The Emergence and Involvement of Women Writers in Malaysia.
Khadijah Hashim (novelist), Siti Zaleha M Hashim (poet) and Zurinah Hassan, with Norhayati Ab.Rahman.
The emergence and involvement of women writers can be traced to the pioneering figures, Ibu Zain, Kamariah Saadon, Jahlelawati and later Adibah Amin, Zaharah Nawawi and Khadijah Hashim, Ibu Zain or Hajah Zainon Sulaiman, (1903-1989) who was a teacher with English education is remembered as an advocater of education for girls through her writings in Majalah Guru or Bulan Melayu, . Bulan Melayu was the first women’s magazine in Malaysia, initiated by Ibu Zain herself and it played an important role in creating awareness amongst women on the importance of education.
Creative writings in modern fictions began in 1934, with the production of a short story Kesedihan Perkahwinan Paksa (The Misery of Forced Marriage) by Hafsah, published in a magazine, Pengasuh. Later in the same year, a fiction entitled Waktu Isyak Menangkap Pencuri written by Siti Nurmah, was published. However, novels written by women writers surfaced much later, that is, as late as 1941, about 15 years after the first novel written by a man writer.
Where Poetry is concerned, Women have been involved in poetry writing since 1930 with the emergence of a poem in a newspaper Lidah Benar by Hasnah Brahim, and later, on May 7, 1936, Zainun Nasir published her poem entitled "Women Must Wake Up”, in the magazine Al-Hikmah. Other names detected before 1940 were Perawan Kampung, Kalthum Awang dan Wok Jamilah.
The presence of women poets became more noticeable after 1945 following the end of Japanese occupation. Several names that appeared were Mariam Abdul Ghani, Fatimah Othman, Wanita Kampung, Hafsah Perak, Siti Aishah,Kamariah Johor and Normah Kamarudin. These were followed by names that later became important in Malaysian literature, Ibu Zain, Salmi Manja and Anis Sabirin.. Poems by Salmi Manja and Anis Sabirin were included in an anthology Puisi Melayu Baru (The New Malay Poetry (1942-1960) compiled by Ali Haji Ahmad, 1966, together with important Malaysian poets Masuri S.N., Tongkat Warrant, A.Samad Said, Noor S.I., M.Ghazali, A.S.Amin, Kassim Ahmad, Suhaimi Haji Muhammad, Nahmar Jamil and Jihati Abadi.
The earliest short story written by a woman was recorded as Kecelakaan Pemalas by Nor Ibrahim published in Pengasuh February 1920. Followed by Azizah who wrote Doktor Mahmud in Mastika Mach 1947. Other names to emerge after 1948 included Kalsom Haji Saadon, Adibah Amin, Salmi Manja, Hamidah Hassan and Hamsiah Muslim. According to Norhayati Ab Rahman women writers in the early 1930s attempted to apply specific features in highlighting real-life experiences of women, i.e., in displaying the emotions of joys and sorrows, and in expressing their desires and dislikes. The features that were more noticeable in these novels were the experiences of the women whose lives are subjected to the customs and values which confine and oppress them. The writers showed that generally women at that time were still not free to realize their own dreams and visions as they were still bound by their domestic roles, the influence of men and societal values. Hence, although the writers tried to voice their demands for the rights and status of women, their voice and bravery at that time were still drowned by the dominance of patriarchy.
More women poets appeared in the mid-sixties. They were Maimoonah Haji Omar, Rahimah M.Y, Noraini Shahrin, Azizah Shahrin, Halimah Haji Ahmad, Aina M, Maznah Ali who became regular contributor in weekly newspapers such as Utusan Zaman, Mingguan Malaysia and Berita Minggu and monthly magazines Mastika and Dewan Masyarakat .It was in the early seventies that Zurinah Hassan, Siti Zainon Ismail and Zaihasra dominated the literary scene.
But the work of women writers were generally not given due attention and criticism. There were hardly any write up, review or essay that examines their work in literary magazines or academic journals.
Public opinion about the inferiority of women writer's works began to change in the early 1970s. This change was brought about by the Malaysian Literary Prize established in 1971. The literary world seemed surprised when several women writers appear as winners. And this proved that women work should not be underestimated.
In 1982, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) published an anthology of poems by women poets. The anthology, entitled Kembang Melati was compiled by Suhaimi Haji Muhammad and Pyan Hussein. It includes works of seven poetess Salmi Manja, Anis Sabirin, Maimoonah Haji Omar, Zurinah Hassan, Muhammad Nor Aini Muhammad, Siti Zainon Ismail and Zaihasra. To date Kembang Melati is the only anthology of women poetry. published by DBP. This was followed by Mustika Diri (DBP, 1994) compiled by Ahmad Kamal Abdullah and Siti Asiah Murad. Mustika Diri include writing from all genres namely poetry, short stories, plays and literary essays. and is an important documentation on the development of women writers in Malaysia,.Included in Mustika Diri are Habsah Hassan, Hasnah Ibrahim, Khadijah Hashim, Mahaya Mohd Yassin, Maimon Rahman, Mariam Omar, Maznah Ali, Norzeha Kasbi , Radziah M.Zin , Rogayah A.Hamid, Sairah Haji Antin, Salmi Manja, Siti Zainon Ismail, Siti Zaleha M.Hashim, Zaiton Ajamain, Zakiah Bahari, Zanariah Wan Abdul Rahman and Zurinah Hassan. As can be seen many names are not as actively involved as before.
Up to 2017, six women writers have been chosen recipient of South East Asia Write Award ( SEA Write Award). They are Adibah Amin, Zaharah Nawawi, Khadijah Hashim, Siti Zainon Ismail, Zurinah Hassan and Azmah Nordin.
Other women writers of importance are Siti Zaleha M Hashim, Zaiton Ajmain, Salmiah Ismail, Nisah Harun, Mawar Shafie, Amelia Hashim, Aminah Mokhtar, Ana Balqis, Rosmiaty Shaari, Rositah Ibrahim, Rosani Hiplee, Azridah Ps Abadi, Hazama Harun, Kathirina Susanna Tati, Norgadis Labuan, Raihani Mohd.Saaid.Nor Zaiton Hanafi, Zaiton Ahmad, Zaleha Ahmat, Che Soo Ismail, Raja Rajeswari Seetha Raman, Ramlah Rashid, Dayana Chacooo, Dayangku Mastura, Hani Salwa, Nissa' Yusof, Ainunl Muaiyanah Sulaiman.Rabiatul Adawiyah Abdul Samad, Norazimah Abu Bakar and Teratai Abadi. More poetry books are published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and Institute of Malaysian Translation and Books (ITBM). More names appear as winners of literary prizes. The prestigious prize at the national level is Hadiah Sastera Perdana. There are also literary prizes at state level, with the states of Johor, Sabah, Terengganu and Perak being more regular and active. Besides, Utusan Melayu also offer yearly prize known as Hadiah Sastera Kumpulan Utusan (HSKU). This give promising environment for the development of women in writing and intellectualism.
Women writers make women’s experiences their assets or important bases in the construction of their literary works. Textual meanings that are produced by women writers are not only related to their individual personal needs and wants, but instead reflect the situation and condition of the society that produced it. At the same time, these texts highlight the existence of literary products or art as the socio-cultural documents of Malay society, which can be adopted in drafting the development of a literary institution and society, now or in the future.
Three women writers from Brunei. Hjh Rohaidah, Norsiah Ghapar and Hjh Shaharah.