Dato’ Dr. Wazir Jahan Begum Karim is the Executive Chairman of intersocietal and Scientific (iNAS), an agency committed to gender, conservation, and heritage issues. Dato’ is a title conferred by the State government of Malaysia

Dato’ Dr. Wazir Jahan Begum Karim is the Executive Chairman of intersocietal and Scientific (iNAS), an agency committed to gender, conservation, and heritage issues. Dato’ is a title conferred by the State government of Malaysia

“She literally “rolled up her sleeves and waded waist-deep”, for she lived their way of life”

Few people are as smart, compassionate, driven, and adventurous all at the same time as Dr. Wazir Jahan Karim. In Southeast Asia, where poverty and inequality are rampant, Dr. Karim boldly, decisively and enthusiastically, rolled up her sleeves and waded waist-deep into the situation to fight for the rights of the under-represented, underprivileged, and under-appreciated communities of developing Southeast Asian nations.

The battle for equality has been fought for centuries, as early as the 1700s. Past victories include appointment of women in top clergy positions among the Shakers (1788), balanced property rights in marriage (1882), and women suffrage in the U.S. (1920). Today, women share more or less the same privileges as men, but mostly in highly modernized areas in the West or in Western-influenced countries. In the Eastern hemisphere, particularly in underdeveloped Asian cities, women are viewed as they were when these civilizations first began.

Fortunately, Wazir Jahan Karim is wellequipped when it comes to battling not only gender issues but also poverty. Wazir Jahan, a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, is an economic anthropologist and a gender studies proponent. She is currently Executive Chairman of Intersocietal and Scientific (INAS), an agency committed to gender, conservation, and heritage issues as well as the Executive Director of the Academy of Socio-Economic Research and Analysis (ASERA), which promotes social equality in the developing world. She co-founded the Women’s Development Research Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia, and heralded Gender Studies in rural Malaysia from 1978 to 2001 at a time when not many thought much of it, to improve the understanding of, and methodologies related to, poverty,women’s leadership, and midwifery, among several other things.

An accomplished woman, Dr. Karim received several notable accolades including the Raymond Firth Prize in 1977, the Rotary Golden Medal for Most Outstanding Scholar in the Social Sciences in 1999, and Outstanding Woman Academician in Penang State in 2005. She is also very active as a visiting professor, a sought-after speaker, and distinguished fellow in several renowned universities worldwide, including the British Academy, University of Oslo, United Nations’ University, University of victoria, and Sophia University. When she’s not busy teaching or researching, she writes and co-authors books about minorities and women in Southeast Asia, the absence of equality in these communities, and striving for their empowerment while also giving the world a glimpse of their everyday lives. She carries the title of Dato’ having been conferred in 2007 the order of Darjah Setia Pingat Negeri (Penang).

Preserving Muslim culinary heritage

Preserving Muslim culinary heritage

Dato’ Dr. Wazir Jahan Begum Karim did not earn all these distinctions, awards, and knowledge just by going from one university to another, learning if not teaching. For her, experience is the best teacher. To collect data for anthropological research for her books, she actually lived with an indigenous group in Malaysia, the Ma’ Betisé’, for two years in the mangrove forests of west Malaysia. She literally “rolled up her sleeves and waded waist-deep”, for she lived their way of life, eschewing modern comforts, and hunted animals for food, worked in the fields, shared their daily problems, and studied, through first-hand experience, gender roles in the community and the spiritual relationship of humans, plants, and animals. She was also the first ‘foreign’ woman to have ever lived with them. Her findings were compiled in a thesis called “Ma’ Betisé’ Concepts of Living Things,” which studies Ma’ Betisé’ spirituality, and in a co-authored book titled “Gendered Fields: Women, Men, and Ethnography,” which focuses on the gender roles and expectations of men and women in the indigenous Carey Island society.

As a beacon of culture, Dr. Karim actively advocates conservation of indigenous cultures and has participated on several cultural projects, including a successful ASERA-led campaign to preserve the Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh land from being turned into an apartment block. Other projects involved promotion of the Nusantara textile industry, preservation of the Orang Asli arts, and various discourses on the culture, history, and heritage of several aboriginal communities in Malaysia.

Seeing such a busy woman, it is tempting to ask oneself, “What does she do in her free time? Does she even have free time?” you would be surprised. Wazir Jahan, when not fighting for the rights of women and marginalized societies, is a businesswoman and connoisseur of Asian heritage crafts. To showcase, promote, and protect this tradition of art, Wazir Jahan built the Jawi House Gallery located in Georgetown, Malaysia. This collection shines a spotlight on thousands of years’ worth of rich textiles, bamboo crafts, precious metal sculptures and trinkets, and woodcraft from the pre- and post-Islamic Malay Peninsula. The Jawi House not only provides visitors a taste of Malay art, but also of cuisine as well. The gallery café serves both traditional and modern drinks, snacks, and sumptuous entrées. The shop and gallery is an extension of Wazir Jahan’s passion and desire to preserve and promote indigenous Malay culture. At home, she reveals a green thumb: she maintains a garden, and has successfully grown avocados – not native to her country and very difficult to cultivate. She has since encouraged people to grow their own avocado trees since the Malaysian climate is suitable for it.

If it weren’t for Wazir Jahan’s work, many Malaysian communities and cultures would have become extinct or endangered, and there wouldn’t have been as many advancements in gender equality in Malaysia as there are now. There probably wouldn’t be avocados grown locally either.

Recent Articles and Chapters by Wazir since 2010

‘Straits Muslims: Diasporas of the Northern Passage of the Straits of Malacca’, ‘Life of P. Mohammed’ and “Philosophy of the Qur’an’ also available directly from Wazir Jahan or MPH. ‘Feasts of Penang: Muslim Culinary Heritage’ available in all MPH Book Stores in January 2013.

2010 a “The Economic Crisis, Capitalism and Islam: The Making of a New Economic Order?” Globalizations: Special Issue. Globalization and Crisis .Vol. 7 Issue 1 Feb-March, Routledge: London. pp 101-109.

2010b ‘ Saving Tanjong Tokong’, Penang Economic Monthly Dec. Issue 12:10. pp 26-31.

2011 ‘Stratagems and Spoils in US Policy in the Middle East’, Globalizations: Special Forum on the Arab Revolution. Vol.8 No. 5 Oct. pp 601- 608.

2012a ‘Philanthropy and Trust: Diversities in Civil and Global Approaches to Nationhood in the Straits of Malacca.’ in eds. Abdul Sheriff and Engseng Ho The Indian Ocean: Oceanic Connections and Creation of New Societies. ZIORI and Hurst: London

2012 b Feasts of Penang: Muslim Culinary Heritage, MPH: Kuala Lumpurwww.wazirjahan.net; www.aseraint.net; www.civilpoint.net


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