Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 36, September 2014

Women, Jungle and Motherhood

Mahani Musa[1]

    Women in anti-colonial struggles
  1. Many cultures view gender in binary terms or oppositions, which are often infused with a patriarchal value system that ascribes positive qualities to men and negative ones to women. For example, men may be perceived as strong, active and powerful, and women are their antithesis—weak, passive and powerless. Following this, men are invariably assigned to the public sphere of activity while women are relegated to the private or domestic sphere of supposed inactivity. This results in the misconception that women make better nurturers, carers and home-makers. Within this kind of gender divide, war is seen as exclusively a male domain, the public sphere where men are given the chance to further reaffirm their masculinity. Women who enter the war zone as soldiers or guerrillas are seen as threats to the social order as they project an image of strength and liberation.[2] Their involvement as warriors unsettles and threatens to dismantle the patriarchal setup.[3]
  2. However, the recent surge in studies on women's participation in war and revolution has shown that throughout the world and over the centuries, women have always participated in, and been affected by, war. In these wars, they have been warriors, war leaders, spies, wives, daughters, lovers and also victims. In the twentieth century, women's involvement in war and revolution became more pronounced. Zimbabwean women's roles in the liberation war of 1965–80—a war which brought an end to white Rhodesia and the beginning of independent, postcolonial Zimbabwe—is proof of women as actors in war. In Southeast Asia, many women in Malaya were involved directly as fighters in the anti-Japanese guerrilla army during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), or indirectly by providing assistance to anti-Japanese guerrillas without actually entering the war zone. The call for revolution by the Hukbalahap in Luzon in the Philippines in the 1940s and the Viet Minh in North Vietnam in the late 1940s saw many more women enter the war zone as fighters. In the American War in Vietnam, it was estimated that at least 170,000 young people, both men and women, were involved in the national anti-colonial struggle as volunteer youth (thanh niên xung phong) in the most dangerous section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail; women made up 70 to 80 percent of these youth. It was also estimated that close to 1.5 million Vietnamese women had been involved in the earlier war against the French.[4] A similar situation was evident in the experiences of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The 1989 Hat Yai Peace Accord, which put an end to the 40-year guerrilla war waged by the MCP against the Malayan and later Malaysian government, for the first time exposed the story of women guerrillas in the organisation. Their exact number is unknown but a former leader of the 8th Regiment whom I interviewed in 2009, Leong Yee Sing (also known as Hamitt), claimed that at one time his camp was inhabited by 400 cadres, half of whom were women. He also claimed that women formed 30 to 40 percent of the total occupants in every MCP camp located in southern Thailand.
  3. However, women's contributions as agents and actors in war and revolution are usually inadequately acknowledged due to an essentialising of women as 'victims' and men as 'perpetrators' of such phenomena.[5] No matter how much women guerrillas have contributed to national independence struggles, they have never gained parity in recognition with their male counterparts. In fact, as the case of Zimbabwean women reveals, although they fought side by side with men in the liberation struggle, they did not receive the sexual equality that they had fought for after the war was over. Neocolonialism, traditional customs and laws, as well as a patriarchal heritage persisted in the newly independent Zimbabwean nation.[6] In Malaysia, the former combatants of the MCP, both men and women, still struggle for recognition from the Malaysian government and the public for their contributions to the liberation of Malaya, as the published memoirs of high-ranking guerrillas stress. These claims for recognition, however, seem to silence other issues relating to women's experience in the MCP.
  4. What did women gain from the anti-Japanese, anti-British and later anti-Malayan/Malaysian government struggles? Although the MCP used issues of gender equality to attract women to join their fight against colonialism, the women's status during the war remained in question. To what extent did patriarchy continue to constrain their struggles, and to what extent can we see these women soldiers as both actors and victims at the same time when we take into account the complex situation they endured, both upon joining the guerrilla movement in the 1950s and during the trauma of their re-integration into civilian society after 1989?
  5. Interestingly, despite the insistence on gender equality in MCP doctrine, from interviews with former women guerrillas conducted by Agnes Khoo in 2004 and other interviews which I conducted with former women guerrillas at the Betong Peace Village-Chulaporn No. 10 and Ban Piyamit 5 Natawee in 2009, and in Penang in 2010, it is clear that women guerrillas still had to conform to traditional roles during their jungle sojourn, with the experience of motherhood in particular being an extremely painful experience that left them with unpleasant memories.[7] Using the historical method of research and gender as an analytical tool, in this article I will examine the conflicting roles played by women guerrillas in the MCP as fighters who wanted to contribute to the revolutionary aims of the party, but at the same time had to balance their personal and revolutionary lives. This will enable us to see how women and men guerrillas differed in their involvement in war and revolution, and the tensions they faced as they negotiated the different roles they were expected to play in the jungle.

    The MCP and the Malayan emergency
  6. The MCP's guerrilla army had its roots in the anti-Japanese movement in Malaya in the Second World War. Although the MCP was formed in 1930 as a primarily Chinese organisation with its political interests focussed on mainland China, following the Japanese invasion of northern China in 1937, its stance became opposed to what it identified as Japanese fascism and British imperialism. At the same time the party advocated the 'establishment of a Malayan Democratic Republic' in anticipation of needing to co-operate with Britain should Japan invade Malaya. Britain rebuffed these overtures, but after Japan attacked Singapore and Malaya on 8 December 1941, the British realised the benefits of a movement that was well prepared to fight the Japanese and began enlisting MCP members and training them to fight rear-guard actions against Japanese forces.
  7. After the fall of Singapore in February 1942, these MCP soldiers formed the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), also known as Bintang Tiga ('three stars' in Malay), which became the largest resistance force in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation.[8] This enhanced the MCP's position in the region, although the British refused to accede to the MCP's calls for independence from colonialism, and by mid-1945 the MPAJA claimed it had about 8,000 armed soldiers, comprising both men and women, with thousands more supporters within existing labour groups.[9] By the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the MCP emerged as the dominant political group in Malaya. Given the British military administration's assurance that the MCP would be allowed an active role in post-war Malayan politics, the MPAJA agreed to disband—but before the British returned to Malaya, the MPAJA also stashed its remaining weapons in jungle bases, in anticipation of possible future armed conflict with the colonial government.
  8. Over the next few years, the MCP—accepted by the British as a legitimate political party in Malaya—began to widen its influence over labour unions and to target Chinese middle school students, youth groups and women's associations. It also attempted to reach out to other ethnic communities. Although still composed primarily of Chinese, it had recruited widely from leftists of other communities during the Japanese Occupation; indeed the MPAJA three-star symbol had been said to represent the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities.[10] When Chin Peng was elected Secretary-General of the MCP in 1948, the party's actions took a more violent turn. Chin Peng believed a revolution was necessary to seize power in Malaya and helmed an insurgency, carried out by the MCP's Malayan National Liberation Army, that was marked by sabotage and violent protests directed at imperial functionaries. The violence climaxed with the murder of three European planters in Sungai Siput on 16 June 1948. Two days later, the British declared a state of emergency throughout peninsular Malaya, which was expanded to Singapore on 24 June. On 23 July, the MCP was banned by the British government.
  9. As the MCP's guerrilla attacks on civilian and official targets did not subside in 1949, the colonial government responded in the 1950s with 'anti-bandit campaign' counter-attacks, declaring 'red areas' to be controlled areas which were typically subjected to 'operation starvation' measures. Curfews were enforced in every village, and the communists faced shortages of arms, ammunition and food.[11] Continuous attacks from security forces and low morale among MCP members forced Chin Peng to relocate his forces to southern Thailand at the end of 1953. The MCP negotiated with the Communist Party of Thailand to secure an understanding that the Thai communists would withdraw northwards while the MCP operated in the south along the border with Malaya.[12] The number of MCP armed guerrillas in Malaya plummeted from 8,000 in 1951 to 3,000 in 1959, and all war activities were suspended to avoid weakening the MCP forces further.[13] The MCP relocation from Pahang in central Malaya to southern Thailand took one and a half years to complete. Among the thousands of MCP members involved in the journey were several hundred women comrades of diverse ages, social backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths.

    Women's experience in MCP military training
  10. Women's involvement in the MCP dates back to 1931, when it was reported by Comintern agents in Singapore that the MCP's membership included a small number of women agents.[14] In the 1930s and 1940s, women took part in labour strikes and their involvement became more intense during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) and the Emergency (1948–60).[15] The surge in anti-colonial feelings in Malaya compelled more radical women to join the MCP. Khoo concludes that women from different educational, religious and social backgrounds joined the movement as a form of rebellion against the feudalistic, patriarchal oppression which they had experienced as young women.[16] Yet arguably many other women joined the movement without any understanding of what they were fighting for, or merely followed their friends, family members and spouses.
  11. It is necessary here to differentiate between state war and guerrilla warfare for a better understanding of the experiences of women in guerrilla warfare. Generally, women recruits in a government army follow certain rules (such as height requirements, age, marital status and specific educational levels), and are organised into a regimented schedule of military training and celebration.[17] All these are absent in the guerrilla movement. The word 'guerrilla' itself connotes wartime conditions such as difficult mountain or jungle terrain, the lack of arms and food, as well as the use of hit and run tactics.[18] In the MCP, women were recruited as guerrillas because the party needed to secure people for its armed struggle. These recruitments often took place in villages, without requirements such as height, weight, education or marital status. The new guerrillas received intensive training (including education) only after they had moved to camp.
  12. Alongside their male comrades, MPAJA and MCP women guerrillas went through life under uncertain conditions. Spencer Chapman, a British liaison officer with the MPAJA during the Japanese Occupation who related his three and a half years of experience living with guerrillas in the Malayan jungle, described MPAJA 'girls' as great fighters who were committed to fight the Japanese despite their small number (there were usually only five or six women in each MPAJA camp). Chapman recalled that women guerrillas were very disciplined and they were treated just like the men.[19] When on the run, they had to carry heavy loads like the men, and some women also led platoons and fighting units. Many were later caught and killed during skirmishes with Japanese soldiers, and later British security forces and Malayan soldiers. These incidents were widely reported in the Straits Echo and Times of Malaya between the late 1940s and early 1950s.
  13. Women also had key roles during critical moments of the MCP's struggle. They spearheaded the MCP's move to open up land for cultivation in Paya Luas in the Bera district. This was carried out in 1951 to overcome food shortages and the danger of starvation, as a result of the colonial government's Briggs Plan to deny support and food from the Orang Asli (aborigines) to the guerrillas. Women also participated in the 1953 'Long March' north to the Malaysia–Thailand border. While lacking arms, ammunition and food, the guerrilla army marched through thick jungle, often at the risk of ambush by security forces. The journey took one year and six months to complete. It proved to be the toughest episode for the women comrades, who were physically less strong than the men.
  14. In terms of the division of work within the guerrilla army, there were no gender differences between male and female guerrillas. As combatants, they had to be prepared at all times for armed encounters, carry out sentry duty and also study guerrilla warfare tactics and attend political classes.[20] Interestingly, the women showed that they had more strength to cope with the hardships of guerrilla life. The most striking examples I encountered were Suriani Abdullah and Shamsiah Fakeh. Suriani was an MCP member during the Japanese Occupation who later married Abdullah C.D, the commandant of the MCP's Malay 10th Regiment. She was captured and held by the Japanese from January to August 1945 and mercilessly tortured by the kempetai (Japanese military police), both physically and mentally, but she remained steadfast to the cause. Due to the torture and poor conditions of her imprisonment, she contracted rheumatism and experienced intense chest pains, and her menstrual cycle was affected as well.[21] The other woman guerrilla Shamsiah was a former leader of the leftist organisation Angkatan Wanita Sedar, later banned by the British. She joined the MCP in 1948 and strongly believed that 'a liberated country is the first step in bringing freedom to women.'[22] In 1949, she was ambushed by security forces and lost in the deep Pahang jungle for a few days with her newborn child. She managed to find her way back to the camp, only to receive the shocking news that her husband Wahi Anuar had surrendered to the British.[23]

    Attitudes of male soldiers towards their female counterparts
  15. How did MCP members view the role and contributions of women in their organisation? MCP leaders such as Chin Peng and Abdullah C.D, as well as views articulated in the party's propaganda organ Freedom News (launched in 1949 in Singapore), recognised women as a crucial asset of the organisation. The March 1953 issue of Freedom News, in conjunction with the 8th International Women's Day commemoration, gave special attention to women. Dubbing the event a day of struggle for women's emancipation throughout the world, the editor exhorted all MCP members to give full support to women in the organisation as he felt that existing MCP women's activities suffered lack of support from male comrades. The editor highlighted that throughout the revolutionary history of Malaya, especially during the Japanese Occupation and the anti-British war, women had struggled, toiled and shed their blood for the sake of the Malayan people and the revolution.[24]
  16. MCP leaders like Chin Peng and Abdullah C.D also devoted attention to women in their respective memoirs. Most of the women mentioned in these writings were described as having made sacrifices for the party during the Japanese Occupation, the Emergency and before the MCP relocation to southern Thailand. Abdullah C.D described women from the 10th Regiment who had perished in the anti-British war as Srikandi Bangsa ('Flowers of the Nation'), an accolade that was never accorded by other Malayan political movements to their women members at the time.[25] Female comrades such as Jhen Yin Feng, a former Chinese primary school teacher, was praised by Chin Peng for being one of the party's best couriers as she managed to link various camps in Perak and Selangor to Chin Peng's headquarters in Mentakab, Pahang.[26]

      Sexual relations

  17. Although Chapman claimed in his memoirs that in the jungle camps, the men treated the women fairly to the extent that he had never heard of any instance of complications arising from sexual relationships between men and women, such problems became more discernible in MCP camps after the party's withdrawal to southern Thailand.[27] One former MCP member, Chew Kah Gen, has made the claim that the MCP had used women as sex objects in the camps, saying that women were not only robbed of their money and chastity but were sent to the jungle to service MCP leaders.[28] This confirmed a report that had appeared in the Sunday Times on 18 June 1961, under the headline 'The terrorist leader who was a playboy.' The report described a veteran MCP leader Ah Khor—more popularly known among the guerrillas as 'one-eye Khor'—who had been shot dead by the police in Kerian on 1 June. The report said he was dubbed a 'playboy' among MCP members for his love of wine, women and luxury food; it was estimated that between 1953 and 1955 he had spent $10,000 of party funds on liquor alone.
  18. While these abuses lay at one end of the spectrum of experiences of women party members' experiences, at the other end lay the image of female MCP guerrillas as perhaps a manifestation of a 'new woman' who challenged political certainties and respectability, and society's oppressive patriarchal structure. These were women who appeared to have abandoned motherhood or, as Jeffner Allen claims, to focus not on the power to have children but rather on the power not to have them.[29] However, as seen from the women's experiences in other guerrilla organisations, while war might break down some gender boundaries and allow women to live and fight alongside men in the hostile jungle, it did not necessarily detach female guerrillas from the expectations or emotions of womanhood or motherhood. Sex and family were seen as a problematic issue, for instance, by the leaders of the Hukbalahap (the military arm of the Community Party of the Philippines, more commonly known as the Huk) as it could hamper male military capabilities. But, because the Huks needed women guerrillas to support their movement, they allowed party members to take a 'forest' wife and later, encouraged spouses and children to join the movement.[30] However, because childbearing and housekeeping remained women's responsibilities while men were seen as breadwinners and the core of the movement's fighting strength, this affected the Huks' morale and operations. Many female guerrillas even left their squad to have babies and look after them.[31]
  19. The MCP seems to have accepted the fact that many of its members were already married before they joined the organisation, while others might form new relationships. The camps allowed couples to marry as long as they had obtained their superiors' permission. During the time of the MPAJA and the early phase of the Emergency, husbands and wives were not allowed to work in the same camp so as to avoid being distracted from their mission and to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Ibrahim Chik, an important leader in the 10th Regiment, related the difficulties of living apart from his wife Rahmah after they were placed in different platoons when they joined the MCP in 1948. The couple was still separated when the party moved to southern Thailand: Rahmah was stationed in Betong while Ibrahim was sent to organise the masses in Kampung Hala, further away from the border. The long separation ended in divorce when Rahmah was caught in 1955 by Thai security forces and later handed to the Malayan government.[32]
  20. In fact, divorce was not unusual among guerrilla couples after they were placed in different camps. Although this situation lessened after the relocation to southern Thailand, divorce still took place, especially after the MCP started to recruit new members from among the Thais (including women) in the 1960s. There were also cases of illicit love affairs, even though in the camps, men and women lived in separate living quarters. One former woman combatant Huang Xue Ying related how her husband fell in love with another married woman in his camp. Huang's marriage ended in divorce and she was also separated from her infant child.[33] Muna, another former woman comrade presently living in Piyamit 5, Nam Khang, Sadao, became a divorcee while remaining in the Thai jungle, as her husband left and went to work in Malaysia.
  21. It is important to note that in the jungle camps, there was often an imbalance in the male-female ratio among guerrillas. When the men outnumbered the women, intimate relationships sprang up between guerrillas who were not married to each other, as well as between male superiors and women from the rank and file. A former woman comrade recalled that 'unmarried women were looked upon as rare commodities. That was why no married women comrades ever knew what widowhood was, after their husbands died.'[34] MCP leaders did recognise these issues and in the 1960s, the party started to open its door to 'new blood' so as to improve its internal security and strategy. This led to more local Thais (including women) joining the movement compared with Malayans or, subsequently, Malaysians. Some party leaders, such as those of the 12th Regiment, later decided to fix the ratio of six to ten in the recruitment of male and female comrades. This helped to ensure a gender balance in the camps and by 1968, most guerrilla veterans had found life partners and even had children.

      Pregnancy, abortion and motherhood

  22. Even though marriage was permissible, women guerrillas, unlike their male counterparts, faced a further stipulation in camp law—the prohibition against pregnancy and motherhood. Women's bodies became a site of control and struggle as they were used not only for combat purposes, but also to satisfy the sexual needs and desires of their husbands or partners, and sometimes subsequently to have forced abortions. Admittedly, the latter were not always consistently enforced. The movement's top brass did not always adhere to the prohibition, whereas in other camps, such as where the 8th Regiment was based in Sadao, Songkhla, if a woman cadre became pregnant, she would be forced to have an abortion.[35]
  23. In reality, unwanted pregnancies, whether resulting from illicit liaisons or sanctioned marriages, were normal occurrences especially after the relocation to southern Thailand. Unwanted pregnancies also involved high-ranking women in the organisation, even though the women knew from the outset that they would be forced either to have an abortion or to surrender their newborns to nearby villagers or relatives. Consequently, in most MCP camps, childbirth in the jungle took place but childrearing was strictly prohibited. Some women suffered forced abortions which jeopardised their lives and affected them emotionally. Other women were considered lucky if their superiors allowed the baby to live, but struggled with the knowledge that the infants would be sent away before they were one month old, as camp superiors believed the babies would only hamper their movements.
  24. In his memoir, Ibrahim Chik relates his and his wife's misgivings when they arrived at the jungle camp in Lubok Kawah, Temerloh, in September 1948 to begin their lives as guerrillas. He and Rahmah were pressured to separate from their 11-month-old son, whom they believed would never see again. They suffered in silence, as did other married couples who had joined the movement. In the camp, women comrades often shared their feelings of the agony of separation from their young children and families. Ibrahim recalled, 'I still can hear their [the women's] voices until midnight.'[36]
  25. Shamsiah Fakeh—who was depicted as a srikandi (heroine) in the MCP—had a particularly tragic experience. As mentioned above, after an ambush she was lost in the jungle in 1949 with her newborn, but finally found her way back to camp. She insisted on keeping her baby, but relented to the camp superior to hand the baby to a rich Chinese family who would take him to China. However, at the end of 1952, she learned from a 10th Regiment leader Musa Ahmad that the two MCP comrades who were supposed to hand over the baby to his adoptive family had actually killed the infant.[37]
  26. Some women comrades considered it lucky if their children were left with or given away to family members for adoption or if they knew the babies' foster parents, allowing them to look for their children in later years. Others, who bore children after the cessation of hostilities, were allowed to keep and bring up their 'guerrilla children' in the camps, and there were also efforts by the guerrillas to trace and bring back to the camps children who had been given up for adoption. However, many women never saw their children again after giving them away. Moreover, many of the women I interviewed tried to hide their real feelings about their involvement with the guerrillas; most said they never regretted with what they had gone through while a few refused to recall or remember their life in the jungle, especially when it involved separation from babies or children.
  27. The experiences of all these women represented what 'motherhood' meant in the jungle. If they questioned the version of motherhood forced upon them, it was done in silence as they believed—or as the ideology within the guerrilla fraternity made them believe—in the need to put the collective aims of the revolution above everything else. From the available evidence, it seems that most women in the MCP did not perceive themselves as victims of a callous 'preservation of male values' despite having to endure difficulties with pregnancy, possible abortion and separation from their infants. One pregnant guerrilla and another woman comrade who were lost for twenty-one days in the jungle at the Thailand–Malaysia border, after their camp was ambushed by security forces in 1954, had to endure starvation, hardship and sleepless nights. Yet both resolved to return to their camp as they still had faith in the revolution and the party.[38]

    After the emergency
  28. Although the Freedom News had claimed that women were oppressed under feudalism and their suffering continued under colonial rule, and that the MCP was the only movement that gave justice to women, in reality patriarchy continued to rule the jungle, especially after the move to southern Thailand.[39] The situation worsened after the Emergency was lifted in 1960. Some women whom I interviewed admitted that they missed their children, who had been sent away from the camps, and the thought of aborting and abandoning their babies had haunted them throughout their lives. This was all the more so when their husbands or partners had refused to leave the camps. One former woman guerrilla whom I interviewed admitted that because she was worried about and missed her children that she had left in a village, she entertained the thought of running away from the camp. When this was exacerbated by other factors—including personal grief, hardship and the dangers of jungle life—she finally ran away in 1981, at the age of forty.[40] She recalled that many women comrades in her camp had expressed sadness about leaving their families behind, but did not have the nerve to leave camp for fear of possible retribution and the reluctance of their spouses to leave the jungle.
  29. With fewer combat situations after the Emergency, women were given tasks such as cooking, planting vegetables, breeding animals, sewing or nursing in the camps in southern Thailand. The combat assignments that remained were usually given to the men. Interestingly, most of the women interviewed (most were from the second generation of MCP combatants who were recruited after the relocation to south Thailand) claimed they were never involved in combat with security forces, although some of them showed me photos of themselves clad in combat uniform and holding firearms. They also said that women would be the last to be given basic weapon training in the camps, and that male leaders held the view that 'women were incapable of combat' while some women themselves were uncertain about their role in combat. Some doubted their ability to kill another human being and were happy not to be chosen for any combat missions, while others agreed that 'we have to kill them [the enemies of the MCP] before they kill us.'[41]
  30. With the signing of the Hat Yai Peace Accord between the Malaysian government and the MCP in 1989, some former guerrillas—both men and women, and especially those from the 10th Regiment—felt a huge sense of relief. They were getting older and they were not as strong as before. While some former guerrillas chose to return to Malaysia, most chose to settle in the 'peace' villages that were located in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani in Thailand.[42] The peace villages were opened by the Thai government and provided substantial support to help former guerrillas to start a new life. They were each given land on which to build a house and cultivate cash crops. Almost all the village inhabitants were involved in agriculture such as rubber planting. A few women opened grocery shops and eateries to cater especially to the increasing hordes of tourists who came to see these villages.
  31. All former MCP women combatants reverted to their pre-guerrilla lives, re-entering the private domain as wives and mothers. Although the desire to go back to their own families was strong, they still followed their husbands' decisions. Most of the men were reluctant to go back to Malaysia not only for political reasons (they were unsure of how they would be treated, although the Malaysian government had promised not to mistreat them) but also because they were worried that they would not be able to adapt to or be accepted by the families and society they had left behind. Many combatants had left or divorced their wives, and remarried Malay or Thai women guerrillas who had joined the organisation in the 1960s. For those who decided to return to Malaysia, life was not easy. Many faced considerable difficulty in being accepted by their family members and in starting new lives, and they returned to Thailand. A former woman guerrilla relates that she was almost killed in an attack at her home in Pahang in 2007, which she believes was due to family disputes over inheritance.[43]

  32. While women's involvement as guerrillas can be seen as a threat to the masculine domain of politics, the experience of the MCP's women guerrillas shows that they also retained their own individuality, gender identity, sexuality, need for love and intimacy, and desire for motherhood, especially the ties between mothers and children. Despite gender differences, in a time of war, women performed extraordinary feats of heroism, bravery and self-sacrifice whenever the opportunity arose. However, after the peace accord, former MCP women combatants reverted to their previous lives, and to the private domain as wives and home-makers. The complexities and contradictions of women's roles in the liberation movement also affected many other women who were active in other types of political movements in Malaysia and Singapore.


    [1] I am very grateful to Professor Barbara W. Andaya of University of Hawai'i at Manoa and Associate Professor Shakila Manan, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, for numerous comments on an earlier draft.

    [2] Sharon Macdonald, 'Drawing the Lines—gender, peace and war: an introduction,' in Images of Women in Peace and War, ed. Sharon Macdonald, Pat Holden and Shirley Ardener, Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1987, pp. 1–26, pp. 3–4.

    [3] Paulina Palmer, Contemporary Women's Fiction: Narrative and Feminist Theory, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989, pp. 68–69.

    [4] Karen Gottschang Turner and Phan Thanh Hao, Even the Women Must Fight: Memories of War From North Vietnam, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998, pp. 19–21.

    [5] Caroline O.N. Moser and Fiona C. Clark, Victims, Perpetrators or Actors: Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence, London: Zed Books, 2001, p. 4.

    [6] Tanya Lyons, Gun and Guerrilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle, Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 2004, p. 40.

    [7] Agnes Khoo, Life as the River Flows: Women in the Malayan Anti-Colonial Struggle, Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information Research Development (SIRD), 2004; Mahani Musa, 'Women and warfare in Malaysia and Singapore, 1941–89,' Biblioasia, vol. 6, no. 1 (2010): 12–18. I have also interviewed the following former MCP guerrillas from January to March 2009 and in December 2010: Aishah, A'Por, A'Ling, Chang Li Li, Khadijah Daud, Lam Toi Ying, Leong Yee Seng, Maimunah, Muna or Mek Pik, Pang Min Sang, Rokiah, Shiu Yin, Siti Zamiah Abdul Latif, Wayah and Ya Mai.

    [8] During the early part of the Japanese Occupation, the MCP managed to organise eight regiments under the MPAJA: the 1st Regiment was located in Selangor, the 2nd Regiment in Negeri Sembilan, the 3rd Regiment in north Johor and Melaka, the 4th Regiment in southern Johor, the 5th Regiment in Perak, the 6th Regiment in west Pahang, the 7th Regiment in east Pahang and Terengganu, and the 8th Regiment in Kedah.

    [9] Kumar Ramakrishna, 'Freedom news in context,' in Freedom News: The Untold Story of the Communist Underground Publication, ed. Kumar Ramakrishna, Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, 2008, pp. 5–26, p. 6.

    [10] However, many Malay members left the MPAJA and the MCP after Chinese members attacked those whom they perceived had been pro-Japanese wartime collaborators (who were mostly Malay) in retribution in August and September 1945.

    [11] Association of British Malaya Malayan Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 55 (25 July 1951), Colonial Office (National Archives of Britain) 717/205 52932 1951.

    [12] Aloysius Chin, The Communist Party of Malaya: The Inside Story, Kuala Lumpur: Vinpress, 1995, p. 44.

    [13] Anthony Short, The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948–60, London: Frederick Mueller, 1975, p. 472.

    [14] Justus Maria Van der Kroef, Communism in Malaysia and Singapore: A Contemporary Survey, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967, p. 22.

    [15] Ho Hui Ling, Darurat 1948–1960: Keadaan Sosial di Tanah Melayu, Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 2004, pp. 12–13. Between September 1939 and 1940, there were at least eleven strikes where the MCP and British were in confrontation.

    [16] Khoo, Life as the River Flows, p. 11.

    [17] Anne-Marie Hilsdon, Madonnas and Martyrs: Militarism and Violence in the Philippines, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1995, pp. 51–55.

    [18] I.F.W. Beckett, Encyclopedia of Guerrilla Warfare, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1999.

    [19] Spencer F. Chapman, The Jungle is Neutral, London: Chatto & Windus, 1963, pp. 150–51.

    [20] Xiulan, I Want to Live: A Personal Account of One Woman's Futile Armed Struggle for the Reds, Petaling Jaya: Star Publications, 1983, p. 12.

    [21] Suriani Abdullah, Memoir Suriani Abdullah: Setengah Abad Dalam Perjuangan, Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information Research Development (SIRD), 2006, p. 56.

    [22] Shamsiah Fakeh, Memoir Shamsiah Fakeh: Dari AWAS ke Rejimen ke-10, Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2004, p. 45.

    [23] Shamsiah Fakeh, Memoir Shamsiah Fakeh, pp. 45, 70.

    [24] Freedom News, no. 35 (15 March 1953), cited in Ramakrishna (ed.), Freedom News, p. 124.

    [25] Abdullah, C.D, Memoir Abdullah C.D: Penaja dan Pemimpin Rejimen ke-10, Kuala Lumpur, Strategic Information Research Development (SIRD), 2007.

    [26] Chin Peng, My Side of History, Singapore: Media Masters, 2003, pp. 450–52.

    [27] Chapman, The Jungle is Neutral, p. 151.

    [28] Straits Times, 8 May 1979.

    [29] Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge,1994, p. 89.

    [30] For further details of the gender and sex problems in the Huks movement, see Vina A. Lanzona, Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

    [31] Hilsdon, Madonnas and Martyrs, p. 74.

    [32] Ibrahim Chik, Memoir Ibrahim Chik: Dari API ke Rejimen ke-10, Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2004, pp. 109, 122–24, 134–35.

    [33] Cited in Khoo, Life as the River Flows, pp. 199–200.

    [34] Xiulan, I Want to Live, p. 22.

    [35] Pang Min Sang, interview by author, 14 March 2009, Kao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel.

    [36] Ibrahim Chik, Memoir Ibrahim Chik, pp. 79–80.

    [37] Shamsiah Fakeh, Memoir Shamsiah Fakeh, p. 75. In a strange twist of events, in 1981 Musa claimed in an interview broadcast by a Malaysian radio station that Shamsiah was the one who had killed her baby for security reasons. Another version of the story was that Shamsiah had killed her son out of anger with her husband Wahi Anuar, who had surrendered to the British in her absence. Shamsiah has denied all these allegations.

    [38] Xu, '21 days lost in the jungle,' in Jianku Douzheng Suiyue, ed. Quan Zhongren, Sadao: The Committee of Kao Nam Khang Tunnel, 2000, pp. 17–47.

    [39] Freedom News, no. 35 (15 March 1953) cited in Ramakrishna (ed.), Freedom News, p. 123.

    [40] Khadijah Daud alias Mama, interview by author, 25 February 2009. The 68-year-old woman had slipped into the jungle when she was thirty-four years of age.

    [41] Muna, interview with author, Piyamit 5, Sadao, 1 January 2009.

    [42] Former guerillas from Singapore were unable to return as Singapore was not a party to the Peace Accord.

    [43] Mastika, February 2009, pp. 122–25.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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