Perak seeks to set up state institute to improve women’s livelihoods

Loghun Kumaran
Wong believes Perak needs its own institute to oversee and run state initiatives for women. ― Picture by Marcus Pheong

IPOH, Aug 15 — The Perak Pakatan Harapan government hopes to establish an institute dedicated to empowering women in the state within the next two years.

State executive councillor Wong May Ing envisions an institute tailored to help educate women on their rights and about their health, teach those in low-income households life skills so they can be independent and get jobs, and also shelter those who have been abused.

“We want to help single mothers, housewives, and women in general to find jobs. We want to link them back to the working world so they can be empowered,” she told Malay Mail in a recent interview.

Wong, whose portfolio is a mouthful — she is executive committee chairman in charge of state wellbeing, women and family development, welfare, and social wellbeing — said Perak does not have a specific agency dedicated to tackle women’s affairs.

“We have agencies like the Women's Development Department and the National Population and Family Development Board but they are both federal agencies that get instructions from the federal level.

“They do a lot of work, but they are hampered by a lack of funding and manpower. Without a state agency, it is tough to identify issues specific to a state, because each state has different problems,” she said.

To illustrate her point, Wong said the federal Women's Development Department only has one office in Perak with seven staff and operate on a yearly budget of RM70,000 to tackle issues in the state.

She added that the National Population and Family Development Board, better known by its Malay abbreviation LPPKN, offers free mammograms and HIV tests to women. But due to budget constraints, it can only cover 350 women for the entire year.

“They offer free walk-in tests to registered members. But they could only test 350 people, and that yearly quota finished by February,” Wong said, adding that she will raise the matter to the ministry’s attention.

But in the long term, she believes Perak needs its own institute to oversee and run state initiatives for women.

She acknowledged that there were women-centric organisations that “are more dynamic than the government”.

“But they don't have funding. This is where the centre can help by taking care of these women,” Wong said.

She proposed that the women’s institute act a coordinator with the NGOs and state Welfare Department to channel help where it is most needed.

Wong said she is looking to model the Perak women’s institute after similar initiatives undertaken by Penang and Selangor.

“I've visited the Penang Women's Development Centre to get information on their set-up, programmes, and focus points,” she said.

She noted the Penang WDC also provides awareness classes on abuse and hopes to rope in its help to train facilitators in Perak.

Wong plans to visit the Institut Wanita Berdaya in Selangor this week to see how it runs its programmes and for inspiration on how the Perak institute will turn out.

She said the rest of her colleagues in the Perak government are fully supportive of the women’s institute, which she wants to establish as a statutory body, which will need to be presented and passed as an enactment in the state legislative body.

But Wong said her biggest challenge is getting funds to establish the centre.

“I hope we can put it in the coming state budget. This would allow us to get things moving by next year,” she said.