By Sulyn Chong

WOMEN in decision-making positions are far and few between but Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud has shown us that it is not impossible to be in a position of power and own it.

In addition to being a state representative for the Seri Serdang state constituency since 2018, Dr Siti Mariah is also the state executive councillor for three portfolios, namely, public health, women development and family empowerment as well as unity.

Due to her wealth of medical knowledge, she was a catalyst for the Selangor government during the Covid-19 pandemic which hit Malaysia hard from March 2020 until late 2021.

Dr Siti Mariah oversees a vaccination process at the Selangor Vaccination (Selvax) Booster programme at Selcare Clinic in Section 13, Shah Alam, on December 10, 2021.

Through this stormy phase, Dr Siti Mariah made the move to set up the Selvax programme, a vaccination programme that offered free Covid-19 vaccinations which benefited hundreds and thousands of people in Selangor, and helped the state achieve herd immunity that was in line with the federal government’s National Covid-19 Immunisation programme (Pick).

Although Selvax was a successful programme, her proudest achievement to date and most popular among the people would be the Selangor Mental Health (Sehat) programme which began even before the pandemic hit.

“Mental health disorders are the second-highest health problem suffered in Selangor and it was accentuated during the pandemic. That is why we encourage everyone in Selangor to make use of the programme as we have qualified counsellors onboard to help with all sorts of mental issues.

“Needless to say, Sehat has become a complete ecosystem which runs on its own now and it is very much community-based. It is also digitalised, so it is very convenient to use it and seek help,” she said.

The Sehat programme is now mostly driven by passionate volunteers (Sukar — a health volunteer team for the state, very much like Team Selangor) in every state constituency but there is still lots of room for improvement as Dr Siti Mariah said.

“In the urban areas, the programme is well-received and utilised actively. Even with our Selangor Saring and Selvax programme, you can see that people are more responsive to these initiatives in urban locations. In the rural areas, the uptake is not as what we hope,” she explained.

Piling one achievement on another is testament to Dr Siti Mariah’s passion for her job to represent people from all walks of life in Selangor, to be their voice in making sure government policies help them, and her way of making a difference.

Hence, her most successful programme in the five years she assumed office would be the Anak Istimewa Selangor (Anis) initiative, which was established on the very year she was given the seat.

The programme is aimed to improve education for special needs children in Selangor and to safeguard their welfare.

For Dr Siti Mariah, she said she is very glad to see the programme evolving so well and that it has helped more people than she can imagine.

Dr Siti Mariah (left) presenting the graduation certificate to an Anak Istimewa Selangor student during the Children’s Day celebrations organised by Yawas, at Prasekolah Anak Istimewa Selangor in Section 7, Shah Alam, on November 27, 2022.

“It has grown from being just a special needs support centre that provides functional diagnosis on special needs children to a kindergarten specialising in special needs childcare services and schooling.

“We even have an academy now for older special needs students where parents, teachers and volunteers for special needs children are involved. We are slowly covering all ages and we hope we are able to open up more centres to benefit more children and families.

“We work closely with many non-government organisations (NGOs) and I am grateful for all the help everyone has contributed to make the programme a success. If possible, we would like to call on local authorities to help out as well, so that the programme can expand to various localities.

“But there is always room to grow and we will always be in need of more funding and help in other aspects because I believe in accessibility and sustainability in every programme I start. It should be able to continue on no matter who takes over next,” she said.

Empowered and independent

Being a woman in a position of power is never an easy task. Still, for Dr Siti Mariah, women should learn to be independent and continuously upgrade themselves so as not to be left behind.

State executive councillor Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud (second from right) admiring some items produced by housewives under the Tanjung Seri initiative, which is part of the Selangor government’s efforts to empower single mothers, people of different abilities and those from low-income groups.

“We need to keep learning new skills, to be independent economically, to understand your rights as a woman. We need to know our limitations and then enhance what we lack. But most importantly, we all need to be agents of change. And to do that, we need to start with ourselves,” she said.

Dr Siti Mariah understands that there may seem like many steps to take before a woman can get to the top and be on par with men but true equity is never a lonely journey.

“As women, we need to build our own confidence first and foremost, and being a woman, we should support other women. I always believe that there is power in numbers, which is why I seek to enlarge the pool of abled women through the various programmes and initiatives in the state.

“Sadly, we are still failing in political positions but it does not mean it is impossible. We must learn to accept responsibilities and push ourselves to be leaders. Although I understand, as women we carry many weights, such as being caregivers and childcare providers, but do not worry, because this is where the state comes in by offering the necessary support so that women can thrive,” she said with a smile.