In an exclusive tête-à-tête, Carmen Chow gets up close and personal with the down-to-earth Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir about what’s on her mind – and why retirement is not on it.
I first met Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir about a year ago at Her World 's 55th Anniversary Gala. She was one of the five women presented with our annual Her World Women Award for contributions to society. It was a glamorous night of celebration with chandeliers, crystal ornaments and the iridescent chatter of guests.
Today, a year later, I’m sitting in Marina’s meeting room at her office. A complete opposite of the glitzy ballroom where we first met, it’s a simple space – just a long timber table in the centre and two colourful paintings hanging on the white walls. Just outside it, magazine covers, artwork and black-and-white photographs of her with friends and the people she’s worked with line the wall, offering visitors a peek into the life of this extraordinary woman. “It’s Azliza Ayob,” a voice says behind me as I take a closer look at the intricate details on one of the paintings titled Battling Demons. I turn around and a fresh-faced Marina greets me. “Both are from Azliza Ayob, actually. I collect Malaysian women artists as much as possible because a lot of them need the support. Although, occasionally, I will get a guy’s piece if I really like it,” she quips. Her voice is soft, but there is a certain calmness in it that draws you in.
Her taste in art rings somewhat true to issues the 59-year-old is a staunch advocate of – women's empowerment and justice for Muslim women. In fact, I recently found out that Marina began her working life at Her World in the early 1980s. “I told them I could do anything, except the food pages,” she recalls with a laugh. “The world has changed tremendously, hasn’t it? We used typewriters in those days!” The world certainly has changed, and Marina has definitely helped shape things, or rather, put things into perspective as a prominent commentator on local social and political affairs. She has also served as the president of the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) for more than a decade, and was the chairperson of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF). During her tenure, she changed the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS both locally and internationally. She was awarded UN Person of The Year by the United Nations in Malaysia, in 2010, for her volunteer work in the HIV/AIDS sector, and most recently, the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour) from the French government for her human rights activism in Malaysia.
Yet, the more I speak to Marina, the more I realise that the meeting room’s simplicity is a reflection of its owner – simple but with a purpose, despite her prominence and achievements.
Her sophisticated and benevolent mind buzzes with thoughts, constantly churning ideas and juggling “10 million other things to do” – a resonance of the modern woman; a product of the times. And if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about the world today, it's that there is always a place for a lady with an agenda.
HW: Congratulations on being conferred the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. How did you feel when you found out?
Marina: “That was quite unexpected. They told me the embassy was recommending me, and it had to go through the French government and so on. I thought it was a long process and didn’t want to think about it, and then it happened. The ceremony was terrific because I had most people that I wanted there with me – my family, both of my daughters, my parents, colleagues and friends. It was a really simple, sweet and lovely ceremony. Someone accused me of working for awards. The award comes with nothing but a medal and a nice glow. No title and certainly no money [laughs]. But it’s nice to get recognised. It is great motivation and it feels like your efforts are worthwhile.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME
“More than half of my time is spent with animals, but I enjoy it,” enthuses animal rescuer, Aileen Lee. The story of this selfless lady’s dedication and love for the fur kids she has saved will warm your heart.
We discover why pet proofing your home ensures harmony and safety for both the owner and the cat.
THE ONE WHO'S TAKING ACTION
Best known for her extensively waitlisted Nina bag, Gabriela Hearst walks the talk when it comes to sustainable luxury. The New York-based designer shares her inspirations, dreams and resolutions for herself and her eponymous label.
BORN TO ENTERTAIN
YOU MIGHT RECOGNISE HER AS THE GENTLE AND LOVING MOTHER IN LEE CHONG WEI, THE BIOPIC OF THE BADMINTON LEGEND, OR THE VULNERABLE YET RESILIENT TEACHER IN WET SEASON, WHICH HIT THE CINEMAS IN MARCH. SOME OF US MAY HAVE SEEN YEO YANN YANN ON THE BIG SCREEN PLAYING VARIOUS CHARACTERS FOR MORE THAN A DECADE. STILL, SHE NEVER FAILS LEAVE HER AUDIENCE IN AWE OF HER ACTING PROWESS.
THE TRUTH BEHIND FAUX FUR
Is imitation fur still a feasible alternative in this modern, fashion-forward world? Nadhirah Othman uncovers how the fur industry – both real and fake – brings a detrimental impact to the well-being of our planet.
Surprising reasons WHY YOUR KID is under performing in school
You’re understandably frustrated that your child isn’t living up to her potential. But before you blame her attitude, check if these conditions are hindering her academically.
A PAWSITIVE' Life
Like in many parts of the world, pet culture has seen exponential growth in Malaysia. In this issue, Lorraine Chai discusses pet therapy, a method of treatment that is gaining traction, and also some of the pet trends you don’t want to miss out on.
The Healing Power Of Unconditional Love
There’s a saying that goes, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” For one woman, these words resonated deeply. An unlikely companion came into her life at her lowest point and changed everything.
Even Pets Need Tummy Care?
For many, keeping a pet is more than just caring for an animal; pets are family members, too. We speak to veterinary surgeon, Dr Wafaa Abdul Washefffrom Pets Corner Sdn Bhd, to find out how your pets can stay healthy with a suitable diet
Beauty The Natural Way
With climate change rapidly threatening the future of Mother Earth, we urgently need to curb further acts of destruction. We speak to Law Hong Mei, founder of The Olive Tree, about building a beauty brand that is sustainable from the core.
THE FOUR AMERICAS
COMPETING VISIONS OF THE COUNTRY’S PURPOSE AND MEANING ARE TEARING IT APART. IS RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE?
Yael Dryzin Born in 1986, lives and works in Israel and Greece. Graduate of Art Studies at Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem (2014).
MY SIX MONTHS ON THE LINE IN A DODGE CITY MEATPACKING PLANT
Richard MacDonald Icons
What does it mean to be iconic? Surely it is beyond the scope of mere talent or fame and encompasses something that closely resembles an apex of the human experience.
The Trees Are Talking
Pioneering research has revealed how social cooperation thrives in the forest.
REZA RAHIMI LASKO ORIENTAL ISLAMIC ART
Reza Rahimi Lasko was born in 1979 in Iran. At the age of 12, he started his official art studies. The most important encouragement came from his mother, who sent him to begin his professional education by Mr. Majid Arvari in 1997.
The World Kodak Made
The tech giant of the 20th century changed the way Americans saw themselves and their country— and built the city where it made its home. Now Kodak and Rochester are trying to reinvent themselves, and escape their history.
THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT
The Weird Science of Edgar Allan Poe
Known as a master of horror, he also understood the power—and the limits—of empiricism.