What comes to mind when we say “fighter pilot”?

You’re thinking about Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun, aren’t you?


Top Gun

GIF: tumblr.com


What about “police officer” or “law enforcer”?



GIF: giphy.com



(You totally screamed that in your head didn’t you.)

Notice how we immediately assume that these jobs are held by a man? After all they’re all called policeman, fireman, chairman

Rarely do we picture a woman in a fighter pilot or police uniform, just like these children from a British primary school:



Out of the 66 students, only five of them could picture women as firefighters, surgeons, and fighter pilots. While women make up the minority in many of these industries, that should not deter us from pursuing our passions.


Here are seven extraordinary Malaysian women who chased their dreams, proving that women are capable of doing “men’s jobs”:


#1 Major Patricia Yapp Syau Yin: Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) combat pilot


Image credit: Kuala Lumpur Security Review


Major Patricia Yapp is the first MiG-29 female fighter pilot of Asia. She currently serves as a flight instructor in RMAF, while also being a full-time mother of two children.

If you think she had it easy during training because of her sex, you’re wrong. Major Patricia Yapp went through the same physical, flight, and field training just like every airmen in RMAF.


#2 Peng Xue-er: Part of the first batch of Malaysian female firefighters

Peng Xue-er

Image credit: Sin Chew Daily


Peng Xue-er looked like one of the boys during her training days: her hair was short and she had dark skin as she trained a lot under the sun. Her parents even asked her to quit because the job was thought to be “too tiring for a woman”.

Not only did she continue to serve the community as a formal firefighter, she even got married in a fire station! Now a mother of three, Peng Xue-er is still determined to serve until she retires.


#3 Tan Sri Dr. Salma Ismail: First Malaysian female doctor


Image credit: Wikipedia


Female doctors are a common sight today, but the same cannot be said during the late Tan Sri Dr. Salma Ismail’s time. She became the first qualified female doctor in Malaysia back in 1949.

Dr. Salma was a bright student in her schooling days, being the first and only female student in Kedah to pass the Senior Cambridge examinations with flying colours.


#4 Sybil Kathigasu: World War II resistance fighter and nurse

Sybil Kathigasu

Image credit: Ipoh Echo


Nurse Sybil Kathigasu and her husband, Dr. A. C. Kathigasu, operated an underground hosptial from her home in Papan, Perak during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. She also secretly kept radios to pass information to fellow resistance fighters.

Unfortunately, Sybil and her husband were arrested in 1943 by the Japanese military police. Despite being subjected to various tortures (including the infamous “water treatment”), she kept her lips sealed. She is also the first and only Malaysian woman to be awarded the George Medal.


#5 Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman: Former Director of the United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)


Image credit: UN News Centre


Not only is she the first female astrophysicist in the country, she was also the first female student to earn her Ph.D in Physics from the University of Otago, which was founded in 1869.

Dr. Mazlan was twice appointed as the Director of UNOOSA, by both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon. One of her many jobs involves saving the lives of everyone on the planet, such as preventing collisions and space debris that might harm us.


#6 Datuk Lim Phaik Gan: Malaysia’s first woman ambassador


Image credit: Merdeka Award Media Centre


Datuk Lim Phaik Gan, also called PG Lim, has been breaking records from a young age. She was the first Malaysian woman to graduate with a Masters of Law degree from Girton College, London. When the Malaysian Parliament was suspended after the May 13 riots, she was also one of the two women appointed to the National Consultative Council, which came up with the Rukun Negara.

After the council was dissolved, she was appointed as Malaysia’s ambassador to the United Nations. She was also ambassador to Yugoslavia, Austria, and the European Economic Community.


#7 Datuk Yvonne Chia: First Malaysian female bank CEO


Image credit: Malaysia Edition


How often do you see a female banker? A female banker holding a high leadership position is even rarer. Datuk Yvonne Chia is the first Malaysian women to lead a commercial bank: first serving in RHB and then in Hong Leong Bank.

She was the CEO of RHB during the 1998 financial crisis, which she successfully helped steer through. She is also the first Malaysian woman to receive the CEO Eagle Pin.


These 7 women broke the mold and proved that talent and ability knows no gender. So, what are you going to be?


Sources: The Star Online, The Drum


Words by Esther Chung


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