It is International Women’s Day on March 8th and I dedicate this story to all women, in particular to all mothers. My mother turns 89 this year. She has a great sense of humour, is good fun to be with and enjoys the company of people. She loves music and will dance if the mood takes her. Today, her daily routine consists of having meals, reading the newspapers, magazines and books, watching films and sleeping. But there was a time, when she was much younger, when she was working all day doing things for others. My mother was dedicated to helping others. She was a social activist and a social worker. She is an absolutely fabulous human being, a strong, caring and kind woman!

Community Work

As a child my mother had observed her mother undertaking charitable acts for the community. She married my father in 1944 and he encouraged her to do social work. After the Japanese occupation of Singapore she served on the committees of a number of charitable organisations. These included the Singapore Children’s Society and the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital. I can recall my mother also doing work for the Seamen’s Association. She helped start the Young Women Muslim Association as well as the Muslim Women’s Welfare Council.

Poor Treatment of Women

My mother was prompted to improve the lives and rights of women because of the appalling conditions at the time. As a volunteer she met many women who had no education, were ill-treated by their husbands and who did not have any economic means. They married young and they were not aware of the responsibilities of being a wife and mother. They had no idea about how to manage a household. Their marriages often ended in divorces.

In those days Muslim men could divorce their wives easily. All they had to do was to go to a Kathi, a religious officer, and say ‘I divorce my wife’ and pay a fee. The divorced woman would only learn of the divorce when the divorce certificate arrived in the mail. These women had no place to which to go and they had no financial support. Uneducated as they were, they had no idea of their civil rights. They did not know where to go to obtain maintenance for their children and about public assistance. My mother became more and more convinced that she had to do something for these women.

Advocacy Work and Helping Others

Hence, she organised meetings of Muslim women in the 1950’s to discuss marriage and divorce laws. Her group advocated change. In 1957 The Muslim Ordinance was passed and the Shariah Court was set up in 1958. The Court ensured proper administration of the Law and controls were established for divorce and polygamy, among other things. My mother became the first social case worker at the court.

She counselled many people. The phone in our home was constantly ringing. People would call at all hours of the day and night to seek advice from her. They also came to our home to see her. Often, the women had young children, no money and with little education, could not find jobs to support themselves. My mother obtained tins of baby milk which she kept in her office so she could give it to these women to stop them from feeding their babies with tea. Tea was all that they could afford.

Her personal mission to help others prompted her to work in different organisations until she was much older. She had a good listening ear and would try all resources to help a person in need.

Her Special Characteristics

From all her interactions with these women, my mother came to one conclusion and this was that women should be educated even more intensively than men as the mother runs the home and guides the children. In the advocacy work that she undertook she displayed a great deal of courage and determination. She was unique and outstanding in her time. As I look through various newspaper articles and reports about my mother and the work that she performed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I note her energy, her forthright attitude, her caring spirit and her indomitable will. She was well ahead of other women in what she thought women should do and be like.

In an article in Her World of October 1965, she is quoted as saying that a woman “should not live entirely in the shell of her home, but should give service to the public and help with the betterment of the community. If she has any special training or knowledge she should go out to work and not feel guilty about it. But, if she would rather stay at home and work, then that is what she should do.” A Feminist indeed!

A Wonderful Role Model

I am grateful to my mother for being such an excellent role model. I learned much from her not just about advocacy work, speaking up, community service and gender equality but about values, honesty, generosity, caring for others, responsibility and integrity. My mother was inspirational in the way she raised issues with the authorities.

Till today my mother is always well-groomed. At 88 she loves to dress well and will make sure that her accessories match. As a young girl I rebelled against dressing up because my mother was always immaculate. However, over the years I have acquired some of these attributes and I too, take pains with my dressing. My mother sacrificed much for us. She had a small car and many of our friends remember her driving us to school and to various activities. They would pile into her car and she would happily drive us everywhere.

My mother loved entertaining and she would cook great meals. She would also go out of her way to purchase items of food that we all liked. Today she remains as generous and caring as previously. Our friends enjoy talking to her when they come to visit. She is always cheerful and has a great laugh! His Highness, the spouse, and I are fortunate to have her stay with us as she brings much pleasure and joy to our lives.


  1. Mandakini Arora

    well said Zaibun. Mrs Siraj is indeed a remarkable person and I love her 1965 quote on making a conscious choice to work or to be a homemaker.

  2. Happy International Women’s Day to you, Zaibun and to Aunty Siraj! I shall be thinking of you both on the 8th! You remain the sunshine in our lives.

  3. Elaine Abeyewardene

    Dear Zaibun,
    Thank you for sharing that insight on your Mother which I never really knew about and so enjoyed reading the article and seeing the pride you have for your Mother. What a wonderful person she is and we do enjoy chatting with her whenever we visit you all. Obviously a lot of her good qualities have passed on to you as our whole family think that you are such a lovely, warm, friendly and ever so generous a lady. Your enthusiasm and fun loving nature is very infectious and it is never a dull moment in your company. Happy International Women’s Day to you and your Mum and may you both go from strength to strength. The world is in need of more lovely people like you two. Much love, Elaine xx

  4. Zaibun

    Happy international women’s Day to you and your mother. It was lovely reading your thoughts on your mother. I can only hope that I have done as a good job and my children think highly of me too. With love. X

  5. Dear Zaibun,

    Happy International Women’s Day to you and your mum. She is a great lady and you are so much like her.

    All the very best!

  6. I agree that your mother is a piece of treasure and it warms my heart to see you two together. My mother already passed away 21years and I miss her always. The thoughts of her still gives me strength to carry on.
    Would love to spend another evening with you two !
    best regards

  7. Happy International Women’s Day! Your mother’s story is inspirational and should be made known more widely.
    p.s. I happily drive my son and his football team everywhere!

  8. I first met Mrs Siraj a few decades ago when I was an enthusiastic young social worker at the Department of Social Welfare at Havelock Road . I was always so impressed with what she was doing for downtrodden women in this country. Nothing seemed to be too big a problem to her and she seemed to approach each need with thoughtfulness and an optimistic solution. It was a special pleasure to meet her recently looking so tranquil and dignified .

  9. The greatest thing in this world is to have a wonderful and understanding mother.
    Mrs Siraj you are a piece of gold.

  10. The things your mother did for women still reverberates. You have followed in her footsteps. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Well done, Zaibun ! I read with great interest your glowing tribute to your mother. I have had the privilege of meeting your mum, of visiting your apartment to have meals with her, of driving her around on a bit of sight-seeing in Perth (when, she may recall, ‘Walter’ was also present), and, most of all, of having very interesting conversations which were so often laced with her humour and worldly wisdom.
    The story you relate of your mother’s earlier life and her work within communities places her firmly alongside other ‘independent-minded’ women who were trail-blazers for equality and women’s rights. And, while women have come a long way over the past decades, their struggle for equality is still taking a hammering in some cultures. However, taking a more positive stance, it was Germaine Greer who said: “The woman question is answered. It is now understood that women can do anything that men can do. Anyone who tries to stop them will be breaking the law”. Yes, this may be true in more enlightened societies; but, in some cultures women remain ‘un-empowered’, and they are neither free nor equal. It is good to be reminded of ‘the cause’, and the pursuit of equality for all women, globally. For this reason we need to celebrate International Women’s Day, to remind us of the challenges and the achievements. But let’s not stop at the ‘talking’ stage. Action is needed, within many societies (including our so-called advanced societies), in order to transform attitudes.
    The life and work of Mrs Siraj, as portrayed in your account Zaibun, is a shining example of what I am suggesting. Her legacy will remain indelibly imprinted in the minds and behaviours of the people whose lives she must have touched.

    Thank you, Zaibun, for sharing with us the beautiful thoughts about your mother.

    With fond regards,


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