1. She came from humble beginnings
Madam Halimah’s father, a watchman, died when she was eight, leaving her mother to raise her and four older siblings. Home was a one-room flat in Hindoo Road. She would wake up before sunrise to help her mother – who initially sold nasi padang from a pushcart plying Shenton Way before getting a hawker stall licence – before going to school.
Her time studying at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and Tanjong Katong Girls’ was a stressful one as she had to juggle schoolwork with wiping tables and washing dishes, while her school fees often went unpaid.
Photo: Lianhe Zaobao
2. She's the only one in her family to attend university
Madam Halimah, in her own words, took a leap of faith and enrolled in the University of Singapore’s law faculty. She did not know where her school fees would come from, but secured a last-minute $1,000 annual bursary from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. Her brother, who had just started work as a prison officer, contributed $50 a month. She worked as a library clerk during term breaks to make up the rest of her living expenses.
Photo: Berita Harian
3. She enjoys cooking and has launched a collective cookbook
As chairperson of the PAP Seniors Group, Madam Halimah launched The Marsiling Cookbook, which contains more than 30 recipes from chefs and Marsiling residents. It includes her own recipe for low-fat sayur lodeh and raised $26,000 for the Marsiling Independent Mums project.
Photo: Ng Sor Luan/ST
4. She started her unionist career over 30 years ago
Madam Halimah graduated in 1978 and joined NTUC as a legal officer, as she wanted to represent workers and “fight for a just cause”.
During a career spanning 33 years, she rose to head NTUC’s legal services unit and its women’s development secretariat, and also became the first Singaporean on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation from 1999 to 2011. She was NTUC’s assistant secretary-general from 1999 to 2007 before becoming deputy secretary-general until 2011. She earned her master’s in law from NUS in 2001.
Photo: The Business Times
5. She married her university sweetheart
Two years after her graduation, Madam Halimah wed businessman Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, a physics major who is of the same age. The couple initially lived in a rented room before buying their first home, a five-room flat in Tampines for $75,000. They have two sons and three daughters, now aged 26 to 35.
Photo: Halimah Yacob Facebook
6. She was Singapore's first female Speaker of Parliament
In 2001, Madam Halimah was elected an MP in Jurong GRC, where she served three terms before becoming an MP in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC after the 2015 general election.
She became an office holder in 2011 when she was appointed Minister of State in the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, after which she moved to the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2012. She became the first woman to be appointed Speaker of Parliament in 2013.
7. She wants to continue staying in her HDB flat even if she becomes president
Madam Halimah has made no secret of her preference for living in her HDB flat in Yishun, which she moved into in 1983. She said on Sunday she hoped to continue living there even if she is elected president – a stance that has remained unwavering since she became Speaker of Parliament in 2013, despite questions over why she had no desire to “upgrade”.
In a Straits Times interview that year, she said: “More than 80 per cent of our population live in HDB flats and if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me.”
Photo: Lianhe Zaobao
8. She doesn't have a domestic helper and revels in communal living
Madam Halimah’s current Yishun home, which is near Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, comprises two adjacent five- and four-room flats with the dividing wall between them knocked down. She jumped at the chance to buy both units when she heard the two sisters living there wanted to sell, as she had wanted to live next to her mother.
She said that her concept of home is not merely a piece of property to be flipped for profit, but a “priceless repository of a lifetime of memories”. It is also the only home for three of her five children and where several of them got married.
In another interview shortly after she became Speaker of Parliament in 2013, Madam Halimah revealed she had wanted to reinforce to her children the importance of communal living and taking care of elders.
Members of her family do their own chores and wash their own clothes (herself included) because she decided to do away with having a maid, as she “never really got over the feeling that it’s not a relationship of equals”.