a Public Health, Gender Studies, and Social Work in Malaysia | IE3 Global
Health and Safety Emergencies: (541) 737-7000

Public Health, Gender Studies, and Social Work in Malaysia | Selangor, Malaysia

More photos from this internship can be found here.

Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) is a non-profit based near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, working to promote women’s rights and end violence against women. In addition to providing shelter, counseling, and resources to victims of domestic violence, WAO is also a pioneer in research, advocacy, and public education efforts in Malaysia.

Interns should be passionate about women’s rights and feminist issues, and experience working with sensitive populations is preferred. Interns are accepted year round to support the organization’s activities in their administrative offices, the shelter, and the child care center.

Internship Start Dates:

  • Flexible start dates each term

Duration of Internship:

  • 10-24 weeks

Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) opened Malaysia’s first shelter for battered women and children in 1982. Today, WAO offers shelter and counseling (in person and via telephone) to hundreds of women and children every year, and they continue to pioneer research, education, reform, and services in an effort to related to end domestic violence, violence against women, and other forms of gender discrimination.

WAO’s vision is a society free of violence against women. They believe strongly that all humans have the right to self-determination and should have control over the conditions that shape their lives. The WAO team works tirelessly to promote and create respect, protection, and fulfillment of equal rights for women. They are working to eliminate discrimination against women and bring about equality between women and men in Malaysia and across the globe. Their main objectives are:

  1. To provide temporary refuge services to women and children suffering from mental, physical, and sexual abuse, in order to empower and enable them to determine their own future
  2. To offer emotional and social support to any women who request it, resident or otherwise, and offer support and after-care
  3. To undertake and encourage research into any of the factors that contribute to the inequality and subordination of women
  4. To undertake and advocate the eradication of factors that contribute to the inequality and subordination of women through law, policy, and institutional reforms
  5. To create an awareness and better understanding among individuals, the public, and relevant agencies on the issues of violence against women and the underlying inequalities

WAO provides services in three main areas:

  • The WAO Center: home to the administrative offices, as well as the center for advocacy, public education programs, and fundraising activities. WAO collaborates with other women’s and civil society groups to advocate for law and policy reform.
  • The Refuge: operates as a shelter for battered women and children, as well as providing services and activities related to family, women, and domestic violence issues. Social workers at the Refuge offer face-to-face (150+/year) and telephone counseling. (1,600+ calls/year). The shelter houses an average of 300 women and children annually.
  • The Child Care Center: a facility for the children of WAO’s ex-residents who now live independently. Children are provided with a home, education at local schools, and a support system to meet physical, mental, and emotional needs.

WAO has a history of paving the way for women’s rights in Malaysia. In 1990, WAO conducted the first national research on domestic violence, and published their findings in 1995. In 1993, WAO helped develop the standard accident and emergency department protocol for domestic violence patience, used in most government hospitals currently. In 1995, WAO began documenting foreign domestic worker abuse cases, as well as helping to arrange legal support for victims and bringing the issue to light in press conferences and meetings with local police. WAO also publishes self-help booklets, manuals and handbooks on health and counseling issues, provides public education and advocacy programs, and monitors the Domestic Violence Act.

Interns will work alongside WAO staff, including social workers, child care workers, law reform officers, communication officers, and administrative personnel. Interns will support the direct services provided to battered women and children, contribute to research and program development, and assist with administrative activities and special projects. Intern activities will vary depending on current needs of the organization, the intern’s knowledge and prior experience, and the intern’s interests. Potential tasks and projects by center include:

  • WAO Center: support joint initiatives with other NGOs, conduct research on the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) or other topics, assist in writing and editing newsletter and reports, general administrative tasks, and assisting/attending with public education booths
  • WAO Refuge: accompanying women to court and police stations, administrative support, organizing activities for women and children, conducting research, support counseling activities (must have relevant background)
  • WAO Child Care Center: assist child minders with daily activities, help tutor children, organize and lead activities for children including language classes (English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil), physical and mental health activities, arts and crafts, special topic classes (math, science, etc), and general interactive/fun events and activities


Academic Background

  • Students from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Coursework in women’s studies, gender studies, international and/or community development, law, public health, and social work strongly encouraged.


  • Ideal applicants will have some experience working with sensitive populations. Applicants with previous experience in domestic violence services and community education are preferred. All applicants should have strong research and writing skills, be proficient with computers, and be open-minded, in order to thrive in a culturally diverse setting.

Language Requirements

  • This is an English language internship, and interns should have strong verbal and written communication skills. Proficiency in Malay, Tamil, or Mandarin Chinese is helpful but not required.

Other Requirements

  • An interest in working with women and children. Applicants should be adaptable and eager to work across the organization. All interns should be informed of and up-to-date with feminist and human rights issues and discussions and be passionate about women’s rights. Interns who wish to be placed primarily at the WAO Center should have a research topic prepared in advance.

Estimated One-Time Expenses

  • IE3 Global Program Fee: $3,450
  • International Travel: $1,800
  • Recommended Immunizations: $600

Estimated Monthly Expenses

  • Housing: $300
  • Food: $200
  • Local Transportation: $150
  • Recreation: $175
  • Personal Expenses: $100

Interns are responsible for their own housing, typically shared apartments. WAO staff will assist with locating and arranging housing where possible, but all costs are the responsibility of the intern.

“My experience with WAO showed me how amazing and inspiring NGO life can be, and it will definitely stick with me as I figure out what to do with the rest of my life. One thing that I really appreciated about WAO and NGO work – and this is something that was repeated to me many times during my staff interviews – was that when you work at a place that has a positive vision for women and for the world, you can actually start living in that world. The staff at WAO wanted whole-heartedly to create a better future for women in Malaysia, and they are making it a reality. It might sound cheesy, but it’s really great to know that when you’re working, you’re not just slugging through the day to make ends meet; you’re making a difference in someone’s life. Including your own. Working in a feminist NGO can be particularly positive for building positive (female) self-esteem.” - Colette, University of Washington

I am continuing the work of my WAO/IE3 Global internship through a local internship in Eugene, OR with Womenspace. This has been a really interesting experience because it allows me to compare how very similar organizations with many of the same services function in two very different cities, in two very different countries. I am facilitating a project that I started while in Malaysia involving the youth that receive services from WAO and Womenspace. I've set up a pen-pal correspondence between the two groups of youth that is meant to be an educational, solution-focused intervention to expand each youth's worldviews. This has kept me in touch with another intern that I worked with in Malaysia. In addition, I have written reflections on my time as an intern with WAO that they have featured in their monthly newsletter.” - Maddy, University of Oregon

“WAO provides services to women who experience domestic violence or other forms of abuse and/or discrimination, such as employer abuse. Women who experience these forms of abuse in Malaysia have the opportunity to seek shelter in a refuge. Unlike the U.S., however, there is just one shelter/refuge in all of Malaysia--WAO. Consequently, WAO houses women from all over Malaysia as well as outside Malaysia. WAO, Sisters in Islam, Women’s Agenda for Change, and others, continue to push the women's agenda forward in Malaysia in many areas of women's lives. They are currently involved in lobbying government and institutions for their support in terms of policy measures and actions; politicians to incorporate the issues and recommendations into their election manifesto and, if elected, their constituency programs; and the general public to raise their awareness on the issues and challenges facing women in Malaysia. Despite the Government's commitment to women's equality, the monitoring of different state parties' obligations to equality is essential for Malaysia. The state often does not have the same access as NGOs to the women who experience discrimination. Women's groups and NGOs in Malaysia have taken a vital role to highlight areas where women continue to face discrimination - to lobby for changes that will remove barriers to women's equality in all spheres of women's lives.” - Laura, University of Washington

“I was creating a new protocol for women that were entering the shelter victimized by trafficking. With the recent tsunami tragedy and political upheaval in surrounding countries, trafficking has become an increasing problem that is finally getting more recognition. The shelter was starting to receive more cases involving trafficking, so I was given the opportunity of researching recent and past cases to come up with policies and procedures when receiving such cases. These new policies included details on the court process, the immigration department, location of translators, investigation process, and the process of repatriation. Hearing the individual cases and being able to put a face to the story gave me a deeper understanding of what Malaysian women face and the adversity they overcome.” - Annierose, University of Oregon

“My greeting from the children at the CCC every morning was ‘Akak!  Akak!’ (meaning ‘sister’). For most of my time interning there were 17 bright and beautiful children ranging in ages from 2-13 living there full-time.  My responsibilities were from 9am-5pm five days a week, which revolved around the education and entertainment of these children. We played games, did puzzles, went to the park, read, and exchanged stories. We looked at maps and asked each other questions. We danced to Michael Jackson. As an English-speaker, I was also expected to help with the children’s English homework and did language exercises with the kids who did not go to school. We laughed together a lot. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to share my time with the children of CCC. My experiences with them were invaluable; I learned so much from them about optimism, dealing with conflict, growing up in Malaysia and in a children’s home and much more. They taught me about loving each other even when they were angry, about dealing with strong and confusing emotions at such a young age and about forgiveness.” - Madeline, University of Oregon

“My internship with the WAO changed my life in countless ways. One of the biggest challenges of my internship was learning how to interact with the women. I discovered that I just had to be persistent and take the awkward silences as they came. I was worried that the women didn’t want to talk to me or know me. I realized that for the most part they were just as interested in me as I was in them. It was all a matter of putting the time in to get to know each other and breaking down the cultural barriers that I had created in my head.” - Denise, University of Oregon

“One of the fund-raising projects I became involved in was called the Pixel Project. It was an innovative way of fundraising and advocacy in which they created a website and had people, even celebrities, from around the world record videos and speak out against violence towards women. For the Pixel Project, I helped record videos of the WAO staff speaking out against violence towards women and posted them on YouTube. I also participated at the International Women’s Day event and helped out at the WAO booth. On top of the fund-raising events, I was in charge of writing and editing the quarterly newsletter, teaching English classes to the residents at the Refuge once a week, doing basic administration work (i.e. answering the telephone, filing papers, etc), and helping the internship supervisor when her assistant left WAO.” - Karin, University of Oregon

Application Deadline

Summer: January 25

Fall: April 15

Winter: September 1

Spring: November 15

Basic Requirements

- Coursework in women’s studies, gender studies, public health, social work, education, or law

- Previous international experience and work with sensitive populations is preferred

- Current knowledge of feminist, women’s rights, and human rights issues