The Women’s Development Research Unit (KANITA) is the first centre of its kind in Malaysia, pioneering a field which was little known and marginalized in the country’s academe. KANITA is also responsible for charting the earliest history of feminism and feminist advocacy in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Beginning with the establishment of a UNICEF-funded research cluster on women, children and poverty in 1978, through which it gained the acronym KANITA (representing the combined Malay words for women and children) and evolving into what is today a centre of excellence within the university, the Centre reflects more than thirty years of critical thinking in the development of theoretical and methodological tools and policy strategies that aim at equalising and mainstreaming gender in education and nation-building. The last decades have provided a solid foundation for the rise of a new kind of academic culture where women and gender programmes are enriched with multi- and interdisciplinary interaction with generic disciplines of social sciences, humanities, management, communication, education and medical sciences, health sciences and pharmaceutical sciences. Through applied and policy research, innovations in training, publication and networking both nationally and globally, KANITA has brought new meaning to the process of engendering knowledge, thus, bringing feminist and gender perspectives to the forefront of academic thinking.
KANITA achieved its current status as an autonomous research centre within the university on 17 April 2001. The endorsement by the University Senate of KANITA’s position demonstrates USM’s commitment to lead in the exploration of new thinking and knowledge that considers gender as an important analytical framework for theory and research. It also reflects converging efforts and dedication of academic members from various disciplines towards championing gender equality, equity and justice in the society, both theoretically and in practice.