Infectious disease expert Leo Yee Sin, music icon Nona Asiah among 7 to join S'pore Women's Hall of Fame

Professor Leo Yee Sin (left) has been at the front line of Singapore's battle against Covid-19 while Madam Nona Asiah was a mentor to young talents, many of whom went on to become leading names in the Malay entertainment. PHOTOS: NHG, NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL

SINGAPORE - Infectious disease expert Leo Yee Sin, who has been at the forefront of Singapore's battle against Covid-19, was one of seven women inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame (SWHF) on Tuesday (March 8).

Their addition means there are now 174 women honoured in the SWHF, which was started in 2014 by the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) to recognise women who have made an impact on Singapore through their outstanding achievements and contributions.

Among the high-fliers this year were Ms Koh Soo Boon, the first Singaporean woman to break into Silicon Valley and the founder of Singapore's first female-led venture capital firm iGlobe Partners, and Professor Lily Kong, president of Singapore Management University and the first Singaporean woman to head a Singapore university.

The other trailblazers were Malay music and film icon Nona Asiah; golfer Kee Bee Khim, who dominated women's golf in Singapore and the region for nearly three decades; pioneering biomedical researcher Ding Jeak Ling; and pioneering social worker and family violence specialist Sudha Nair, who started the Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence.

President Halimah Yacob presented the inductees with trophies at the Istana on Tuesday morning, which is International Women's Day.

Professor Leo, 62, who is executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), had started the first HIV centre in Singapore. She said: "I am honoured and very pleased to meet many outstanding women at the induction ceremony.

"This honour is both a recognition and an appreciation of our work at NCID and the work of the healthcare sector. I hope that this recognition will serve as an encouragement for women to take up leadership roles and to acknowledge the great contributions they make in the healthcare sector."

Madam Asiah, who is in her 90s, was represented by her son, music director Indra Shahrir Ismail, at the ceremony.

He told The Straits Times: "This is really a great honour. My mother's drive and dedication not only shaped my siblings and me, but led her to contribute much to the children and community too."

His mother began singing as a young girl during the Japanese Occupation and went on to become a singer, narrator and host for Radio Malaya.

She later became a vocal coach and mentor to young talents, many of whom went on to become leading names in the Malay entertainment - singer, host and producer Najip Ali being one of them.

Two of Madam Asiah's five children - the late Iskandar Mirza Ismail, who was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2008, and Mr Indra - went on to build illustrious musical careers.

She was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2016.

(From left) President Halimah Yacob with Singapore Council of Women's Organisations president Jamie Foo and Professor Leo Yee Sin, and the Istana on March 8, 2022. PHOTO: SINGAPORE COUNCIL OF WOMEN'S ORGANISATIONS

SCWO is the national coordinating body of women's organisations in Singapore with over 60 member organisations representing more than 600,000 women here.

President Halimah, who is also SCWO's patron, said Singapore has made huge strides in enabling women to realise their potential.

"Though there is much to celebrate, we must not lose sight of our collective goal to build a fairer and more inclusive society, where Singaporeans have equal opportunities to achieve their fullest potential."

She noted that there are fewer women than men in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) fields, "which points to the fact that we need to bring to our children the stories of remarkable women of Singapore, such as Ding Jeak Ling, who have made incredible contributions in Stem".

Madam Halimah said that a White Paper on women's development will be presented in Parliament soon. Expected to outline a range of policies and programmes designed to further gender equality, it builds on the year-long series of Conversations on Singapore Women's Development, where 6,000 women and men shared feedback and ideas on issues affecting women.

Ms Junie Foo, SCWO's president, said: "We, at the SCWO, intend to keep the conversations going. While the position of women in Singapore has improved tremendously over the last 60 years or so, there is still a gender gap. We need to keep talking about this, and we need to keep working to close the gap."

She highlighted the current instalment of the three-part exhibition, The Lives Of Women, organised by SWHF and the National Museum, which looks at some key issues and trends affecting women in Singapore today, and poses questions about what the situation may be like in 2050.

SCWO also aims to inspire young children, especially girls, with the stories of SWHF honorees through the school programme Project Awesome.

A children's book of these stories, Awesome Women Of Singapore, was launched last year and distributed to all primary and secondary schools and homes for children and youth.

Ms Foo added that she hoped the Government would agree to SCWO's proposal of naming roads and other public spaces after "our Awesome women".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.