“Being a woman is both challenging and fascinating,” says Charmie Hamami. “We are stronger than men. Women have a high tolerance for pain, and we are able to give birth to another human being. What else can transcend that? I can’t imagine anything more wonderful.”
The Deputy Chairman for Southeast Asia of Christie’s, a global art business founded in 18th-century London, says women “have to make unusual efforts to succeed – hence work hard, never depend on a man and try to make it great on your own.
“My father left us with this message, which l will in turn pass on to my children: ‘If you venture into a project or career, always strive to do your best. If you don’t think you can handle it, then do not bother going into it. It’s either all or nothing…there is no in-between.”
Charmie hails from the state of Kelantan in Malaysia. “I have always been fascinated by the women from my home state,” she says. “The women there are very hardworking. Most of them are breadwinners for their family. While the men work on the farms or in the padi fields, the women will be the ones selling and negotiating the business for their fruits of labour. That’s why you will find that most of the successful businesswomen in Malaysia originate from Kelantan.”
The successful business executive and art lover abhors violence of all kinds, “whether it’s physical, sexual, verbal as well as economic, that happens both in public as well as the private domain. These issues remain strong, as some are part of local customs.”
Also important to Charmie are health and human trafficking issues and education. She is concerned about “high maternal mortality rates that are linked to iron deficiency among women and girls. There is still a high rate of child marriages. And limited access to proper health services is an issue with links to infant mortality.”
On trafficking, she points out: “Indonesia is among the highest sources of unskilled and domestic workers. There are still a big proportion of women being sent abroad through illegal channels, without any protection.”
Charmie continues: “The government needs to drastically change the education system, particularly at the basic and primary levels, to enable the creation of critical thinking at an early age for all, and importantly for women. This will provide a foundation for women’s empowerment in the later stages of life.
“I am keener to suggest the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship, rather than encouraging women to work for a particular set of wages. Empowering women to create their own businesses, however small, is important.”
Charmie believes there is no systemic barrier to female leadership here, “as evidenced by a history of a female President, ministers, CEOs and Parliament members.” The low percentage of women in government, she notes, can be attributed to di erent factors.
Among these is “many women’s preference to choose roles that enable them to play a significant role with their family and husband. A preference to stay at home and raise children should not be considered as anything less than choosing to become one of society’s leaders.”
Charmie says she has been “fortunate enough not to experience any discrimination in my 17-year career at Christie’s. However, neither do l suggest that discrimination on a large scale does not occur in the world. Plentiful data has been released that warrants urgent action to address women’s issues, in particular domestic violence in rural housing where women are educationally poor and economically dependent on their spouses.”
How does the Christie’s boss feel about the #MeToo movement? “I have a strong opinion on #MeToo,” she replies. “The movement has created much resentment among men, given that there is no longer due process and a mere allegation is now sufficient to ruin a life and career.
“Sadly, the movement has successfully created the impression that the large number of men who, historically, have been very instrumental in women’s empowerment are now disregarded or ignored. The movement initiated by the UN, #HeforShe, is more appropriate, as it encourages men to support women’s development. Hence, l would like to add #SheforShe alongside #HeforShe.
“A positive movement that encourages all parts of society to move towards shared goals is better than a ‘segregated’ movement such as #MeToo. Respect is the key word that both women and men should uphold. Only by respecting ourselves and others do we in turn gain respect.”