Our nation has no shortage of young, powerful women. This International Women’s Day (March 8), we celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of these Malaysian ladies who are excelling in their own ways and are taking the country (and the world) by storm — all before the age of 35.
Having struggled with low self-esteem issues when she was young due to her height and dark skin, Vanizha Vasanthanathan has dreamt of representing those who share features similar to hers. But before she was known for her catwalks, Vanizha expressed herself through dance on stage. Under the tutelage of Ramli Ibrahim, the Odissi Dancer performed for the critically-acclaimed Sutra Dance Theatre and travelled the world doing so.
When she first made her runway debut at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week in 2014, she was the only Indian model present. The following years entailed various modelling stints — Lakme, China and Jakarta Fashion Week to name a few — and her dream to be part of the “Big Four” (Paris, New York, London, Milan) became a reality in February when she walked for Marco Rambaldi and Act N°1 in Milan. Last April, Vanizha was also featured on the cover of Options’ Spring/Summer Fashion issue donning Bulgari’s high jewellery pieces.
At the tender age of 18, Heidy Quah founded Refuge for the Refugees, an NGO that supports and empowers refugees in Malaysia through education. Alongside her team, she set up schools, developed programmes and gave students the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial and vocational skills. Quah is big on advocacy, ensuring that refugee rights are respected and upheld. In 2019, the NGO spearheaded The Chin Up Project to spread awareness against UNHCR’s 2018 Chin Cessation Policy, which declared it was safe for Myanmar refugees to be repatriated — a sentiment the refugees were completely against. The policy was ultimately reversed.
When the pandemic hit, Quah shared a sobering message on social media about being overwhelmed with the number of families — from refugee, migrant and B40 communities — who are in need of food and financial aid. Roused by the White Flag movement, it sparked a change and help was extended from across the nation. The NGO has provided food aid to over 12,000 families since the start of the pandemic, is currently supporting 35 schools, two halfway homes and opening many more doors of opportunity for the marginalised. Refuge for the Refugees will celebrate its 10th anniversary this June.
What started off as a student movement evolved into a national organisation that changed Malaysian history. Undi18 co-founder Qyira Yusri has always been ardent about politics, with a particular flame for youth representation. Numerous town halls, panels, forums and public engagements were held since its establishment to empower youths and advocate for the voting age to be lowered from 21 to 18. It was not until the end of last year that the hard work finally paid off, where 100% of votes were in favour for the constitutional amendment (also a first in Malaysian history).
The platform continues to champion democracy by educating young people about its importance and their responsibility to exercise their right to vote. Most recently, they’ve started UndiJohor to encourage young voters to take part in the state elections while assisting balloters from Singapore in transferring their votes.
Photojournalist Annice Lyn, a former competitive figure skater, is passionate about visually documenting events and topics of critical importance. Currently a Canon Malaysia EOS Youth Ambassador and co-founder of Women Photographers Malaysia — a community that promotes gender equality in the photography industry and provides a space for the freedom of visual storytelling — Lyn’s photos have graced the pages of National Geographic, The New York Times, The Guardian and more recently, the cover of TIME’s April 2021 Climate is Everything issue.
She has covered several Olympics, including the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, Tokyo 2020 Summer Games and was the first and only Malaysian female photographer whose work was accredited for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games. Lyn’s way of evocative storytelling has placed her in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list as well as Generation T's list of young leaders who are shaping Asia's future.