Our Founder
Irene Fernandez

Founder's Quote

“We now have a global community that calculates how to maximize the benefits for a few at the expense of the majority.”

#The Global Catch

“As a daughter of migrant labourers, every worker reminds me of the struggle my parents went through.”

#Irene Fernandez Speaks, Reader’s Digest Asia, 1 February 2010

“When I see the migrant workers broken bodies and eyes without hope, I want to embrace and wipe away their fears. It makes me angry and helps me to keep fighting the oppressive system.”

#Irene Fernandez

“We belong to one race, the human race, and we have only one earth. This solidarity of people must ensure that we put people and the planet before profits. The earth we are given is not just for us but also for those who come after us. They need a tomorrow and that rests on us today.”

#The Revolving Door

“We only live once. That is why life is precious for each one of us. Life is nurtured, protected, secured but for more and more people life is being threatened. As globalization grips us, inequalities sharpen and the divide between the North and South increases. Poverty is one major factor that threatens life.”

#Irene Fernandez

“Those in power, however, use the tools of public government to hound activists and paint them as troublemakers, anti-government, anti-development, foreign influenced. I deny all that. We are just people.”

#1000 PeaceWomen

“We must change the rules of global economy, for it is the logic of global capitalism that is the source of disruption of society and of the environment. The challenge is that even as we deconstruct the old, we dare to imagine and win over people to our visions and programs for the new.”

#The Global Catch

“The power of the consumer can make a critical difference. As we unveil this truth, let us not remain blind against these realities, but act to save the lives of many.”

#The Global Catch


“We must change the rules of the global economy, for it is the logic of global capitalism that is the source of the disruption of society and of the environment. The challenge is that even as we deconstruct the old, we dare to imagine and win over people to our visions and programs for the new.”


A mom, a dedicated human rights activist, a teacher, a PKR supreme council member, director and founder of the Tenaganita, but in all things she was an inspiration.

Irene is best remembered as a champion of the oppressed in Malaysia whose indefatigable advocacy for better treatment of foreign migrant workers prompted her government to denounce her and human rights groups throughout the globe to support her call to action.

Her signature crusade was for the rights of the poorest and most marginalized people: migrant workers, plantation workers, domestic workers, sex workers, refugees and AIDS sufferers.

As she unearthed evidence of migrant beatings and near starvation. In an interview with The New York Times in 2012, she characterised the situation as “slavery days coming back”. Irene never stopped working, even when a conviction and year’s prison sentence hung over her head on the trumped-up charge of “maliciously publishing false news”.


Year wise tab since 1991 to 2003

Irene has received numerous awards over the course of her life. Here are some of them:


Human Rights Watch honored Irene with their human rights monitor reward for her tireless work and leadership


Amnesty International Award


The International PEN Award in 2000


Jonathan Mann Award in 2004


Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm for her outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers In recognition of her tireless work and leadership.


Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award which includes her work related to the protection of migrant workers, including preventative measures such as pre-departure information sessions and assistance in the surrounding countries.

“The cause of human rights has lost a staunch fighter who courageously stood up in defence of fairness and the just treatment of unfortunate migrant workers who are often exploited and mistreated by unscrupulous employers and agencies. She was dedicated and determined in pursuing her cause for the welfare of the downtrodden. And like all human rights advocates everywhere, she was persecuted by a government that does not brook any defiance by anyone in the pursuit of justice.”

The Aliran human rights group recognized the bravery of Irene who was viciously persecuted by the government

“The political tyrants made life unfairly difficult for this intrepid, irrepressible and humble Malaysian ‘Joan of Arc’ of maltreated migrants and repressed refugees in her country. It is hard to speak of Irene without recalling the hostile environment where the authorities are unwilling to be scrutinised and held accountable for their deeds. She overcame the untold hardships she suffered at the hands of the overbearing authorities that had harassed her. As I write, I recall the strength of this remarkable woman in whose stoic countenance were etched the sufferings of a saintly woman, sufferings not the fruit of personal making but from helping the helpless in their pitiful plight."

Steve Oh described Irene as Malaysia’s ‘Joan of Arc’ of maltreated migrants

“...a champion of the weak, the poor and the marginalized, and a fighter of true grit in the face of persecution and constant harassment by the authorities. Indeed, also a sad personal loss as she had been a close family friend and my colleague since our Malaysian Youth Council days”

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim also paid tribute to Irene

“None of the persecution and harassment she faced doused her spirit to fight on. She, in fact, waged wars that were truly inspirational for the younger generation. Her commitment to human rights and justice is legendary. We all aim to leave an imprint as we end our journey on earth. Irene leaves behind a legacy which will continue to not just fight for the rights of the oppressed and underprivileged, but also continue to inspire others to be courageous in the face of adversity and to soldier on to fight for what they believe in."

Klang MP Charles Santiago summed up the legacy of Irene

“Center for Women’s Resources is one with the people who deeply mourn Dr. Irene Fernandez's death. We give honor to a great woman who was so supportive of our struggle and advocacy. She was a citizen of the world, an activist without borders, a real internationalist”

Philippine-based Center for Women’s Resources

“I can only say that death ends a life but not a relationship. Irene Fernandez is not only in the history book of Malaysia as a great human rights defender but she is living forever with the Chin people too. Goodbye my friend, here is my last word to you, ” you will never die because you are a living symbol of a woman's courage.”

On Facebook, Victor Sang Khambil remembered Irene as a fighter in behalf of the Chin people in Malaysia

“Irene’s sudden death shocked us and we are very saddened. However, our beloved Irene will always inspire us. We call on the people who were inspired by her sincere work to translate their sympathy into a more painstaking work to serve the oppressed people. We will continue her legacy. We will continue our struggle for genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty!”

The Asian Peasant Coalition mentioned Irene’s agrarian reform advocacy

“People throughout Malaysia and around the world had great respect for her long record of fighting on behalf of the poor and marginalized. A few years earlier, the State Department acknowledged Irene as one of ten leading activists around the world working to end modern-day slavery. The United States Government could not have found a better person to honor. We were all moved by her conviction and her contribution to promoting respect for human rights in Malaysia. We will all truly miss Irene’s passion, dedication and, above all, her friendship”

Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun expressed sadness over the passing of Irene