The eyes of this strong-willed researcher instantly light up when the subject of women empowerment is brought up. “My experience of working with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia back in the early 2000s was a real eye-opener, and the actual reason why I am doing what I am doing now,” said Sharifah Muhairah Shahabudin when met recently.
“Looking back, without a doubt, that stage of my life definitely was the starting point of my academia career; even though it was just a short stint of two years working with women entrepreneurs in Kelantan and Terengganu,” she added with a longing look, while sipping hot chocolate from her favourite mug.
Still smiling, Sharifah Muhairah continue to reminisce: “My father used to urge me to read the newspaper every day when I was young. ‘Good for talking points with other people,’ he would say. I did not think much about it then, preferring to focus on my Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) school activities.”
“Now that I have the luxury of being able to be a bit more reflective, I have to say that it was a very good advice. Nowhere else can you pick up on real socioeconomic issues other than the humble newspaper. It basically breathes and beats according to the rhythm of the nation!
I must admit that this is where my interest on socioeconomic stratification and inter-generational mobility was inculcated,” said this psychology major, beamingly.
Her journey in becoming an academia also involved her doing organisational behaviour at UiTM and continuing on with a PhD focusing on urban poverty psychology at UM. Through her work, she was made the Deputy Director of the Social Welfare Research Centre (SWRC), a think tank on policy-making for the EPF. “I am quite proud of my time at the centre, where I helped to develop the Belanjawanku, an expenditure guide for the public, among others,” said this Kedah-born.
Sharifah Muhairah is also instrumental in the development and the subsequent offering of Gender and Development master’s course at the Faculty of Business and Economics, UM. “In 10 years’ time, I hope I can continue contributing towards addressing issues related to gender empowerment and urban poverty in the country; either via the university or an NGO.
Or maybe, just maybe, start my own NGO?” she asked herself, rhetorically.
Drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share ideas on how you can build trust among urban poor teenagers at school, or simply to offer your thoughts on how a ‘laksa’ should be!
p.s.: She liked her laksa spicy, by the way, no matter if it’s Laksa Kedah or Laksa Terengganu.
📸 Profile photos by Mohd. Yani Alias for PPP.