Beauty, brains and a heart of gold

Miss Earth Malaysia 2020/2021 Dr Nisha Thayananthan.

Meet Miss Earth Malaysia 2020/2021 Dr Nisha Thayananthan, a school topper, JPA scholar, active social worker, and successful medical doctor who, despite her busy personal and professional life, still maintains her physique very well through routine workouts in the gym.

Striving to make the world a better place

MISS Earth Malaysia 2020/2021, Dr Nisha Thayanathan, 28, is an epitome of beauty and brains.

Dr Nisha Thayananthan.

She hails from Negeri Sembilan and is a full-time doctor at Hospital Putrajaya. She was a frontliner in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nisha is not new to the world of pageantry, having won several beauty titles even during her varsity days.

This alumna of Unimas is a talented multitasker who has learned to adapt to her busy career as a doctor while carrying out tasks as an entrepreneur and getting involved in numerous charity programmes.

Nisha is very passionate about the environment, and as part of her contribution to environmental conservation, she has designed her own biodegradable sanitary napkin for women to help reduce plastic pollution.

Quoting National Geography.com, she says a single woman will use between five and 15,000 pads or tampons in her life. Most of these will end up in landfills and contribute to plastic waste.

She is Malaysia’s representative to the Miss Earth 2021 finals, which will be held virtually on Nov 21.

Here she talks to M RAJAH about her early childhood, her family, her passions and aspirations.

LIT: Tell us about yourself and your growing years.

Nisha: I’m a twin. When I was born, my survival rate was below 50 percent as I suffered from a condition called “twin to twin transfusion syndrome”. I fought through my very first battle. After three months of living in an incubator, I came out as the stronger person I am now.

I was hyperactive in my early childhood, between eight and 15 years old. My family would often describe me as “a ball of fire with endless passion”. There were many unforgettable memories as I transitioned between childhood and becoming a woman.

I scored 6As in my primary school national examination and secured a place in one of the elite schools.

I was also active in sports and represented Negeri Sembilan, my state, in many athletic championships.

Talking about friends, I have many good friends, and my earliest friend was a kindhearted girl during my primary school years, and we are still best friends. Along the way, between eight and 12 years old, I came to know many other nice people who inspired me to be who I am today.

LIT: Describe your most memorable moment.

Nisha: The most memorable was when I scored 12As in my SPM in 2009. I received an award from the then prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, for being among the top scorers in the country.

It was a big confidence booster, and it motivated me to study harder throughout my school years, and eventually I secured a JPA scholarship to study medicine in Unimas and pursue my dream of being a medical doctor.

LIT: Anything you want to say about your family?

Dr Nisha Thayananthan.

Nisha: Yes. A very special person is my elder brother. He was diagnosed with autism when he was five years old. But that didn’t stop him from being a passionate and hardworking artist who could produce awesome paintings.

My brother has taught me many meaningful life lessons through his hardwork and burning passion to fulfil his dreams. He also taught me that acceptance shows strength, courage, and determination. It is a way of looking at the future and learning to love life and accept things as they are.

LIT: If you had the power to change young women in the next generation, what would that be and why?

Nisha: I would influence women to change their mindset to be more empowered when it comes to issues of bias and gender discrimination.

Even in the 21st century, women are often held back when it comes to choices and advancements in education and career by both employers and society itself. This is especially prevalent in rural areas.

Women have great potential to contribute to our economy, especially after the aftermath of this Covid-19 pandemic. I believe breaking the old norms that restrict progress will help women around the world reach their full potential and transform the world we live in.

LIT: Do you think women must play an active role in Malaysian politics? Should more women be appointed to the Cabinet?

Nisha: Definitely. I have talked about this issue in recent interviews. I strongly believe that women are the pillars of society and our nation. When women are empowered, the whole world is empowered. When we see more women in politics, we can see progress in leaps and bounds on issues such as gender discrimination, wages, education and careers, sexual harassment, and period poverty.

These issues can be effectively tackled by appointing more women to the cabinet. Furthermore, we will certainly see an improvement in economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, and improved nutrition. Nothing can be more nourishing than the motherly nature of a woman. They should be given equal opportunities to build the world we live in.

LIT: And do you think Malaysian politics will continue to be a male domain for years to come simply because women are discouraged from playing a dominant role?

Nisha: I believe that times will change. People are becoming more aware of issues in the areas of education, careers, and politics that cause gender discrimination. We can already see changes in certain fields, but at the moment, they are still in their infancy.

More and more women are being recognised for their intelligence, compassion, sacrifice, responsibility, and potential to contribute to and lead the country.

Dr Nisha Thayananthan.

I believe that if we keep pushing for women empowerment, we can reap greater progress in improving the world we live in.

LIT: Malaysian women are generally seen as subservient. Do you agree? What do you think should be done to change their attitude?

Nisha: There are a fair number of women with this mindset. I believe that it is because a lot of women in society are groomed to set limits on themselves and accept the many social prejudices as if they were a normal part of life.

This can be changed! Education and knowledge is power! With education, women are able to break the chains that limit them and pursue careers so that more women can be financially independent and contribute to the economy and the world.

LIT: Do you see yourself as an opinionated person?

Nisha: I am, indeed. I believe that sharing ideas leads to innovation. The first step of every innovation and revolution is having an idea and having the courage to voice it out.

From there, the idea can be expanded through research, experiments, and criticism. My projects, like my biodegradable sanitary pads, are built upon careful research reviews and evidence-based facts.

LIT: Indian women are seen as playing a subdued role in society and generally don’t take the lead. What are your views?

Nisha: Some women are groomed at a young age by the older generation to believe that only men can lead. This is commonly influenced by practices, traditions, and certain religious views.

This is changing slowly with time. More women need mediums and platforms to express their thoughts and ideas. More women need to be empowered through education and careers. Governmental organisations and NGOs should look into this and create more platforms to flourish and empower women.

LIT: Should religion and politics mix?

Nisha: Definitely not. Our cabinet, as well as society, consists of people from different religious backgrounds and all walks of life. It is important to celebrate our differences, but it might not be fair to everybody if policies are made solely on religion, as not everybody will be comfortable with it.

LIT: Sexual crimes are on the increase. Are our lawmakers doing enough to protect our women? What must be done so that young women, especially schoolchildren, are safe?

Nisha: There are policies in Malaysia that were made to protect women. Although the current policies are making a big difference, I strongly believe that new policies should be implemented when handling cases such as rape.

Dr Nisha Thayananthan.

The parties involved in the investigation should be more empathetic and understanding when investigating this matter, as this would encourage more women to speak up about the injustice that happened to them.

As a doctor, I see cases like this all the time, and I sometimes think the victims’ treatment could be improved to provide them with more emotional support so they can cooperate better.

LIT: Should sex education start early?

Nisha: Sex education should be taught early on. As a doctor, it is heartbreaking to deal with cases where young children are sexually abused and harassed. Sometimes the children do not even realise or understand the crimes that were committed against them.

It is crucial for growing children to know and understand their physiology and the basic science of human anatomy, as well as the laws that are made to protect them.

This will give them greater knowledge about their bodies and a better understanding of puberty and harassment.

LIT: What can men learn from women. And what can women learn from men?

Nisha: I believe many men can learn to have more qualities of a mother, like being more empathetic, patient, emotionally open and compassionate.

Recent studies show men have a lower tolerance for emotional constraints because they are not as good at handling emotions as women.

What women can learn from men is leadership. For centuries, men have been commonly seen leading families, politics, and careers. Women should take inspiration from that and understand that they are equal to men and can surpass their limits if they put their mind to it.

LIT: What do you think of Budget 2020? Are women given greater emphasis this time around compared to the previous Budgets?

Nisha: Yes, the policies are being improved, and this is what we want for a better nation. Encouraging women and inspiring them to be better will push Malaysia to greater heights.

LIT: Besides your mother, who do you look up to and why?

Nisha: I look up to Malala Yousafzai as she has inspired me in many areas of my life.

Besides being a prominent Pakistani activist for female education, she is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Malala was shot in the head by Taliban terrorists in Pakistan for her campaign for the education of girls. Despite the ordeal, she continued her battle and aced it.

Countries should empower their women as a lot of untouched potential lies in the women of the world.

LIT: How do you think technology is affecting your generation’s ability to communicate and relate to older generations?

Nisha: I would say it has had more of a positive impact. The world is a smaller place as technology connects people from all age groups and walks of life. With the click of a button, I can look back in time and watch current events. I am able to understand the challenges faced by communities so that I can communicate and address their problems more effectively.

Because of this, I am able to give back to the community and the environment in many ways, while also serving as a frontliner battling Covid. It is challenging for me to multitask. Fortunately, with the advancements of technology, I’m able to help many in need, especially the underprivileged.

LIT: What made you go into the fashion and beauty pageant industries? Were your family initially against it?

Nisha: My grandfather was my inspiration for going into the fashion industry. He was an art lover. I enjoy the way I express myself in many different ways, being in fashion and being a doctor. Even medicine is an art in its own right.

To me, life is about expressing yourself in many beautiful ways and taking inspiration from everything you do.

My family is supportive as they are aware that this platform can help me reach out to those in need and make the world a better place.

LIT: You are a fine example of a person whose beauty and brains could go together and be exploited for success in one’s life. Please give your view.

Nisha: To me, the essence of humanity is to strive towards making the world a better place. I will try my best to exceed my own expectations so that I can improve myself as well as others.

Everyone is beautiful and talented in their own way. They just need to express themselves more and have the courage to give back to the community and Mother Nature.

LIT: Do your colleagues support your foray into the beauty industry? Were you ever pressured to give up the fashion/beauty industry?

Nisha: My colleagues support my journey as both a doctor and my foray into the beauty industry. They are my inspiration and support to accelerate further in life.

There were times when I was pressured to give up my journey in pageants. Many said that I should just stick to one profession. Fortunately for me, I stayed true to myself and succeeded in both areas. When people have a passion, there is nothing that they cannot do.

My love and care for the underprivileged and vulnerable continues even after I have left the hospital or taken my stethoscope off my shoulders.

Medicine is known for its culture of self-reliance and independence. I have chosen my career to be a doctor despite the amount of hard work, time, and sacrifices that this job requires.

This is what I want for myself now and forever. Helping those in need when there’s no hope left is a blessing. God has given me this beautiful opportunity to hold their hands and say, “It’s okay, it’s going to be alright.”

I will use this privilege to help as many people as I can.

LIT: Is marriage on your mind in the immediate future? 

Nisha: I am not thinking about it as of now as I have to focus on my dreams and goals. Now that I have devoted myself completely to my environmental and charity projects, I understand that I have a responsibility to help many in need.

I believe marriage will happen when the time is right. For now, I want to focus on helping the environment and people in need.