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Budget Wish List: Sustainable Solutions For Period Poverty, Gender Sensitivity Training For Domestic Violence Frontliners

Period poverty should be addressed through data collection, education, and infrastructure improvements, while gender sensitivity training should be incorporated into the overall PULAPOL curriculum.

University of Malaya Criminal Court Masters students visit HKL’s OSCC on a study tour. Photo from Hospital Kuala Lumpur’s Facebook page dated May 6, 2017.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — While the question of whether Budget 2023, (scheduled to be presented in Parliament at 4pm today) will actually be tabled remains up in the air, Lilian Kok, programme manager at the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), said it must focus on monitoring and evaluation processes to take stock of the successes and failures of previous years.

Despite intense speculation that Parliament will be dissolved even before the budget is tabled, Kok and Kampung Tunku state assemblywoman, Lim Yi Wei shared their budget wish list on Sinar Daily’s Relatable programme, which aired on October 4.

Kok said the paucity of data on issues like women’s employability, women’s microeconomics, and even period poverty will pose a challenge to developing and implementing programmes and initiatives that effectively address these issues.

To address the issue of period poverty, in the previous year’s budget, it was announced that a monthly handout of basic sanitary kits would be given to 130,000 teenage girls from B40 households.

Beyond that, not much information is available about the initiative, Kok said. “I think that initiative was a one-off thing. I don’t think there was any data on the schools. We know there were 130,000 students… From where, the age range and all that, we are not really sure about that.”

How To Tackle Period Poverty

She maintained that the first step in addressing period poverty is to gather data. “While free sanitary pads and all this can temporarily help reduce the negative consequences, we hope that the ministry would look into long term initiatives in terms of education and improvement of infrastructures,” Kok said.

“I remember when I was in school, I would rather go home to use the bathroom, so imagine if it’s that time of the month! It’s not just about data collection to identify this problem, it’s about the occurrence, it happens every month.”

She said AWAM addresses period poverty by conducting talks and outreach programmes to educate girls and women about what happens to them biologically, emotionally and mentally. They also cover issues of consent and how to communicate with those from the opposite sex.

“What’s interesting is that period poverty is something that’s very easily overlooked, and we realised that during the last floods in the Klang Valley,” Kok said.

She maintained that aside from education, roundtables should be held to discuss how to improve infrastructures and data collection so that the specific challenges of period poverty in every state can be identified and tackled.

“Because I can guarantee you, the states with the bigger rural population will have different and more severe issues,” Kok said.

No Shame In Distributing Pads

Lim Yi Wei distributing sanitary pads. Photo from Lim Yi Wei’s Facebook page, dated October 13, 2021.

When Lim started providing sanitary pads to communities in need at the start of the first movement control order (MCO) during the pandemic, she found out there was a huge demand for them.

“AWAM very kindly offered us boxes of sanitary pads and we thought, ok, let’s go and give them out. And it was interesting because we were already giving out food packs, but when the women saw that we were giving out sanitary pads, they were like, can I ask for more? And I’m like, take it.”

Word soon travelled about the offer of free sanitary pads and many were eager to take her up on it. “So besides asking for like, baby milk, especially the B40 group, they felt more empowered to ask, ‘YB, boleh dapat pad lagi tak?’ (YB, can I get more pads?).”

When Lim went to Raub, Pahang in 2021 to lend a hand with flood relief efforts, she insisted on bringing sanitary pads, besides food and bottled water.

“There are a lot of kampungs (villages) in Raub and the people who really needed help were the kampung people. It was quite amusing to see the male volunteers who came to volunteer with us being a bit shy to hold the box containing all the pads.

“It’s cute but you realise there is a need for some education. But two trips in and they are carrying the boxes like normal, even offering them to makciks (aunties). I think if there’s really a concerted effort to educate them, it can be done really quickly.”

Kok added that after working with Lim for a while to get the word out about the free sanitary pads for communities in need, she got a call from a male ADUN (member of the state legislature) who asked for pads.

“It was a first. Unfortunately at that time, we didn’t have any but we were able to hook him up with another organisation that did and he was very happy.”

 Assistance For M40

 With all the focus on assistance for B40 groups though, one segment that has been consistently left out is the M40, said Lim.

 “You’re not rich enough to kind of make it and you feel the pressures of inflation, and then rising prices, but you’re not poor enough to get subsidies from the government.

“My budget wish list would definitely be assistance for the M40, less handouts and more empowerment with regards to household economies.

“I would definitely say some form of assistance for child care. Because M40 women are forced to work.”

Gender Sensitivity Training For DV Frontliners

Lim said she would also like a budget that focuses on training, in particular for frontliners dealing with domestic violence survivors. Budget 2022 allocated RM13 million to the Royal Malaysian Police’s D11 unit, which is the Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division.

However, Lim maintained that funds should be channelled towards incorporating training on issues handled by the D11 into the overall PULAPOL (The Malaysian Police Training Centre) curriculum.

“Because I have personally experienced a case in PJ where we brought in a domestic violence victim to lodge a report, and there was no triage room. So as she dictated the report to the officer, the officer then read all the details out to her. All nine or 10 people sitting in that common area can hear what her husband did to her!”

Another issue was the abuser and the victim were called in at the same time and in the same space. “So the husband was blatantly intimidating her. We said it was unacceptable,” said Lim who added the policeman who took the report also didn’t know what an IPO (Interim Protection Order) or EPO (Emergency Protection Order) were.

“Luckily at the time in PJ, we had a pretty good OCPD (Officer in Charge of Police District), Tuan Nik Ezanee. He was really open to listening to us and fixing the wrongs so they actually did some sensitivity training in PJ.

“But I think it needs to be part of the curriculum, you want it to be for the frontliners, whether it’s the ambulance staff, or the police taking the reports. It needs to be part of the curriculum, not just for D11.”

Kok said the same item was on AWAM’s wish list. “Proper and thorough gender sensitivity training for frontliners, not only in the police station but also at the OSCCs for medical practitioners and what not.”

Prevalence of Domestic Violence

The One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC)  is a service provided at all government general hospitals in Malaysia. The centres are operational 24 hours a day to handle all cases pertaining to abuse, violence and exploitation of adults and children.

In a written Parliament response to Bandar Kuching MP, Dr Kelvin Yii on October 4, who wanted to know the prevalence of domestic violence cases reported at government health clinics, Health Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin said that domestic violence cases that are identified at the clinics are referred for further treatment to the OSCCs.

Khairy said in 2020, 6,576 cases of domestic violence were treated at OSCCs throughout Malaysia, while in 2021 a total of 5,698 cases were handled by the centres. According to data from January to June of this year, there have been 2,987 cases of domestic violence.  

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