GRIEVED PASSING SHIRIN FOZDAR, DEDICATED MAIDSERVANT BAHA’U’LLAH. HER INDEFATIGABLE SPIRIT, ABIDING DEVOTION, PERSISTENT AUDACITY, UNTIRING EFFORTS SERVICE BELOVED CAUSE SPANNING OVER SEVEN DECADES IN FIELD TEACHING, PROCLAMATION, ADMINISTRATION, EDUCATION, EMBRACING MANY COUNTRIES, PARTICULARLY INDIAN SUBCONTINENT AND SOUTHEAST ASIA, HAVE EARNED HER WORTHY POSITION AMONG IMMORTAL FIGURES HISTORY FAITH FORMATIVE AGE BAHA’I DISPENSATION. HER ACTIVITIES INTERNATIONAL FIELDS, PARTICULARLY RELATED STATUS WOMEN, HAVE OPENED NEW DOORS REACHING HIGHER STRATA SOCIETY. TO LAST BREATH HER PRECIOUS LIFE SHE CONSCIOUSLY STROVE RENDER SERVICE FAITH.
Extract of the message dated 3 February 1992 from The Universal House of Justice to our National Spiritual Assembly on the passing of Mrs Shirin Fozdar.
The diminutive, sari-clad Shirin Fozdar is best remembered for having spoken up time and again for women’s rights, despite threats of assassination for speaking on a sensitive issue.
Born in Bombay of Persian parents, Mrs Fozdar’s dedicated efforts in Singapore started as soon as she migrated here with her doctor husband in 1950 to help set up a Baha’i community. Her attempts to improve the status of women were remarkable considering the political and social backdrop of Singapore at that time. Communist agents were active, and there was social unrest, unemployment and labour strikes, and few dared to speak out against the establishment for fear of being branded a communist.
This oft-described “champion of Asian women” co-founded the Singapore Council of Women (SCW) in 1952 with the goal of improving the lot of Singapore women. As honorary secretary and spokesperson of the SCW throughout the 50s, she sent strongly-worded letters to government officials in Singapore and to the colonial affairs office in London pressing for a monogamous marriage law. An eloquent speaker, she also gave numerous talks and lobbied for reforms.
Her persistent efforts combined with those of other women leaders helped Singapore women attain a major victory—the Women’s Charter. Mrs Fozdar, a mother of five children, also tried to help women through education. She spearheaded Singapore’s first girls’ club at Joo Chiat Welfare Centre in 1953 where subjects like English and arithmetic were taught.
Her fight for equality had started when she was a teenager in India. In 1934, she represented the All Asian Women’s Conference executive committee at the League of Nations in Geneva making a case for women’s rights. A decade later, she set up women’s groups in India to help impoverished women.
She once told the press that she was compelled to fight for women because of her Bahá’í Faith which teaches that men and women are equal. “I believe if women all over the world will make common cause in obtaining due rights for their sex, their efforts will be crowned with success.”
Recognized in several countries for her active promotion of equality, she was often invited abroad to give her views. In 1959, she was invited by the American government to speak on women’s rights and colour prejudice. She also led delegations to overseas conferences to discuss women’s rights and issues. In 1961, Mrs Fozdar went to rural northeast Thailand to set up a school for girls and returned to Singapore 14 years later when her work was completed. From then onwards up till her death in February 1992 at age 87, she traveled tirelessly all over the Asia-Pacific region attending conferences and meeting with civic and religious leaders, politicians and women activists.
Numerous accolades have been showered on Mrs Fozdar. In 1988, she was the first woman singled out for a tribute by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations. Ms Lena Lim, who read the tribute, said: “We want to salute her for having spoken on unspeakable subjects, for daring to venture into areas others feared to tread.”
Mr S. Rajaratnam, Singapore’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, voiced a common opinion when he wrote in a commemorative brochure: “I have known … of the single-minded way in which she struggled to promote and safeguard the rights of women and to enhance the status of women in our country...I would like to join with others in recognition of her services to promote justice for women in Asia.”
In May 1993, the Association of Women for Action and Research launched The Shirin Fozdar Trust Fund. The fund, to be used for the advancement of women in Singapore, keeps alive the memory of this well-loved woman leader and carries on her vision of a world where men and women are equal.
(Voices & Choices, The Women’s Movement in Singapore, Pg 146-147)