During the month of March, women across the world come together to celebrate their achievements and formulate objectives for the future. Asia has some incredibly inspirational women, from peacekeepers to lawmarkers to businesswomen. Whilst the spotlight often falls on women in America and Europe who are blazing trails, Asian women are also changing the future for their kind. So, let’s appreciate some truly inspirational Asian women!
Ambiga Sreenevasan is currently changing the way we view human rights in South East Asia. She is currently president of the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia, after an illustrious career in law. She originally attended law school and worked as a lawyer in the UK before returning to Malaysia to change the face of South East Asian legislation. Ambiga Sreenevasan has made a name for herself for being a particularly vocal advocate of women’s right, particularly in the context of global human rights. Importantly, in an area of the world where judicial processes are governed by sharia law, she has pushed for women to be given equal footing in a predominantly masculine sphere. This has changed the way women are perceived legally and has also pushed for significant change through the courts.
Ta Phong Tan
Ta Phong Tan reached notoriety for her vehement criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party during the early 2000s. This had resulted in her membership being revoked and regular threats upon her life. In her campaign against the party, Ta Phong Tan regularly published critiques of the Communist Party on her blog, ‘Justice and Truth’. The level of criticism that she published was so severe that she was handed a particularly harsh prison sentence. She was originally sentenced to ten years in prison in 2012 for making public her criticism of the party. However, she was later released after three years and consequently, emigrated to the United States. One of the most tragic aspects of her story is that her mother, begging for her daughter’s freedom, died of injuries inflicted during self-immolation in front of the Vietnamese courts.
Jin Xing is incredible for a variety of reasons. Not only has she been an advocate for feminist causes, but also for those of transgender communities. Originally trained as a dancer, she travelled as part of the People’s Liberation Army, rising up the ranks to colonel. After returning from a spell abroad, she publicly decided to undergo gender realignment surgery. She was left disabled as a result of the surgery, a process which at the time was extremely rare in China. Despite this, she rose to fame as a judge on a TV talent show and is now one of the country’s most beloved presenters. At a time when transgender communities face prejudice, hatred and inequality, Jin Xing has singlehandedly put transgender women on the map in China and continues to do so to this day.
Known as the ‘Gentle Warrior’ in Singapore, Ivy Singh Lim has broken boundaries for her political activism. Currently the owner of her own farm, Bollywood Veggies, she has managed to create her own community outside of the materialism and profit oriented vision of big business. She has often expressed anti-government views, claiming that many Singaporeans are under an immense amount of pressure to be productive members of society, eventually resulting in burnout. Vehemently anti-system, Ivy Singh Lim is currently fighting to preserve and develop the Kranji countryside, just outside of the city center of Singapore. Her vision is to turn this land into arable farming land, which should eventually allow citizens to have access to organic, locally produced products without further damage to the environment.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Margaret Chan is the current Global Director of the World Health Organisation. She frequently makes the Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world and her mission is to reduce the transmission of contagious diseases the world over. She weathered the SARS crisis as it hit China and Hong Kong, and has managed to pave the way for other women in her field. She was one of the first women to enter the WHO as a director and has managed to set the standard, not only for Asian women but for women striving to enter positions of power. During her two terms as Global Director, she has also had to deal with the Zika virus outbreak, the consequences of which are terrible for women and their children. Thanks to her pioneering skills, the health of women worldwide has had support at the highest levels and continues to advance.