The crescendo of women’s voices rose up to greet you as you travelled down the escalator to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, for the 21st Soroptimist Convention opening ceremony. Outside a representative from each of the 125 countries in attendance were standing proudly holding their country flag, they stood lining the red carpet awaiting the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen of Malaysia.
The 21st Convention would indeed be special, the first to be held in an Asian country and the Opening ceremony to be a royal occassion.
Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam welcomed us, as well as making sure we were aware of the protocol required when Her Majesty arrived.
Her Majesty KDYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Raja, dressed in a beautiful all white gown, gave a heartfelt welcome speech, she was very aware of Soroptimists and the work we do, having had a long relationship with Malaysian Soroptimists, Her Majesty is patron of the Malaysian Girl Guides and a long time member of ACWW (Associated Country Women of the World), she shared with us, her experiences as a member of ACWW and the Girl Guides, and her love of each year attending CSW in New York. Her Majesty is also very interested in crafts and textile, and the preservation of this work, to revive silk weaving and ancient weaving patterns, she has started a project where men in prison are trained in this traditional craft, evieving this ancient craft but also providing economic opportunities for these men once they leave prison. The gown Her Majesty had on today was woven by the prisoners and she is currently working with the prisoners on the material for her coronation gown. She regularly visits the prisoners taking with her much food from Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, she believes one of the ways to encourage a man is through food. Her Majesty was trilled to take up the Presidency of ACWW, she was nominated for this position by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, she was most regretfully to have to have just recently declined her nomination due to her coronation as Queen, which due to protocol prohibited her from becoming President. Her Majesty spoke about a women’s and Soroptimists role is that it is our duty to give other women and children a voice, to enable them to get it done, as women we play a significant role to deliver the sustainable development goals. As Women in household we are the Prime Minister and God’s Gift to Men. It was a delightful and engaging speech. Her Majesty along with Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam then beat the ceremonial drums to declare the 21st Convention open.
The programme and expectation for a powerful opening day of conference had been set.
We had the pleasure of hearing Soroptimist International current president Mariet Vehoef-Cohen and Soroptimist International Immediate Past President Yvonne Simpsons, summing up their term in office and informing us of their respective International President’s Appeals, the information provided around the President’s Appeals, continues to reinforce how important these projects are to grass roots women in their communities, walking the talk of Education, Empowerment and Enabling of women.
Key Note speaker Christina Lamb OBE, Author and Chief Foreign Correspondent of Sunday Times UK. Christina enthralled us, sharing a world where very few women get to travel, an up close and personal encounter of a world seen only in images in our daily newspapers. How interesting that a career often calls us, we do not actively set out to work or decide the career we end up in. Meeting Benazir Bhutto changed the course of her young live and set up her ongoing interest in Afghanistan .
Rape has been an illegal instrument of war, but still it goes on and nothing changes, no one is brought to trial, who is accountable?, why does it continue.
What gives her strength when she visits war zones, Christina shared with us that she does get scared but what gives her strength, is that she gets to meet people living on the edge, these people are so strong, to go about their everyday lives in war zones.
She does get frustrated, it is difficult to get justice for women who are rapped in conflict zones. We as Soroptimists need to continue to place pressure on our politicians make them aware of what we know and what change we want.
How do we give Children in War Zones Hope - Christina answered EDUCATION, if people are aware of their rights then they can fulfil their potential.
The Friendship night saw Soroptimists dress in the colour of love, many colours were worn, but red was in the majority, some were in national costume, renewing friendships, sharing projects and activities from across the Globe. The Singapore club members entertained us with their National Dancing, Malaysian cuisine was showcased and we enjoyed such a wide variety of food, something for everyone.