Ling
Credit: Profiles of Singapore on Facebook
From MyTeksi to GrabTaxi and now known as Grab, Tan Hooi Ling is the woman behind the leading ride-hailing platform in Southeast Asia. As the co-founder of Grab together with her partner Anthony Tan, Grab is now operating in more than 60 cities in 7 countries! Credit: Singapore Summit on Facebook
Inspired by Tan Hooi Ling’s own struggle in calling up taxis to accommodate her daily journeys, the duo came up with an idea where customers can trust the taxi drivers that they are assigned to. Not only is it beneficial in terms of safety, but it is also helpful for those who are travelling alone or late at night. Credit: Telenor Group on Facebook
Tan Hooi Ling believes that it is a win-win situation for both drivers and customers. Grab gives out opportunities for people to create a source of income and become more tech-savvy at the same time.
10. Farah Ann Abdul Hadi
There are many reasons for Malaysians to be proud of Farah Ann Abdul Hadi. She was the first Malaysian artistic women gymnast to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and she has raised the Jalur Gemilang flag many times during her years in the sports.
Winning seven gold medals from 2015, 2017 and 2019 SEA Games, she triumphed in the team, floor exercise, uneven bars and all-around events. We're excited to see her raise the bar in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021!
11. Pandelela Rinong
Journeying from a Bidayuh village in Sarawak to international diving competitions, the story of Pandelela Rinong is an inspiring one, and it's admirable to see how far this Malaysian diver has come.
After representing the country at the 2008 Summer Olympics, she worked harder and bagged a bronze medal for the 10-meter platform event in 2012 Summer Olympics and a silver medal in the 10-meter synchronised platform (alongside diver Cheong Jun Hoong) in 2016 Summer Olympics.
12. Adele Lim
We all know Adele Lim as the Malaysian-born co-writer of Crazy Rich Asians (she's currently based in Los Angeles), but her journey is filled with many years of hard work in television and film writing to get to where she is today.
If you're a fan of her work, you'll be proud to know that she's the writer behind Disney's animated movie, 'Raya And The Last Dragon'! With American actress Kelly Marie Tran voicing the lead character 'Raya', the animated movie transports you to the world of Kumandra where dragons and humans co-exist! ?
13. Kiki Poh
Who would have known that one of the people behind the making of Disney's Cars 3 is a Malaysian? Kiki Poh is a Shading and Grooming Technical director who also happens to be the first Malaysian to work as a Pixar animation artist!
Kiki was first recruited by Pixar Animation Studios as an intern back in 2010. She has been working on movies such as Toy Story 3, Monsters University as well as Inside Out! In the movie Cars 3, the character Doc Hudson was one of the characters that Kiki mainly worked on. Credit: MBO Cinemas on Facebook
On her recent trip back to Malaysia; Kiki had also conducted an animation workshop at The One Academy to inspire future animators in the country.
14. Sharifah Amani
Ah, the lovely Orked who caught the eyes and hearts of many people around the world with her extraordinary performance in the movie Sepet. Played by the petite and brilliant actress, Sharifah Amani, this phenomenal lady is constantly making waves in the entertainment industry.
Sharifah Amani has starred in plenty of movies and local telemovies, especially ones that were directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad like Gubra and Muallaf. Sharifah Amani also won the Most Promising Newcomer Award at the 18th Malaysian Film Festival in 2005 (for the film, Sepet), and Best Actress Award at the 19th Malaysian Film Festival 2006 (for the film, Gubra).
Apart from travelling around the world, Sharifah Amani is also getting actively involved in the directing world. From local festivals to international film festivals, Sharifah Amani continues to melt hearts with her burning talent and love for art!
Known as the next Jimmy Choo, Christy Ng is the founder and CEO of ChristyNg.com. It is an online shoe company that specialises in handmade shoes, ranging from wedding shoes to high heels and general footwear since 2010!
Christy always has a flair for drawing and entrepreneurship. In 2012, she displayed her first designs on Facebook and so they say, the rest is history. Christy’s shoes are different from the rest as customers are able to design their own shoes on the website. No matter how you want your shoes to look like, Christy can do it!
Today, women from more than 30 countries wear Christy Ng’s shoes and the numbers are growing day by day. Christy is definitely making waves outside of the country not only as the next Jimmy Choo but as a successful shoe designer herself!
16. Felicia Yap
Credit: Felicia Yap on Facebook A scientist-turned-thriller novelist, Felicia Yap is making her way up in the thriller book industry. Known for her debut novel entitled Yesterday, this thriller book has been getting amazing reviews worldwide!
Felicia studied biochemistry at the Imperial College London and then completed her doctorate in history at Cambridge University. It is during her times at Cambridge that inspired her to write her book, Yesterday. There are also elements of Cambridge in her book! Look out for her next book, Future Perfect that is set to be released in March 2021!
17. Zee Avi
This Sarawakian-born songbird is an all-around performer. Zee Avi is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and ukulele player who made her debut with her songs, Bitter Heart and Kantoi. If you haven’t listened to any of her songs, be warned because her voice will melt you down to the core! Zee Avi is not your typical overnight Youtube superstar. In 2009, Zee came out with her debut album that became a hit in Malaysia.
In 2011, Zee Avi received the Youth Icon (International) Award from the Sarawak State Government. She was also conferred the Pegawai Bintang Kenyalang (Officer of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak) a year later. One of her international achievements would be winning the Best Original Film Song at the 53rd Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards that was held in 2016 in China! More recently, she was awarded the International Young Artiste Award at Top Asia Corporate Ball in Jakarta, Indonesia.
18. Siti Nurafaf Ismail
Malaysian architecture student Siti Nurafaf Ismail made headlines when she became the first Asian woman to win the RIBA Norman Travelling Scholarship, an international scholarship that supports students in research relating to sustainable cities and towns.
With the scholarship amounting £7,000 (RM35,800), this talented University Malaya student spent two months in Hokkaido, Japan and Karachi to work alongside NGOs to rebuild the community affected by recent earthquakes and flooding. She believes in the growing need for architects to lend a hand in disaster management, and we say kudos to that!
19. Michelle Yeoh
Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh needs no introduction. A legendary actress who catapulted to fame through her years in the Hong Kong entertainment scene and Hollywood films, we've seen different sides of her through the characters she played in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of Geisha, Last Christmas, and Crazy Rich Asians! If you love seeing her in action films, she's also known for doing her own stunts!
Let's not forget her role in Star Trek: Discovery where she played Captain Philippa Georgiou of USS Shenzhou (complete with a Malaysian accent!). Recently, she made headlines when she became the first Asian to win the coveted SAG Best Actress Film award for the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once.
20. Heidi Nazarudin
Heidi Nazarudin left her successful job as an investment banker to pursue her dream - fashion blogging. Today, she owns The Ambitionista, a fashion and lifestyle blog for working women. With almost 500,000 followers on Instagram, Heidi is now one of the most influential fashion bloggers in the world. She's also the CEO and co-founder of Marque Media!
Heidi's dream is to create a global network of bloggers and if given the opportunity, she wants to start a clothing line. This pioneering woman is definitely an inspiration to all of us out there!
As an entrepreneur, actress and television host, Neelofa continues to inspire us every day. Originally from Kelantan, her journey in the local entertainment scene began when she bagged the crown in Dewi Remaja (Miss Teen Malaysia competition) in 2009.
Since then, she steadily becomes a firm fixture in the entertainment industry. From a co-host in a popular television programme MeleTOP (she resigned in 2019 after an 8-year stint) to a female entrepreneur and founder of Naelofar Hijab, she always finds a way to achieve it all. Did you know that Neelofa is Southeast Asia's first Regional Ambassador for Lancome? That's absolutely amazing!
22.Raja Nadia Sabrina
A lawyer turned fashion blogger and entrepreneur, Raja Nadia Sabrina is the wonder woman behind the brand, Aere. She believes in crafting fashionable, modest pieces for women in this era. Her journey with Aere has definitely been an exciting roller coaster ride. In July 2016, she managed to bring Aere into the international spotlight at the Jakarta Fashion Week. In 2017, Aere was invited as the ONLY Malaysian brand at the Dubai Modest Fashion Week. Talk about achieving another milestone!
Of course, behind her fast-paced and busy lifestyle, she also spends her time with her loving husband and their two adorable children. Raja Nadia Sabrina is truly a Wonder Mama!
23. Vivy Yusof
No longer a foreign name in the fashion industry, Vivy Yusof is truly a Wonder Woman. She co-founded FashionValet in 2010 and the e-commerce brand is now one of the region’s biggest brands.
Vivy has achieved so many awards both in and outside of the country. She was listed in the Prestige Magazine’s 2015 List of Top 40 Under 40 and in 2017, she was listed on Forbes as one of Asia’s Top 30 Under 30! Datin Vivy also had the honour of collaborating with Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah of Brunei Darussalam in coming up with The Royal dUck, a headscarf collection carrying an empowering message for every woman. The fashion queen also juggles her time not only as an entrepreneur and a blogger, but also as a loving wife and mother to four beautiful children! She recently published a book "The First Decade: My Journey from Blogger to Entrepreneur". Read our interview with her to find out the 8 Things You Can Learn From Vivy Yusof’s Debut Book.
24. Dr Farah Shaheera RoslanCredit: University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust on Facebook
In December 2019, Malaysian surgeon-in-training, Dr Farah Shaheera Roslan and her team developed disposable sterile headscarves for staff at the Royal Derby Hospital in the United Kingdom! In an interview with Islam Channel, Farah shared her difficulties going to the operating theatres wearing a hijab as the headscarf may cause infection control issues. She also elaborated that this led to some Muslim women choosing not to go to operating theatres to learn. "You shouldn't need to choose between a specific career, for example, in surgery and having to wear a hijab. I thought why not go into something in between and that's how the idea of disposable surgical hijab came about." You can read more about Dr Farah Shaheera's achievement!
A woman is capable of doing so many things in the world. But, a wonder woman is one who can do everything not only for herself but for her loved ones too. I hope these amazing Malaysian women will inspire you to go out there and chase your dreams! Nothing is impossible and they are living proof that dreams can come true as long as you don’t give up. We are all queens at heart!
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness,” as quoted by Oprah Winfrey.