Social media users are up in arms about a health ministry initiative to provide free sanitary pads in the minister's office as a first step towards addressing period poverty, questioning Dr Zaliha Mustafa's understanding of the situation just over a week after she clocked in for her new duties.
Zaliha had said that the health ministry would provide free pads beginning with her own office at the ministry building.
"After that (we will expand it) throughout the ministry. And then maybe we can cooperate with other agencies and ministries," she told reporters after the health ministry's monthly assembly on Dec 12.
Her announcement was met with derision, with many questioning the point of providing free sanitary pads for women who can afford them and who also work in a government ministry.
"I hear the women's washroom at the health ministry will be equipped with free sanitary pads," said Facebook user Ab Jalil Backer.
"Congratulations, it appears that there are many poor people at the minister's office."
"Actually, people in dire straits work at Putrajaya," Facebook user Arwish added.
"Don't be upset, they can't afford it. It's been a long time since they received a bonus. What do you people know?" Twitter user Khatijah Mat Som said.
Meanwhile, a medical doctor with 49,000 followers on Facebook reprimanded Zaliha for the announcement, saying there was no point making the provision of free sanitary towels for her office a public matter.
"It would be better if this free sanitary pad programme were implemented in the interior and in places with high numbers of urban poor," Dr Arisman said. "Start from there."
Period poverty refers to the inability of a woman or her family to afford sanitary pads due to financial constraints.
An advocacy group known as Peduli Merah that brings together NGOs and researchers on the issue said Zaliha's efforts would not go far in eradicating period poverty, as those who benefit from the initiative are not from the target group.
Peduli Merah spokesman Nursyuhaidah A Razak said the health ministry would do better to make free pads available at clinics and hospitals in rural areas.
She also urged the ministry to focus on providing access to menstrual health treatment.
"Carry out reproductive health screening for the urban poor and hardcore poor, together with the education and women's welfare ministries," she said.
"And monitor period poverty at schools to ensure that every group has access to accurate education on the matter."
Adding that studies could be conducted with the human resources ministry on menstrual leave, she said the health ministry should also take into account the mental health of those who are caught in period poverty.
"There have yet to be any studies that focus on this issue," she said.
Peduli Merah has so far sent 11 suggestions through email to the health ministry, education minsitry and women, family and community development ministry, including for the formation of an equal menstruation committee, the provision of aid without discrimination, and the introduction of menstrual leave for women workers.
Nursyuhaidah said the health ministry and other related ministries should also look into the cleanliness and availability of sanitary products in detention centres for immigrants.
She spoke of reports about women workers from Indonesia detained in Malaysia without access to clean water or basic medical care.
"They are not given sanitary pads, either," she said. "This is a target group that is not taken seriously by the ministry."