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On the 29th of January 2013 the National Council of Women’s Organisation Malaysia (NCWO) celeberated 50 years of Women’s Empowerment. Since its historic inception in 1963, the umbrella body comprising 120 women’s organisations has achieved much in raising the status of Malaysian women. Here are some of the highlights of NCWO’s achievements in the last 50 years. They form the foundation for women’s participation in the National Transformation Programme towards becoming a high-income, inclusive and sustainable economy by 2020.

The Establishment of NCWO (1960 - 1963)


Protem committee of NCWO, comprising eight member organisations, was established.


NCWO Protem Committee organised a workshop on “Challenges Ahead” with eight women NGOs.


Declaration of Women’s Day on 25 August by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj.


NCWO was registered as the country’s main functioning women NGO, serving as the coordinating, consultative and advisory body.

Initial Achievements


A Seminar was held to study the establishment of a women’s bureau which led to the formation of the National Advisory Council for the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID)

  • Through NCWO’s advocacy, Parliament passed the Married Women and Children (Enforcement of Maintenance) Act.
  • The Pensions (Amendment) Act 1968 was gazetted, giving women Permanency and Pensionable Status.
  • The Government implemented “Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value” for women.
  • NCWO President Datin Fatimah Hashim (Tun) was appointed as the first woman Minister.
  • Puan Aishah Ghani (Tan Sri) was selected to sit on the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

The 1970's

  • A women’s rally and march past the theme “Kemaraan Wanita” was held in conjuction with the UN International Women’s Year in the presence of Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein at the Selangor Club Padang where Tun also announced the formation of NACIWID. The gathering of women who participated in the march past were from all sectors both from the government & private
  • A memorandum on the advocacy of women’s role at the ASEAN level was sent to the ASEAN Confederation of Women’s Organisations (ACWO) and the ASEAN Sub-Committee on Women (ASW).
  • Income Tax (Amendment) Act 1975 allowed for separate assessment for married women. This gives full recognition to women as individuals.
  • The First UN World Conference in Mexico City was held in Mexico City with the theme “Equality, Peace and Development”. NCWO was represented by its. Hon. Secretary-General Datin Jamilah Adam.
  • Following the First UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City, NACIWID was officiated by Prime Minister Dato’ Hussein Onn (Tun). Datin Kamsiah Majid (Tan Sri) was elected the Chairperson and a Secretariat for Women was formed and led by Sharifah Dora Syed Mohamad Idros.
  • A Royal Commission was set up through NCWO’s advocacy to study reforms to the Marriage and Divorce Act 1976 for Non-Muslim. This was charied by Chief Justice Tan Sri H.T. Ong. The members were Miss P. G. Lim (Tan Sri), Janaki Athi Nahappan (Datin), Puan Sri Rosalind Foo and Mr. M Shankar. The reforms Came into force on March 1, 1981 which provided for monogamous marriages. All customary marriages after March 1, 1981 must be conducted by registered temples, churches and officials in order to be recognised as legal.
  • In 1978 Puan Sri Sukumari Sekhar organised seven workshops on the various aspect of the “Right of the Child” to discuss vital topic related to children in preparation of the Internation Year of the Child 1979. At one of these workshops, the rights of children born out of wedlock was discussed. The workshop recommended amending existing legislation regarding illegitimacy by:
    • Abolishing all forms of discrimination based on legitimacy between children of the same parent, in respect of their rights to succession of property and to maintenance.
    • Proving for easier legitimacy of an otherwise illigitimate child.
    • Prohibiting the use of the word “illigitimate” in all documents.
    • Making it mandatory for every mother to insert the name of the father when registering the birth of a child
    • Enabling to child to have the same rights of succession to his mother’s property as he has in respect of his father’s property.
  • The recommendations were among thos incorporated into a draft Memorandum which was presented and discussed at a Conference on the Child held from Mar 2 – 4 1979.
  • The final memorandum and a Children’s Charter proposed during a national conference in conjuction with the UN Year of the Child in 1979 were presented to the Prime Minister. In 2001, Parliament passed the Child Act to replace the Child Protection Act, 1999 which guarantees more protection for children.

NCWO organised campaigns on the prevention of substance abuse in collaboration with PEMADAM

The 1980's


NCWO was first invited to participate in the Ministry of Finance’s Pre Budget Dialogue Session in 1981 and has continued to do so every year. The pre-Budget dialogue sessions organised by the Minister of Finance is to elicit the views of captains of industry, NGO’s and officials from other ministries. The Ministry’s inclusion of the NCWO as a dialogue partner at these session is indicative of both of its recognition of the council’s role in national development and the value it places on the Organisation’s voice. The NCWO did not restrict itself to matters pertaining to women but focused on issues touching the lives of almost every sector of society and every area of national life. For example, in the 2006 Budget memorandum, NCWO called for goverment to:

  • Combat corruption by declaring it as Public Enemy Number One
  • To continue to combat crime by involving everyone in the community.
  • To improve the efficiency of the public service by recruiting the best brains for the job

A Women’s Affairs Unit or HAWA (Hal Ehwal Wanita) was established and headed by Dato’ Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman.

  • NCWO succeeded in obtaining unrecorded leave for NCWO affiliate members t attend all educational and professional conferences and other activities at both national and international levels
  • NCWO participated as was represented in the government delegation to the UN World Conference on Women in Nairobi. Following that in 1985 NCWO held a two-day workshop to identify legislations that discriminated against women, which resulted in a memorandum to the government containing 7 substantive resolution for legal refom on major legislation that discriminated against women.

A memorandum on the draft Domestic Violence Bill was presented to the government culminating in Parliament passing the Domestic Violence Act in 1994, which came into effect in 1996.

  • The national policy on women prepared and presented to government was an outcome of the UN Conference on “End of the Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace” held in Nairobi 1985. The drafting committee took into consideration the report presented by the head of delegation to the Nairobi Conference, the then Public Enterprises Minister Datin Paduka Rafidah Aziz (Tan Sri) and The Nairobi Foreward Looking Strategies. NCWO also held a series of multi-sectoral and multi-level consulatations nationwide to obtain grassroots feedback. The NCWO memorandum was presented to both NACIWID and HAWA and to Datuk Sri Paduka Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman, the then Deputy Minister in charge of Women’s Affair in the Prime Minister’s Department. Among the strategies proposed in the National Policy was the upgrading of HAWA to a Ministry of Women, the setting up of local points in every Ministry to redress discrimination through affirmative action and inclusion of a budget to ensure that there were funds for the programmes and projects necessary for implementation of the policy at every government department and agency.
  • NCWO proposed a National Policy on Women following a series of multi-sectoral and multi-level consultations nationwide.

A memorandum on the National Policy was presented to the government through NACIWID. The Cabinet approved the National Policy on Women in December 1989.

The 90's

  • The Women’s Affair Division was moved from the Prime Minister’s Department to the Ministry of National Unity and Community Development. Dato’ Napsiah Omar (Tan Sri) was its first Minister.
  • NCWO conducted a series of seminars to raise awareness on Vision 2020. NCWO recognised that a new era had been throught in with NPI, OPP2 and Vision 2020 all of which seek to achieve a truly united nation, a Malaysia in which all Malaysians will be proud to live in and work for the continued progress, peace, prosperity and wellbeing of every single woman, man, youth and child. The paticipants to the seminars recognised and dedicated themselves to meeting the nine challenges to achieve the aim of making Malaysia a fully developed nation by year 2020.
  • NCWO became involved in HIV/AIDS on 1 Dec 1990, World Aids Day. NCWO and Selangor/Wilayah Family Planning Association organised a forum and exhibition with the theme “Women and the AIDS Epidemic – A Challenge For Humanity”. The President of NCWO Datin Paduka Zaleha Ismail (Tan Sri) called for a plan of action which resulted in the formation of the Malaysian Aids Council. In 1991 a Natinal Workshop, “AIDS AWARENESS FOR WOMEN” aith assistance from World Health Organisation was held. The workshop led to the “Declaration of Woman On AIDS”. This was followed by A National AIDS Awareness Programme which was launched by Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd. Ali (Tun) followed by seminars at the state level. To ensure continuity of the AIDS work NCWO organised the Annual Royal Charity Golf Tournaments, to raise funds as finances was a serious concern.
  • NCWO formulated the Women’s Declaration on HIV/AIDS and was the founding member of the Malaysians Aids Council. It also spearheaded the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in Malaysia and the ASEAN countries. NCWO was invited to participated in the UN Conference on HIV/AIDS.
  • NCWO was involved in the preparation of, and participation in the 4th UN Conference on Women in Beijing from 4 15 September 1995. NCWO was part of the government delegation to Beijing.
  • Among the more vital points is that the Government withdrew some reservations placed on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination on Women (CEDAW) in 1997.
  • For the first time media was included in the 10 Critical Areas of Concern towards achieving strategic objectives. It was thought that there was insufficient use of mass media to promote women’s positive contributions to society. NCWO, through its Media Committee chairperson Datin Azizah Mokhzani held several meetings to propose a media monitoring body. She also attended the media workshops in Huairo, at the Beijing conference as NCWO representative.
  • NCWO initiated the Women and the Environment towards Sustainable Development programme.
  • HAWA is upgraded to a department.
  • NCWO began the nationwide legal literacy campaign, roadshow to raise awareness on the Domestic Violence Act. The roadshow included women police officers from Special Inventigation Unit Bukit Aman, the Welfare Department, Dr Abu Hassan from the One Stop Crisis Centre of GHKL, Ms Rasamani Kandiah from the Association of Women Lawyers, Mrs Elizabeth Sinnadurai from the YWCA, Dato’s Ramani Gurusamy from NCWO and Ms. Ivy Josiah from WAO, who participated in a few state discussions. The campaighn was a great success as women became aware of their rights in relation to the Domestic Violence Act.
  • A comprehensive Memorandum on the Syariah Family Laws was presented to Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Tun).
  • An important national conference was held in collaboration with the Sistes In Islam on the Syariah Family Laws which effect Muslim women. A comprehensive memorandum calling for standardisation in the implemenation of the Syariah Family Laws at State level and other related issues were presented to Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Mahathir Mohamad (Tun) and other relevant authorities.

An inter-ministerial committee, including an NCWO representative, was set up to monitor the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

  • NCWO was elected to the National Information Technology Council, and co-chaired the e-community task force.
  • Prof. Tan Sri Dato’ Sharifah Hapsah was elected alternative Chair of the National Information Technology Council (NITC) Task Force in 1996 and entrusted with the responsibility of devising ways of transforming society to a knowledge – driven civil society. The components in the transformation process included people, infrastructure and applications. Whus was set up the Networking Woen Project co-ordinated by Prof. Dr Faridah Habib Shah, Chair of the NCWO Science & Technology. The book “Networking Women Project” was launched in 1996 to hel increase the level of dissemination of information. A series of workshops were held for NCWO affiliate organisations.
  • NCWO began the ICT literacy and awareness campaign for women.