Recipient / Profile
Tan Sri Dato' Lim Phaik Gan
For outstanding contribution to the empowerment of women in Malaysia and for protecting and securing rights and economic opportunities for women through advocacy.
"Dato' PG Lim's achievements and courage make her a role model for all Malaysians."
Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin
Member of the Nomination Committee,
Education and Community category
Dato’ lim Phaik Gan or Dato’ PG lim as she is widely known, was born in England in 1918 and received her early education in Penang Convent School.
She furthered her education in Girton College, University of Cambridge where she read law and history and was called to the English Bar at lincoln’s Inn in 1948. She was among the first Malaysian women to have obtained their Masters in law from Cambridge University. This set the stage for her pioneering achievements as a champion for the rights of women and the underprivileged.
She was a Member of the National Consultative Council which was set up following the suspension of the Malaysian Parliament in 1969.
Dato' PG Lim in her study where she reads and writes her autobiography.
She was the first Malaysian woman appointed to the United Nations in the 1970s, and Dato’ PG lim also served as the Malaysian Ambassador to the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Belgium and the European Economic Community when Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak named her as the Deputy Permanent Representative with the rank of ambassador.
“When I first went to the UN, I found that developing countries had more representatives there than developed countries. In the 1970s, many countries had achieved independence, and they couldn’t afford to discriminate against women. They took those who were efficient, and were in a position to represent the country irrespective of gender,” she says.
Her sharp intellect and proven capabilities were evident as she was appointed to serve in several positions of importance within three months of her appointment. She was made one of the Vice-Presidents of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Upon her retirement from Foreign Service, she became the Director of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KlRCA), 1982-2000.
Dato' PG Lim (standing) at a party given in her honour by the National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO) in conjunction with her appointment as the country's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations. On the left of the photo is Tun Fatimah.
A patron of the arts, Dato’ PG lim became the first Chairman of the Exhibitions Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery from 1963 to 1971.
She is currently working on her autobiography.
Life Of Purpose
Dato’ PG lim’s background influenced her greatlyto contribute to society. The daughter of noted lawyer lim Cheng Ean, her formative years were presided over by parents who believed in fighting for the underprivileged.
“My father was legislative councillor for Penang in 1934, and there were a lot of immigrant Chinese children and children of Indian labourers without education. My father requested free education for these children, but the British said they will not provide that. So my father walked out of the council. I suppose I came from a background that was a little anti-colonial,” she says.
Dato’ PG lim’s mother also did a lot of public work among poor immigrants .
“We were brought up to be sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden. We grew up in an atmosphere where privileges brought with them responsibilities,” she says.
Her strong work ethics was also influenced by her upbringing.
“My father didn’t like waste and laziness and we had to pay for what we wanted. In my day I couldn’t sort of lean on my father and say, ‘you’ve the money, you can help me’ because he’d lean away and you’d fall down,” she says.
Dato’ PG Lim acknowledges that unlike many, she had the opportunity to go abroad to further her education. When she began practising law, she was under a lot of pressure as she had to prove that she was as capable as any English lawyer.
“When I was in practice, I had to compete against English lawyers. You couldn’t be a corporate lawyer so I went into advocacy, I was competing against British lawyers and judges and it was a hard school. They were quick to attack if cases were not presented properly,” she says.
The trial of lee Meng, a female communist guerilla apprehended in Perak for having a hand grenade in her possession is still fresh in Dato’ PG lim’s mind. A junior lawyer at the time, she assisted Sir Dingle Foot, a British lawyer and later politician, in a trial that became famous in British Malaya.
“The woman guerilla had been arrested as a communist courier. She had been tried under the assessor system in the Federated Malay States which did not have trial by jury like the Straits Settlement. We lost the appeal and Lee Meng was eventually sentenced to
prison,” she says.
This did not dull Dato’ PG Lim’s innate sense of justice, and she continued to earn respect as a formidable lawyer whose intellect was matched by her wit.
Dato' PG Lim's capabilities and strength of character have stood her in good stead throughout her career.
“When I first started, I had to fight against colonial predators in one sense. When one of the judges gave a farewell party for the lawyers, he said to me when he left that he enjoyed my antics at the bar. So I said I wish I could have said the same of him at the bench.”
Dato’ PG lim had championed the cause of women and her achievements provided an inspiration to women all over the country. She also showed that one woman could make a difference in the lives of people by doing what she believed in. In this respect, her efforts to provide legal aid to trade unions have been well documented.
“The trade union movement was very weak in 1954. I tried to help them help themselves succeed on their own.”
Among the unions she had represented and provided legal advice for were the Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya, the National Union of Plantation Workers, the Transport Workers’ Union and the Customs Union of Malaya.
Dato’ PG lim also took up cases for workmen’s compensation, particularly for workers who died in rubber plantations without any compensation.
The trade unions did not treat her any differently because she was a woman lawyer, one of the few at the time.
“Gender or religion didn’t matter then to a trade unionist who didn’t have the money to hire an expensive lawyer. I was trying to help them stand up for themselves. When I came back to the country after many years, I found trade unions doing quite well, with union leaders being people of some importance,” she says.
Although her impact on the development of women and society in general is irrefutable, Dato’ PG lim is modest and downplays the significance of her achievements.
“You work according to what you believe in, and if you happen to make impact, well and good because it is part of what you do. If you only work to succeed for some ulterior motive, I think it is a very wrong way to start. People have different aims now. I lived in a period where you wanted to be independent and believed that your friends, acquaintances and so on would be able to lead the country as one in those days. You worked according to your likes and not according to what you can get,” she says.
Dato’ PG lim is delighted to be a joint recipient of the Merdeka Award for her outstanding contributions to the empowerment of women in Malaysia, and says it is an honour to be recognised for her work.
Dato' PG Lim at the 14th Australian Legal Convention in 1967.
Dato’ PG lim’s achievements and courage endears her as a role model for all Malaysians. Her commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless and her tireless fight for the rights of women in Malaysia will continue to inspire generations to come.