education in malaysiaMillions of individuals struggle to get an education in Malaysia. This is due to systemic repercussions of poverty, stigma and lack of resources. However, the Malaysian government and the U.N. have released conflicting numbers regarding the poverty rate in Malaysia. Malaysia reports that the poverty rate is less than 1%. But the U.N. contends that the poverty line should be adjusted for accuracy to 15% to 20%. When statistics ignore the reality of those living in extreme poverty, the consequences go beyond understanding household income and financial security. Poverty deprives individuals of job opportunities and education in Malaysia, as well as exposes them to discrimination.

Poverty and Education in Malaysia

Lori Niehaus is a 2019 Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and founder of the Change Makers program. Niehaus told The Borgen Project about the significant role that poverty plays in Kelantan, the Malaysian state with the lowest GDP. Poverty impacts the daily lives of students and their ability to get an education in Malaysia. For starters, many students are driven for financial reasons to work all night to support their families. As a result, they have less time to study, which puts them at a disadvantage in school.

Through the stratification process in public schools in Kelantan, students with low scores in any subject are designated to lower-level classes. These classes receive very little attention and resources from their schools. In some cases, students often arrive at school and sit in a classroom without a teacher the entire day. As such, this stratification further stalls their education and deprives them of opportunities to advance.

Additionally, social stigmas that result from poverty and Kelantan’s low GDP rate also deprive students and adults of professional opportunities. Kelantan is unique in that its population speaks its own language, a mix of standard Malay and Thai. However, wealthier populations within Malaysia speak standard Malay. Niehaus told The Borgen Project that standard Malay speakers “automatically discount Kelantanese as less educated, and that creates a mental and cyclical effect on what they feel capable of accomplishing.”

Gender Disparities in Education in Malaysia

Along with poverty, gender disparities in the classroom prove to be another obstacle to education in Malaysia. Social and cultural gender disparities produce a stifling, hyper-gendered environment for girls. In that environment, academic insecurities and shyness prevent female students in school from reaching their full potential. To combat gender disparities in Kelantan, Niehaus and a colleague created the Change Makers program in their community.

Change Makers

Through a two-day, one-night camp, the Change Makers program worked with 80 female students from four different high schools. The camp fostered an academic environment in which girls have the chance to engage in problem-solving workshops. Moreover, the camp curriculum included three major issues. These are mass displacement (in the context of the Rohingya crisis), environmental issues and the relationship between racism and identity.

However, because Niehaus and colleagues facilitated this particular program, it will not continue in the future. But schools support similar events every few years. Without initiatives like these, female students around the world will continue face challenges while pursuing their education in Malaysia or chasing professional opportunities.

“The purpose of Change Makers was to encourage our [students] to think critically about the problems that their community—both in Kota Bharu, their city, and in Malaysia at large—face and how we might bring about change,” said Niehaus. Niehaus believes that by creating conversations about change for marginalized groups within Kota Bharu and Malaysia as a whole, students will find ways to think critically and effect real change in their communities. They may then be able to work on solving problems with education in Malaysia within their own communities.

Nye Day
Photo: Flickr

Malaysian RefugeesAlthough the majority of Malaysian refugees reside in or near the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, thousands live outside this area and struggle to access urban centers for crucial services. As a result, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has opened its first outreach and community center outside Kuala Lumpur.

Refugees In Malaysia

Nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR across Malaysia. Currently, refugee community groups estimate that tens of thousands more reside in the country undocumented. Rohingya Muslims make up the majority of Malaysia’s refugee population. Malaysia currently hosts the largest number of Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Other refugee populations originate from countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Rising Hostility

Although initially supportive of refugees and asylum seekers, Malaysia has become increasingly hostile towards these vulnerable populations. For example, the country is not a signatory to the 1953 UN Refugee Convention. This means it does not recognize the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers. Classified as illegal immigrants, refugees in Malaysia risk arrest, detention, and deportation. Xenophobia towards foreigners has risen in recent years. Many now view Rohingya refugees as a threat to the nation’s social, economic, and security systems.

Malaysia’s refugee populations are especially vulnerable to aggressive crackdowns on immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysian authorities have increased immigration arrests in refugee and migrant neighborhoods and turned away nearly 30 boats of displaced Rohingyas since the virus began. Human rights groups warn that the virus could spread through the country’s overloaded immigration detention centers, and reduce the likelihood of refugees seeking coronavirus treatment. The Malaysian government’s COVID-19 relief package excludes refugees despite their need for food and essential services.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre

As there are no refugee camps in Malaysia, most settle into urban areas of the greater Klang Valley Region including Kuala Lumpur. However, thousands of refugees live outside this region and struggle to access urban UNHCR centers. These refugees have to travel long distances just to access crucial services. UNHCR is working to make essential services accessible to refugee communities living outside Kuala Lumpur through the establishment of outreach and community care centers. The refugee agency has recently opened a model outreach center in Johor, a southern state near Kuala Lumpur, and plans to develop more centers across Malaysia in the coming years.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre (JOCC) will make essential services accessible to over 16,000 refugees in Southern Malaysia. This will save these vulnerable communities over three and a half hours of travel time and excessive bus fare costs. Moreover, the outreach center is life-changing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will bring vital services to Johor’s refugee population while preventing the movement of people and gathering of crowds in urban areas.

The JOCC will be managed by Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), a partner of the UNHCR. Since 2013, the Malaysian-based NGO has provided community-based support to Johor’s refugee community. CSB works to ensure the education of refugee children in Johor and develop resilient communities through the establishment of schools, refugee empowerment programs, health services and outreach initiatives like food distributions. The JOCC will help CSB strengthen its existing community-led initiatives and provide a safe space for refugees throughout the state.

The Importance of UNHCR Documentation Services

Outreach and community centers provide critical UNHCR registration and renewal services to Malaysia’s refugee populations. Registering with the UNHCR provides refugees claims of asylum and identification as “Persons of Concern”. UNHCR cards demonstrate official identity and refugee status and are usually respected by Malaysian authorities, protecting refugees from illegal immigration arrests. In addition, UNHCR cards incentivize businesses to employ refugees in the informal economic sector and reduce the foreigner’s fare at public hospitals. Refugees are deemed illegal immigrants with no rights if their UNHCR card is not updated every five years. The JOCC will make UNHCR registration and renewal services more accessible and prevent card expirations from upheaving the lives of Johor’s refugee community. The center will also provide accurate, up to date information on refugee protection in Malaysia, as well as available services.

Looking Ahead

The JOCC is a symbol of hope for refugee populations outside Malaysia’s urban areas. Expanding UNHCR outreach and community centers across the country will give refugees greater access to documentation and essential services. Therefore, this is a vital step in enabling them to contribute to society and rebuild their lives.

Claire Brenner

Photo: Flickr

PFAS Contamination
Per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) are a class of human-made chemicals that manufacturers have used in consumer products since 1950. There are more than 4,500 PFAS, which go into making fluoropolymer coatings and other heat-resistant products. PFAS can be in products such as clothing, furniture, food packaging, cooking materials, electrical insulation and firefighting foam. PFAS contamination has become a significant concern for environmentalists around the world, as many of these chemicals are not biodegradable. As a result, PFAS has contaminated soils and water sources across the globe.

How Do PFAS Impact Health?

The effect of PFAS on humans is uncertain; however, studies on animals indicate that PFAS can have serious health effects. Studies have repeatedly shown that exposure to PFAS can stunt growth and development, alter reproductive and thyroid function and damage the immune system and the liver. PFAS can also reduce vaccine effectiveness and increase the risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

Exposure to this potentially dangerous group of chemicals is widespread. People are most likely exposed to PFAS by consuming contaminated water or food or by breathing in PFAS-contaminated air particles. Those who work in the production of PFAS or PFAS-containing products are most at risk of PFAS exposure. In these jobs, workers can inhale PFAS or absorb the chemicals through their skin.

How Do PFAS Harm Developing Countries?

In the developed world, PFAS contamination has received significant scientific and political attention. However, in less wealthy countries, people have done very little to address the issue or even gather data on PFAS. In 2019, a study occurred in 12 Middle Eastern and Asian countries to understand better how PFAS impact the developing world. Unsurprisingly, the study found that PFAS water pollution in these countries is abundant. In Malaysia, for example, the greatest source of drinking water, which supplies water to 6 million people, tested significantly over the PFAS regulatory limits in the United States. Moreover, in Indonesia, PFAS levels in the Jakarta Bay were 10 times as high as the highest-level record in San Francisco Bay.

Widespread PFAS water contamination has led to the contamination of food products in these countries. Studies have shown that PFAS has contaminated seafood and some terrestrial animals in Bangladesh, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Other consumer products, such as textiles, also contain alarming amounts of PFAS. For example, a Greenpeace investigation found that waterproof coats made in Bangladesh contain 557 µg/m² ionic PFAS. The E.U. limits PFAS to 1 µg/m² in textiles.

In developing countries, the abundance of PFAS has resulted in high PFAS levels in both children and adults. In Jordan, the average level of PFAS in breastmilk is seven times higher than standard drinking water advisory levels in the United States. Similar levels exist in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Experiencing exposure to high levels of PFAS from birth, it is no surprise that people in these countries also experience high levels of PFAS in their blood.

Solutions for PFAS Contamination

While the impacts of PFAS on human health are not certain, studies on animals suggest that people should implement measures to reduce PFAS contamination on a global level. To protect people in developing countries, PFAS must receive more scientific and political attention in these regions. Members of the international community, such as the United States and E.U. countries, should assist developing nations to gather data on PFAS in their countries. The data could help developing regions implement regulations regarding PFAS production and use. With cooperation from the international community, it is possible that global PFAS contamination could experience better management in the future.

– Mary Kate Langan
Photo: Flickr

hunger in malaysiaMalaysia is a small country located in Southeast Asia, known for its fast-growing economy and great ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. However, like many nations, Malaysian citizens face persistent challenges when it comes to issues of poverty: specifically hunger and malnourishment. Here are 7 facts about hunger in Malaysia.

7 Facts about Hunger in Malaysia

  1. Hunger Level: As recorded in the 2019 Global Hunger Index, out of the 117 qualifying countries Malaysia ranks 57thand endures a moderate hunger level.
  2. Malnourishment and Causes: Though Malaysia has been able to drastically reduce the country’s poverty rate, malnutrition is still a major issue in Malaysia. Malnutrition is an imbalance in a person’s energy or nutrient consumption. The condition is not always as obvious as one would presume. It is common in many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures for daily diets to be quite starch-heavy; this is common as most of the meals consist of rice in some way. Though this allows people to feel full, a diet that is heavily reliant upon starch doesn’t include the nutrients needed for a truly healthy lifestyle. According to nutritionist André Rhoen, one possible solution is making healthy food more affordable to the underprivileged through food fortification.
  3. Child Hunger: Poverty and malnutrition in Malaysia have a severe long-term impact on children. 23% of children aged four are stunted, with 22% underweight and 32% wasting, or thinner than the average. In a study surveying 16 low-cost Public Housing Projects in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the research found that 22% of children under five experienced stunted growth, which is double the global rate.
  4. Poverty and Prices: Despite having a comparatively higher GDP to other nations struggling with hunger issues, the people in Malaysia experience higher rates of malnourishment and impaired growth. 12% of children in Malaysia eat fewer than three meals a day and 97% of households reported that they felt that the cost of food was too high and it hindered their ability to prepare healthy meals for their children.
  5. Fighting Hunger: Several Malaysian NGOs are doing the work to combat poverty and hunger in the country. One of these organizations is Rise Against Hunger Malaysia, which strives to provide food and aid to vulnerable communities in Malaysia. Since its inception in 1998, they have implemented many anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives. These include their meal packaging program and several sustainable community development projects. As of July 2020, they have packaged 12,866,000 meals in Malaysia. Furthermore, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals include a plan to eradicate hunger and poverty in countries such as Malaysia by the year 2030.
  6. Progress: Though these problems still exist, Malaysia has made a lot of progress in the last few decades. In 1970 half of all Malaysian households were poor; in just 15 years Malaysia more than halved the absolute poverty rate. This trend has managed to continue in the last few decades; only 5.1% of households were considered to be poor in 2002.
  7. The Lost Food Project: A major way Malaysia is slowly making progress regarding food poverty is through The Lost Food Project (TLFP). TLFP is working to build a sustainable future by “rescuing ‘lost’ food and finding it a new home with people who need it most” within the country. They are a volunteer-run organization that provides people in vulnerable communities in Malaysia with surplus food; their goal is not only eliminating hunger in Malaysia but putting an end to food waste as well.

Hunger and malnutrition are still major crises in Malaysia that disproportionately affect the poor: particularly children. However, despite these challenges, the country has done a remarkable job of increasing the standard of living for its citizens. With possible policy implementations such as universal childcare allowance and reassessing the Poverty Line Income, the future looks hopeful.

– Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in MalaysiaIn Malaysia, the most densely populated city is the country’s capital — Kuala Lumpur, with approximately 8 million people in 2020. Kuala Lumpur is a booming metropolis, having achieved its status as an alpha city since 2008. It is also ranked 12th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Indicator. While rapid urbanization and economic development have raised overall living standards, it is important to recognize that urbanization is an ongoing process that yields unequal distributional outcomes in society such as homelessness in Malaysia. Homelessness is a form of urban poverty and can be identified whenever people are forced to live in informal settlements under sub-par living conditions due to sudden changes in their living circumstances.

Causes of Homelessness in Malaysia

A fact lesser known amongst locals is that 90% of the homeless community are Malaysian citizens–not foreigners. The top reasons for homelessness in Malaysia include unemployment, low income and domestic violence. Contrary to common perception, the majority of the homeless in Malaysia are members of the workforce who do not have access to a sustainable source of income to afford a place to live. Moreover, the homeless community is often targeted by employers seeking to exploit them by paying them below minimum wage. In other words, the homeless are victims of their circumstances and do not live on the streets by choice.

The government relies on The Destitute Persons Act 1977 to resolve homelessness in Malaysia. In accordance with this act, anyone who is deemed homeless by authorities can be taken into custody and then transferred to the relevant welfare institutions. However, only a minority of the detained manages to be helped by the welfare institutions. The majority are released within a few hours and expected to return to their original informal settlement on the streets without transportation or money. The homeless community occupies a disadvantaged position in society that allows them neither the voice nor the financial resources to be able to significantly improve their living circumstances on their own. So what is being done to help the homelessness in Malaysia?

Solutions

There are a variety of ways in which welfare-focused organizations fight to end homelessness in Malaysia; for example, providing free legal counsel, organizing soup kitchens and spearheading residential rehabilitation programs. Community Excel Services (CES) is a Christian nonprofit charitable organization in Malaysia that offers counseling, legal services and community development programs for people in need.

The mission of CES is to restore a sense of love, justice and hope within the community, thereby transforming lives. CES operates on three levels: providing relief and services, development programs and advocacy. The organization’s Street Ministry involves reaching out to the homeless community and solidifying friendships with them through meal-sharing during weekly food banks and equipping them with workforce skills to enhance their employability. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CES provided food aid to more than 12,000 needy individuals through the Social Concerns Project in May. Apart from providing the homeless community with basic necessities, the admirable work of CES is seen in its persistent efforts to try to understand and address the root cause of homelessness in Malaysia in order to create a more equitable society.

Government Aid During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local government took the initiative to house the homeless community (around 500 people) within community centers and provided them with food and water thrice a day. The prompt response of the local government in aiding the homeless community during the COVID-19 pandemic provides a hopeful insight into the increasing efforts and continued investment in improving the social welfare of the homeless community in Malaysia.

A concerted effort is required to bring an end to homelessness in Malaysia. While food is arguably the most important resource needed by the homeless community, it is by no means the only thing that is required. The various outreach activities organized by both the Malaysian government and charitable organizations clearly demonstrate this. In the words of the nation’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, “We must ensure that the bonds of unity and goodwill, of tolerance and harmony, grow stronger and stronger.”

– Mariyah Lia
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation In Malaysia
Malaysia is home to a diverse population of more than 32 million people. Water safety and sanitation in Malaysia has greatly improved over the years, but more action is required to secure access to safe water and sanitation for all. The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WHO/UNICEF JMP) has a goal to “leave no one behind” in the plan for sustainable development by 2030. Here are nine facts about sanitation in Malaysia.

9 Facts About Sanitation in Malaysia

  1. Basic sanitation access is now near-universal. The U.N.-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) conducted in 2016/2017 reported that 100% of the urban population and 99% of the rural population is using at least basic sanitation services. In 2000, 98% of the urban population and 94% of the rural population had access to basic sanitation according to a study by the WHO/UNICEF JMP.

  2. Investing in water and sanitation has benefited economic development and vice versa. The Malaysian government has prioritized the sanitation sector, using a top-down approach since Malaysia’s independence in 1957. Growth in tourism led to improvements in sewer infrastructure driven by this factor’s ability to spur economic development. Since 2010, Malaysia’s economy has been growing at about 5.4% annually. The World Bank expects Malaysia to become a high-income economy by 2024. The prospect of economic growth motivated improvements in sanitation, and development has helped make further investments financially possible.

  3. Urbanization and industrialization strain conditions. It is predicted that 80% of the overall population in Malaysia will live in urban cities by 2030. While these changes are benefiting economic development, the increases in urbanization and industrialization are increasing the demand for water resources. These elements are causing tensions, while simultaneously increasing the rate of water pollution. The sanitation infrastructure that originally helped Malaysia’s economic growth is now struggling to manage the increased capacity.

  4. Changing weather patterns pose a challenge. Malaysia is experiencing increased flooding problems which cause higher rates of sediment that are difficult to manage. Workers can build dams to help the flooding issue, but dams obstruct the natural environment and often force the relocation of already vulnerable populations. The World Water Vision project is working to promote clean water with a focus on the quality of life and the environment necessary to confront these intertwined issues.

  5. Institutional and legal issues are hindering progress. There is no single agency in Malaysia responsible for the holistic planning and management of water. The National Water Resources Council is one entity that promotes effective water management. Current institutional bounds are also causing a lack of regulation for sanitation and drinking water programs and policies, especially for rural areas.

  6. Discrimination affects access to safe sanitation and clean water. A 2018 report from the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Léo Heller, emphasized the pattern of discrimination in those excluded from safe sanitation access. People who are undocumented, stateless or gender nonconforming are particularly affected. Importantly, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was not ratified by the Malaysian government, which is discouraging to progress on this pertinent issue.

  7. Indigenous communities suffer from a lack of sanitation and clean water services. Improved drinking water infrastructure and policy are especially lacking in indigenous communities. The Orang Asli, the indigenous population in Malaysia, make up 0.7% of the population in Peninsular Malaysia. However, this group makes up 60% of the population in East Malaysia. This demographic collects its water directly from rivers and streams, but they also use these rivers in place of toilets. Heller reported that many of the water treatment facilities that do exist are not working and many are too difficult to maintain without proper training, which the Orang Asli lack.

  8. The Global Peace Foundation is improving conditions for the Orang Asli. The Communities Unite for Purewater (CUP) initiative, a joint effort between the Orang Asli and the Global Peace Foundation, is working to install water filters and educate the community about water, sanitation and hygiene. With the new filters, women no longer have to travel as far to collect water. This effort is also a great example of increased community engagement in policy. CUP has benefited more than 3,000 villagers who struggled to have access to safe water and sanitation due to their remote locations.

  9. Vulnerable populations are not adequately addressed in policymaking. Heller stated in his report that average figures are not always a good measure of conditions. Regarding sanitation in Malaysia, he says “We need to look at the marginalized and special groups. Usually, they are hidden in the average numbers.” There is a need to improve disaggregated data on water and sanitation services to better understand and target the lack of access to vulnerable communities. Additionally, targeted policies need to improve access for indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. Refugees and undocumented peoples need the same right to safe sanitation as citizens.

Overall, access to basic sanitation in Malaysia is almost universal. The country now needs to handle issues of discrimination and inequity of access to these services, especially among vulnerable populations.

Katie Gagnon
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation
One of the most extreme and dangerous forms of discrimination against women is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Some might not associate the practice with modern, cosmopolitan countries outside of Africa. However, the truth is that it is still quietly happening in a lot of communities in Southeast Asia. In fact, Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is more common than people previously thought.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

FGM comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs. FGM usually takes place on religious or cultural grounds and undertaken for non-medical reasons, leaving the girls with long-term health complications. International organizations, such as the U.N. and the WHO, universally consider FGM a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination against women. While it has no health benefits, the practice is prevalent and often performed for cultural and religious reasons. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million women and girls have experienced FGM and that more than 3 million girls are at risk of this painful practice annually.

Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia

While the procedure in many African countries commonly occurs as a ceremony when girls reach adolescence, FGM in Southeast Asia often occurs when the girls are in infancy, which makes it more hidden. Better known as Sunat Perempuan in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, people often quietly carry out the procedure on girls before they turn 2 years old and are aware of what others are deciding for their body. Muslims in Southeast Asia typically observe this practice and reside in countries such as Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore

Since FGM occurs quietly, the exact number of women who experienced it is hard to pinpoint. However, experts believe that it is highly prevalent within the Malay community. Based on some anecdotal evidence, some estimate that approximately 80 percent of the 200,000 Malay Muslims were victims of FGM in Singapore. There is no law banning the practice of FGM in Singapore, and the government remains overwhelmingly silent on the issue. Some clinics offer to perform the procedure for around $15 to $26.

Indonesia

Many in Indonesia consider Female Genital Mutilation a rite of passage and people have practiced it for generations in Indonesia, a country containing the largest Muslim population of all countries globally. The government estimates that about 50 percent of the girls aged 11 and under nationwide undergo FGM, while in some more conservative parts of the country such as Gorontalo, the number could be upwards of 80 percent. Local healers say that the practice would prevent the girls’ promiscuity in later life. There is also another widespread belief that God would not accept uncircumcised Muslim women’s prayers. Some hospitals in Indonesia even offered FGM as part of the “birthing packages,” which further legitimizes the procedure and makes it hard to eliminate.

The government has gone back and forth in its decision on the issue. In 2006, the government had banned the practice of FGM, but due to pressure from religious groups, it had moved away from the attempt four years later. Instead, to accommodate the religious and cultural considerations, the government issued regulations allowing for medical staff to carry out less intrusive methods to ensure more safety. In 2016, the women’s minister announced a renewed campaign to end FGM but again met with increased opposition from the religious leaders in the country.

Malaysia

A study in 2012 found that more than 93 percent of the Muslim women that it surveyed in Malaysia have undergone the procedure. In 2009, Malaysia’s Islamic Council issued a fatwa – a legal pronouncement in Islam, allowing FGM and making the practice mandatory unless considered harmful. The call for standardization of procedure by the health ministry in 2012 added more to the problem of FGM in Malaysia as many in the country consider it to be normal and part of the culture.

A New Generation

Despite international condemnation, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is still prevalent and entrenched in traditions in many communities. The practice exists mostly among the Muslim community but is not exclusive to it. It is only until recently that FGM in Southeast Asia has gained more international attention, and more evidence on the prevalence of the practice is necessary to raise awareness on the issue. Across Africa where the practice concentrates, some communities have started to question FGM and abandon the long-standing tradition. Hopefully, with the new awareness of FGM in Southeast Asia, the nations will soon put an end to the practice that has been putting the women in danger for generations.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

 

Healthcare in MalaysiaThe organization of Malaysia’s healthcare system is a two-tier system that is comprised of public universal access for all the country’s citizens and private access for others. The government works closely with the healthcare industry to improve and promote the system of healthcare in Malaysia. As a result, the nation takes pride in being a medical tourism hub and holding the status of the “world’s healthcare marvel.”

Past Healthcare Accomplishments

In October 2018, Malaysia became the first country in the Western Pacific region of the globe to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the diseases HIV and syphilis. Prior to this accomplishment, about 1,000 Malaysians were born with HIV/AIDS in 2007. According to the World Health Organization, Malaysia began the effort to combat HIV/AIDS transmission in 1998 with antenatal screenings.

Ms. Sherene Azli, Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, shared with The Borgen Project that healthcare in Malaysia has three selling points: it is high quality, cheap and the doctors speak English. Not only are most medical staff fluent in English, but some hospitals have translators for over 22 languages. International Living recognized Malaysia as the “best nation in the world for healthcare” from 2015 to 2019 and ranked the nation as the seventh-best place to retire in 2020. Healthcare in Malaysia is highly affordable, said Azli, and therefore, it is very competitive compared to the Western world. Healthcare costs can be anywhere from 40 to 70 percent cheaper compared to the U.S. or U.K.

Further, healthcare in Malaysia adheres to Muslim standards, and therefore it can accommodate any citizen or medical tourist with strict religious restrictions. Azli told The Borgen Project that “Malaysia is a Global Halal Hub, which is good news for Muslim healthcare travelers. Malaysian society is Muslim-friendly. All Malaysian hospitals serve halal food and provide prayer facilities. Porcine-free medical products, such as sutures and vaccines, are also available at medical facilities. Many Malaysian medical professionals and personnel are Muslims too.”

Malaysia is one of two Muslim nations in Southeast Asia; Indonesia is the other Muslim nation in Southeast Asia. Due to the superior accommodations to Muslim populations, Indonesians make up 60 percent of total healthcare arrivals, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).

Medical Tourism as a Thriving Industry

The MHTC is an initiative under the Malaysian Ministry of Finance that works to grow the healthcare travel industry by building Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) that combine state-run industries with private companies. From a conversation with the MHTC, the organization spoke about a planned campaign for healthcare travel throughout the year 2020. Unfortunately, in March 2020, MHTC announced the program’s deferment to the following year.

“We serve as a driver and catalyst towards positioning the country as the leading global destination for healthcare,” said Sherene Azli. “Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where healthcare travel is a government-supported industry while being driven by the private sector.” 

Many people from surrounding countries come to Malaysia for healthcare needs. Most of the doctors have Western training and speak English, making healthcare in Malaysia perfect for tourists and expatriates. The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council reported an increase in 2011 from 643,000 medical tourists to over 1 million in 2018. Some in-demand fields are cardiology, oncology and in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

“In 2018, Malaysia Healthcare attained RM1.5 billion [Malaysian ringgit] in hospital receipts which resulted in an economic impact of RM6.4 billion as stated in the Malaysia Healthcare Chronicles,” Azli said.

Healthcare in Malaysia in Response to COVID-19

Much like the shelter-in-place orders in the U.S., Malaysia imposed a Movement Control Order (MCO) after the outbreak of COVID-19. This movement restriction encourages Malaysians to practice social distancing. The nation was the first in the region to impose such restrictions. As a result of these orders, the MHTC reported a 45 percent recovery rate.

The government has scrambled to help its citizens. For example, shelters have been providing protection for the nation’s homeless from the virus. The Malaysian government is also collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protect people in Malaysia with refugee status. In addition to these actions, Malaysia passed RM260 billion as a stimulus package for the nation’s people.

The largest glove manufacturer in the world, Top Glove Corporation, resides in Malaysia. It manufactures one in five gloves around the world. Malaysian manufacturers are working to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 by converting facilities and providing more PPE. Top Glove Corporation plans to produce face masks in two months at a facility that retrofitted itself for the new product. Another company, Karex, will convert two lubricant lines into hand sanitizer manufacturing.

Although the MHTC acknowledges the hardships the pandemic has caused and will continue to cause the industry, it should continue to prepare for an economic rebound. “Over the next five years, Malaysia healthcare will focus on three key initiatives namely, the Fertility and Cardiology Hubs, being the Centre of Excellence for Oncology, as well as the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme,” Azli said.

Going forward, it remains a priority to position healthcare in Malaysia first so that it can prevail as a global medical leader.

– Annie Kate Raglow
Photo: Flickr

Malaysia’s Improvements in Water and Sanitation
Malaysia is one of many developing countries on the rise out of poverty and into wealth and prosperity. Like many developing countries, Malaysia had to make adjustments to its way of life. One of those changes was improving access to clean water and hygienic sanitation. Today, improvements to water and sanitation in Malaysia have made the country a model for other developing countries working to ensure stable and healthy livelihoods.

Improvements to Water and Sanitation in Malaysia

Malaysia’s efforts to provide access to clean water and pipe systems can be seen in data that has been collected. According to The World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program, reports taken in 2015 show that approximately 92 percent of Malaysian people have access to properly managed water supplies and 82 percent have access to hygienic sanitation services. Compared to other developing countries, these numbers are better than expected.

To tackle issues in clean water and sanitation access, Malaysia joined Vision 2020 in 1991 under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, setting out with a goal to reach developed country status by the year 2020. In addition to solving Malaysia’s water and sanitation issues, the agreement set out to address many other issues as well, including climate change, societal division, financial challenges and needed improvements in technological advancements.

World Water Vision

Under Vision 2020 is the World Water Vision process, which was established by the World Water Council. The World Water Council is an international water policy think-tank co-sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank and several United Nations programs. The global project set out to implement extensive consultation and to incorporate innovative ideas in the creation of future technology to ensure water access for all.

On a more national level is the Malaysian Water Visioning process. Supported by the Malaysian Water Partnership and the Malaysian National Committee for Irrigation and Drainage, it carried out consultations to determine the proper distribution of water for food and rural development at the national and regional levels. It also implemented extensive water sector mapping and studies on gender disparities pertaining to water access and control.

Case Study: Orang Asli Communities

Although water and sanitation access has improved tenfold, some important groups are still in need of aid. These groups include the poor, immigrant families and people living in secluded rural areas.

To better understand the problem, a case study was done on the Orang Asli communities of indigenous people. Compared to other parts of Malaysia, their health issues are worse than average, infant mortality was double the national figure and parasitic infections were as high as up to 90 percent in certain communities. Most of these issues, if not all, were largely due to poor access to clean water and sanitation.

The Orang Asli and the Global Peace Foundation worked together to create the Communities Unite for Purewater (CUP). This came after carrying out extensive interviews, workshops and other interventions. CUP combats poor water and sanitation access through the installation of water filters and pumps.

As a result, Orang Asli people no longer have to travel miles to get clean water. The new water pumps draw water from wells and transport it into filtered water storage tanks. These are then distributed to each household through a pipe system. The Orang Asli people have stated that this significant change has made their lives much easier. There are also now less prone to diarrhea and fevers.

Moving Forward

Malaysia has come a long way to improve its water and sanitation systems, making it one of the most promising developing countries in the world today. Malaysia has used many innovative ideas and tactics to overcome its water and sanitation issues, including creating initiatives through partnerships, promoting education and doing extensive research. One thing Malaysia will have to work on while on its road to success is to pay better attention to poorer groups to ensure that they get access to clean water and sanitation as well. In order to strive for peace, there must be equal and fair treatment for everyone, regardless of social class.

– Lucia Elmi
Photo: Pixabay

10 Facts About Girls' Education in Malaysia 
There is a jarring gender gap within Malaysia’s workplace despite the fact that there are more women than men in higher education institutions in the country. Girls are also more successful in primary school than secondary school because of teaching tactics and gender stereotyping they encounter in schools. Below are 10 facts about girls’ education in Malaysia.

10 Facts About Girls Education in Malaysia

  1. Literacy Rate: The literacy rate between boys and girls is unequal. Malaysia measures its literacy rate by how many people over the age of 15 can read and write. The population’s literacy rate is 94 percent. Meanwhile, it is 96.2 percent among boys and 93.2 percent among girls.

  2. The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO): The Women’s Aid Organisation in Malaysia advocates for gender equality and provides refuge for domestic abuse victims. It emerged in 1982 and works to raise awareness in order to increase Malaysia’s understanding and respect for women. The WAO has reached over 3,000 women and has provided 154 women and children refuge in 2018. It understands that education is important and at its shelters, it provides educational programs for children as well as lessons about domestic abuse.

  3. Gender Stereotyping: Malaysia is reviewing its current textbooks from gender equality yielding perspective. A social media post in 2018 triggered this by bringing attention to gender stereotyping within Malaysian textbooks in elementary schools. The textbooks taught girls how to be wives, weave and sow. Malaysia is now trying to ensure boys and girls do not have stereotyped life roles.

  4. Gender Parity in Secondary Education: Based on data from the EFA Global Monitoring Report in 2008, Malaysia will likely not achieve total gender parity for enrollment in secondary education in Malaysia by 2015 or 2025 based on past trends. This report also determined that there are more boys enrolled in secondary education than girls, however, the drop out rate is higher for boys. This information stands true today.

  5. Girls Education Improvements: Still, there have been improvements. In 1957, only 33 percent of girls enrolled in secondary school, but in 2018, girls’ enrollment rose to 75 percent. Both society and education institutions changed their attitudes about whether girls should receive education or not, which influenced this increase. It is no longer as unusual for girls to seek an education to gain a career, so schools started changing the curriculum to include girls.

  6. Likelihood of Dropping Out: According to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report in 2015, boys are three times more likely to drop out after secondary school than girls. Many dropouts come from impoverished families because boys receive encouragement to do manual labor jobs so they can make money at a young age. Meanwhile, girls are more likely to go to higher education institutions than boys.

  7. Gender Disparity at University: The only Malaysian public university with extreme gender disparity against women is the National Defense University of Malaysia. Thirty percent of those attending the university are female because Malaysians do not typically see jobs within the uniformed forces as suitable for women. The uniformed forces, which include the military, police and fire and rescue forces, reported that 10 percent of the military are women. Additionally, the percentage of female cops in high ranking officer positions rose from 59 percent (2012) to 74 percent (2016) because the country is gradually finding it more acceptable for women to work these jobs.

  8. Merit Rather than Discrimination: In Malaysia, colleges choose applicants based on merit and women do not receive any discrimination. The gender gap within STEM fields seems to be based on gender stereotyping within society. Malaysian society has often thought that girls should be mothers and wives, and until recent years, that was what many expected. This, in turn, caused a lack of interest among women and girls to seek out education.

  9. Absence of Women in Leadership Positions: Women make up 62 percent of the total enrollment in higher education institutions. However, women are still absent from many leadership, business labor market or decision-making positions. MiWEPs, a nonprofit that works with Malaysian Indian women from three categories including employed women of blue or white-collar professions, self-employed or entrepreneurs, advocates for and helps women to be in manager, Board of Director and C-suite positions.

  10. Policies to Increase Girls Participation in STEM Education: The Malaysian government has placed STEM education as a focus in the process of becoming a developed nation. It acknowledges the role of women and has formulated policies such as the Malaysia Woman Policy in 2009 and the National Policy on Science, Technology, & Innovation in 2013-2020. These policies have increased women researchers form 35.8 percent in 2004 to 49.9 percent in 2012.

These 10 facts about girls’ education in Malaysia show that women are taking over universities and higher education institutions, but secondary school girls are still struggling with gender bias. Government policies veered towards economic education, women’s welfare and STEM fields are leading Malaysia to have more gender equality and women in leadership positions.

– Taylor Pittman
Photo: Flickr