Through the Lens of Dr Hartini Zainudin

The world is facing its greatest crisis together. We are better together. We are stronger, together

This piece was contributed to buzz@unifi by Dr Hartini Zainudin, an icon for female empowerment and social justice in Malaysia. For more information about Dr Hartini and her work, please refer to her profile at the end of the article below. 

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar…
I am strong [(strong)]
I am invincible [(invincible)]
I am woman

(‘I Am Woman’ – Helen Reddy)

We are living in strange and painfully stressful times these last few weeks. As I write this, Malaysia is going into the second week of Movement Control Order – no going out unless it’s essential – for food and medicine only. The world is facing its worst pandemic crisis: COVID-19.

I am now technically the person gazetted to represent the family because my mother, whose house we live in, is 81 years old and cannot go out. She’s in a high-risk age group. But make no mistake, she is still the matriarch of this family.

I may be on the phone planning, pleading and lobbying for funds and programme changes but she feeds my children and makes sure they’re doing their schoolwork. She is keeping the house clean and safe.

My sister is keeping me and my kids sane too while checking on her own daughter in New York. She tells me to exercise, sleep and sends me funny Instagram posts. The women support one another in this house.

Ours is a house of mostly women, strong and organised to cover different responsibilities and duties.

Source: MBCN School

In these uncertain times, my friends and I worry every day for the poor and marginalised. We set up networks of support for those in need. Those who are activists and active on social media write, tweet, repost and encourage.

The other friends rally the other friends for funds, support and information. Others, who are friends and strangers, plan and launch initiatives to help those in need around Malaysia. Or some of us do all three at the same time.

I think many of us are in many different chat groups – I am! –  on top of the other chat groups for the usual programmes and work for marginalised children.

“What about refugees?”  someone asks. “What about the B40 single mothers, children in prison?” Other queries? Children in detention – “Who’s checking on them?”, “What about children in Sabah and Kelantan…or temporary accommodations for the frontliners – the doctors and nurses?”

Who knows who? Who can help? Many of us are constantly in crisis mode – watching, springing into action, executing a plan and always, trying to help. There are women making key decisions, planning and trying to do our bit for society. We are ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances, pushing and cheering and supporting other strong women and their families.

The world, my late father said, was unfair. It was up to each one of us to try and help ourselves first, and then help others.

“Always be kind and good to others,” my mother often said.

So, I listened, I watched, and I muddled through life, forging my path to protect and advocate for the vulnerable and the marginalised.

For me, my passion has always been to protect children. I am, after all, a child activist. I am also co-founder of Yayasan Chow Kit and Voice of the Children, two NGOs that work on championing the rights of children.

I believe that all children have a right to play, and a right to meaningful, loving lives. I believe that no matter how poor, all children deserve to grow up with enough to eat, access to the best public education, a loving family and an identity.

I believe in making choices, of living your passion, of exploring possibilities and following dreams.

And, “…if you believe in what you’re saying, if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll be more effective, more passionate and more authentic in everything you do.” – Seth Goldman, American University, 2010

If I had one message for all children in the world, it would be this – be bold, dream big and most importantly, be the change you imagine for yourself! Never care what people think of you, never let anyone put you down, be respectful and kind, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and try harder.

If you fall – get up, try again. Try to look for new routes, listen to others and celebrate your successes. Remember, failing is always an option!

I say this same message to all the women of the world too – single mothers, young activists and students, older women and any woman, anywhere…If you think something is wrong, fix it. If you don’t know, ask. If you need help, shout out! Never, ever wait for someone to change what’s wrong – change it yourself and make it right in your space, amongst your community, your life.

The world is facing its greatest crisis together. We are better together. We are stronger, together. We must all help one another, cheer each other as one, stand shoulder to shoulder and face this crisis together. We pitch in where needed. We stay brave and make the hard decisions for ourselves, our families, our communities and our country. We are women, after all, hear us roar in unison!

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made…It shouldn’t be that women are the exception. – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

#sTayhoMe #stayConnected #staypositive #staystrong #stayhealthy #staysafe #stayinformed #staydriven #staydiverse 


About Dr Hartini Zainudin

Dr Hartini is a child activist but currently works as a consultant for various governmental and UN organizations. She is the co-founder of Yayasan Chow Kit (formerly known as NurSalam) and served as the Head of Advocacy and Funding as well as the Outreach programme in Chow Kit. She is also the Vice President of Voice of the Children, a local NGO that does advocacy work, law and policy reforms and training on children’s issues.

Hartini was also a member of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development’s National Advisory Council on the Welfare and Protection of Children and is a member of a number of national task forces – Child Protection Policy Training, on issues of Trafficking, Stateless Children and the Malaysian Adoption System as well as on different initiatives on child’s rights and protection. For more information about Dr Hartini and her work, please visit