US Ambassador Kamala S Lakhdhir:  I'm in Awe of Malaysian Women


US Ambassador Kamala S Lakhdhir: I'm in Awe of Malaysian Women

US Ambassador Kamala Lakhdhir says Malaysian women are an aspiration to what is possible in a society. She tells AWANI Review’s Zakiah Koya how her own family upbringing has given her solid grounding for choice of profession as a diplomat in a largely man’s world.

The United States of America Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir comes from a long line of strong women.

Not only was her great grandmother a suffragette, her grandmother and her mother were also activists in their own rights.

(Suffragettes were members of women's organisations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who advocated the right to vote in public elections for women, mainly in Britain.)

It is in this background Kamala grew up and she said that it was important for her to have a vocation, and not a mere job.

The only time, I called myself ‘a male diplomat’ was in Saudi Arabia when people were not paying attention

Thus, in choosing to be a diplomat, Brooklyn-born Kamala said it was something that she thought out carefully.

Kamala, a Harvard graduate, joined the US Foreign Service in 1991 and had served in US Embassies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, China and Ireland.

From 2007-2009, Kamala was the director of the Office of Maritime Southeast Asia in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, which is responsible for US relations with the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and Timor-Leste.

In between her foreign postings, she had also returned to Washington to work in various other positions, which makes her quite well versed in how the government is run, rather than being a mere diplomat representing US overseas.

"The women in my family all have 'vocations'. The expectation of me is that I should have a vocation too. If I ever said to my family that I just wanted to make money, there would be a look of great dismay on their faces.

“The only time, I called myself ‘a male diplomat’ was in Saudi Arabia when people were not paying attention. I had to say ‘I am an American diplomat, I am a man!’. That was the only time,” said Kamala.

She pointed out that while there is no need for women to be like men, women still need to be more assertive to be acknowledged for their contributions.

She said that women in Malaysia are very capable of doing so, having proven themselves professionally.

US Ambassador: For Me, My Job is My Vocation

"There is still a strong debate about the place and equal opportunities for girls and women. What is amazing for Malaysia and the US is that across every educational level, girls are better. All the way through university and graduate school, Malaysians are very aware that the majority is now female candidates. This is a global phenomena," said Kamala.

She further explained that due to this, it is important that there are checks and balances made to ensure there is support for women when they enter the workforce.

"We also share concerns which affect both men and women, particularly women, in terms of childcare. If women are to be professionals in their careers, then there has to be focus by society on who will take care of the children and the right structure of salary and other needs that should be made awarded to allow parents to care for their children (while at work)," said Kamala.

She said that she is inspired by Malaysian women she has met, who juggle their careers and families, while playing an active part in the corporate sector and civil society.

"I have met amazing Malaysian women who are stars in their professions - they are models and an aspiration to what is possible in the society," said Kamala.

As a diplomat, Kamala added that she is here to observe and to support the role of women in Malaysia. 

"It is up to Malaysians and Malaysian men and women to decide what kind of a society they want and how they want to make the change. Nobody can tell Malaysians what to do and what they should not. That is not the role of a diplomat," said Kamala, well aware this is what Malaysia needs in a time of transition like now where there is much political shift. 

US Ambassador: We Must Not Tell Malaysians What To Do