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

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia

In this age of rapid digital evolution, ensuring widespread access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has become a serious goal for countries seeking economic modernization. And Malaysia is no exception. Efforts to increase digital inclusion in Malaysia are well underway.

Malaysia’s National Information Technology Council invests in building communications infrastructure in remote rural areas, including lands inhabited by peninsular Malaysia‘s Orang Asli indigenous people. The scope and expense of this task has raised questions regarding the practicability of installing effective communications infrastructure in outlying areas, and large segments of marginalized populations remain without digital access. However, Malaysia persists in its commitment to expanding ICT access and receives assistance in this regard from multinational conglomerates such as the Samsung Group.

Malaysia’s Orang Asli

Orang Asli, meaning “original people” in Malay, is an umbrella term encompassing the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula in modern-day Malaysia. These peoples comprise 18 distinct groups, together constituting half a percent of Malaysia‘s population. Such communities are more likely to live in remote rural regions.

As an impoverished minority, nearly 30.8 percent of Orang Asli are illiterate compared with only 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Access of Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology is more limited than in neighboring populations.

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia and Cultural Integrity

A study published in 2011 revealed that within the indigenous Semai population of Kampung Bukit Terang, only 5.2 percent were computer literate. This study’s outcome can be attributed to the remoteness and low educational and socioeconomic outcomes of these groups as compared with urban and non-indigenous populations within the country. The authors of the study recommend proactive policies, such as direct provisioning of technologies to remote communities, to expedite these communities’ integration into the digital economy.

Besides economic considerations, access to digital space has positive consequences for the preservation of indigenous culture. Digital technology facilitates spreading knowledge of the existence and cultures of indigenous groups and thus provides opportunities for cultural diffusion. An online presence may galvanize outside support for the preservation and appreciation of indigenous cultures.

Yet, access to modern technology may inadvertently corrupt centuries-old traditions, flattening uniqueness and disrupting continuity with the past. This threatens to irreversibly alter the identity of indigenous peoples, even to the extent of assimilation and loss of traditions. However, these potentially negative consequences do not necessarily outweigh the potentially positive consequences.

Promoting and Preserving the Culture

Through scientific polling, the Department of Social and Development Sciences of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology uncovered that only 20.7 percent of Malaysia’s Orang Asli used ICT to spread cultural awareness to others and preserve their heritage. As of November 2015, two Facebook pages operated to promote indigenous culture, according to the nonprofit organization Gerai Orang Asli.

According to Dr. Sarjit Singh, particularly the young Orang Asli, as shown by their enjoyment of cyber cafes, are enthusiastic about the prospect of increased online access. The young are quick to master new technologies, and Dr. Singh suggests that authorities prioritize the installation of relevant technologies in schools wherever possible.

Increasing Digital Access

Programs initiated by the Samsung Group in Orang Asli regions have highlighted the adeptness and eagerness of Orang Asli youth in adapting to new technologies. For instance, in 2015 Samsung Malaysia Electronics sponsored a trip for Orang Asli children to a Malaysian amusement park, designing activities that required the youths to use smartphone technology. In affirmation of the possibility of coexistence between modern technology and the preservation of traditional lifestyles, a tree-planting followed these technology-centered activities.

In a separate initiative, Perak saw the establishment of a Samsung Smart Community Center in Perak providing improved digital access, products and an air-conditioned learning space to people in deprived areas. The Chief Minister of Perak expressed his hope that these investments will bolster the Malaysian government’s economic goals and lift these communities out of poverty.

Moving Forward

The government, in conjunction with multinational corporations such as the Samsung Group, has made progress in expanding digital inclusion in Malaysia. Obstacles remain because of the remoteness and relative poverty of these populations, but such impediments are overcome rather rapidly alongside the development of these technologies.

While the impact of digital technology on indigenous traditions and identity remains a concern, there is room to use digital technology in the preservation and promotion of these unique cultures. Though statistics gathered in prior studies confirm low rates of access to Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology, if efforts persist, improvements will continue. As digital access and literacy continue to rise, poverty and marginalization will be conquered gradually, meaning that there is reason for optimism regarding the future of the Orang Asli in a modern economy.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Every Stock Photo

10 Facts About Poverty in Malaysia
Malaysia is a South Asian country that consists of two noncontiguous regions; Peninsular Malaysia which West Malaysia and Thailand share, and East Malaysia which Malaysia shares with the island of Borneo. While this nation has been able to rapidly tackle its poverty situation, millions of Malaysians still struggle every day. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Malaysia.

10 Facts About Poverty in Malaysia

  1. Malaysia’s Poverty Definition – Malaysia’s government defines poverty as families earning between the Poverty Line Income (PLI) of MYR800 and those families living below the national median household earnings by 50 percent. As of 2015, only 0.4 percent of the population was living below the national poverty line.
  2. How Malaysia Measures Poverty – Malaysia calculates poverty with the PLI and Consumer Price Index. The Department of Statistics (DOSM) uses micro-data to calculate poverty. It conducts household surveys and the micro-data refers to those responses. The lack of transparency between the government and its citizens lies in the fact that the government hides these results from the public. This leaves many unanswered questions about the poverty situation in Malaysia.
  3. Unemployment – As of September 2018, Malaysia had a 3.3 percent unemployment rate and youth unemployment of just over 10 percent. The total number of unemployed people is 516,400. Limited English language proficiency, unpolished skills and a lack of digital literacy are common reasons for unemployment.
  4. Access to Clean Water – The Orang Asli, or the first peoples of Malaysia, are significantly unhealthier compared to others due to their inability to access clean water. This caused the Global Peace Foundation to initiate the Communities Unite for Pure Water (CUP) initiative by installing water pumps in a village to filter water into each household. This helped the entire village gain access to clean running water.
  5. Access to Health Care – Malaysia has a two-tier health system, public and private. Both are easily accessible, yet the public sector suffers from severe overcrowing and wait times are very long. This resulted in many people changing from public to private health care, which is very expensive, leaving families one accident away from becoming poor.
  6. High Living Costs – The government implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1, 2015, in order to replace sales and services tax. This added tax of six percent caused people to look for new jobs in order to better situate themselves for the new tax. Only 19 percent of responders said that the tax had done nothing to their routine.
  7. Corruption – People know corruption to be Malaysia’s “public enemy number one.” Bribery and corrupt activities went from 19 percent in 2014 to 30 percent in 2016. The 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case is an example of corruption in the government. Prime Minister Najib Razak looted $4.5 billion from a state fund focused on financing infrastructure and “other economy-linked deals.” This scandal affected a wide spread of people “including financial institutions” from Malaysia to Singapore.
  8. Minimum Wage – Malaysia’s minimum wage was RM1,000 per month before the National Wage Council’s September 2018 meeting announced its new minimum wage of RM1,050. The government wanted to keep costs of production and wages low so Malaysians did not lose competitiveness with foreign investors. After many protests, Malaysia raised its minimum wage to RM1,100.
  9. Common Diseases – Poor diet and nutrition cause killer diseases in Malaysia. Coronary heart disease, cancer and strokes affect Malaysians the most. The Malaysian Rare Disorders Society, founded in 2004, is a voluntary organization that looks out for the welfare of families and represents them as rare disorders affect them. The organization helped Aminisha, a girl with the congenital disorder of glycosylation (CDG) Type1b, in May 2004. It provided her tube feeding, plasma transfusion and extraction of excess fluids.
  10. Social Programs – Under Malaysia’s 2017 Budget, the Malaysian government allocated about RM10 billion for government aid and subsidies. The government helped the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development, which financially helps single mothers for a year by providing a minimum of RM100 per month per child and a maximum of RM450 per month if there are more than four children.

Another way Malaysia combats poverty is through EPIC Homes. This NGO has been providing “safe and sustainable housing” for poor families, mainly the Orang Asli, since 2010. About 82 percent of Orang Asli are in need of housing. Over 5,000 builders have constructed over 100+ houses in over 10+ villages. With the continued work from Malaysia’s government to increase the country’s minimum wage and aid from different initiatives, Malaysia’s poverty status should improve.

–  Isabella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Malaysia
A former British colony, Malaysia achieved independence in 1957. Since gaining its freedom, Malaysia has seen steady growth, reducing its poverty rate, increasing literacy rates and providing affordable health care services. Life expectancy in Malaysia is at an all-time high. However, the promising statistics surrounding Malaysia’s booming economy provide a narrow window into poverty, mortality and other crises within the still-growing nation. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Malaysia give a closer look at the quality of life in the country.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Malaysia

  1. The life expectancy in Malaysia is around 75 years. While the life expectancy in Malaysia has increased from 50 years in the 1960s, it has remained stagnant at 75 years for over a decade.
  2. The primary cause of stagnated life expectancy in Malaysia is non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs like high blood pressure, diabetes and many cancers are going unchecked because of a lack of awareness and education. Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has said that 50 percent of the patients attended for treatable NCDs like high blood pressure and diabetes in Malaysia were unaware that they were living with the diseases at all.
  3. Population aging has been a serious concern in Malaysia since the early 1990s. The population of people aged 60 and over in Malaysia more than doubled in a 19-year span. This age group also happens to be part of the population that NCDs most affect. The massive increase affects the social and economic progress of Malaysia and puts an immense strain on its health care system.
  4. Those who live in poverty have a higher mortality risk than those living above poverty lines. Although life expectancy in Malaysia is 75 years, more than half of older Malaysians live in poverty. Reported household incomes for this group are less than $5,222 per year and 22 percent reported an even lower income.
  5. Malaysia has made a powerful effort to make public health a priority by focusing on giving the best care to the elderly. Whether it was the National Policy for the Elderly in 1995, the National Health Policy for Older Persons in 2008 or the National Policy for Older Persons and Plan of Action for Older Persons in 2011, health care for the elderly has been a major undertaking by both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women, Family & Community Development. Programs like the National Policy for Older Persons and Plan of Action for Older Persons seeks to accomplish improvements to life expectancy in Malaysia and mortality rates by developing social programs and legislation that improve health, wellbeing, safety and security.
  6. Part of the nationwide strategy has been to set up numerous nongovernmental organizations, like the MyKasih Foundation in 2009. The MyKasih Foundation centers its efforts on multiple facets of poverty reduction, like financial literacy programs, skills training and children’s education programs. MyKasih Foundation has provided cashless aid to 260,000 underprivileged families and students that equals $240 million RM (Malaysian Ringgit). Comparatively, that is over $57 million USD.
  7. The poverty rate in Malaysia has improved from 60 percent in the 1950s to three or four percent today. However, poverty has become a rotating door in Malaysia; many people who manage to claw their way out of poverty with the help of social programs end up back under the poverty line eventually. According to economist Fatimah Kari, the poverty cycle is due to generalized, one-size-fits-all programs that do not address the various needs that different regions have.
  8. Food poverty is a rising problem for rural and urban Malaysian citizens. This has led to many Malaysians not attaining sufficient nutrients, which may affect the performances of children in school and result in higher drop-out rates. If these children do not get an education, they also miss out on essential social programs that could help get them out of poverty. The good news is there are a plethora of Malaysian nonprofit organizations, like the MyKasih Foundation, that are affecting change. However, many of them lack the financial support to effectively extend their reach.
  9. Poverty affects life expectancy in Malaysia. A 2016 study about the distribution of mortality indicators by socioeconomic quintiles showed that disadvantaged districts in Malaysia had higher mortality outcomes than other more privileged districts. The poorer districts had fewer opportunities or necessary facilities to obtain a better quality of life. On the other hand, the study showed that rich districts have the essential infrastructure, health care and social services to mitigate the burden of disease.
  10. Economic development may not have equal distribution. Two landmasses make up Malaysia; the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo, Borneo being the poorer of the two. Since Malaysia’s independence and substantial growth, research exhibits income disparities between and within ethnic groups in these areas. Malays and indigenous natives carry the burden of that disparity because Malays made up 50 percent of the population as of 2010. Although the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups make up a significantly smaller portion of the population, both are more advantaged than the Malays and their socioeconomic statuses impact levels of mortality.

The 10 facts about life expectancy in Malaysia prove a disheartening truth but are also a reason for immense hope. The disadvantaged in Malaysia suffer greatly because of a lack of health awareness, insufficient health care resources and income disparity. However, the revitalization of Malaysia after its independence displays how a nation can survive and flourish when given the help and change in governance it needs. The economy of Malaysia continues to ascend and with more work, so too should life expectancy.

Anthony Negron
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Education in Malaysia

Dr. Maszlee bin Malik, Malaysia’s Minister of Education, has implemented budget increases and new programs to increase the quality of education in Malaysia. Approximately 60.2 billion Malaysian ringgit (or $14.63 billion) has been set aside for 2019 — once again accounting for the largest share of the total federal budget at 19.1 percent.

Around 2.9 billion Malaysian ringgit will be used towards helping impoverished areas, including purchasing new books and food. Some of the increased budget has also been designated for school improvements and repair. In fact, 100 million Malaysian ringgit will go toward rebuilding schools in need of a facelift.

New Education Initiatives in Malaysia

The Ministry of Education in Malaysia has also been striving to make education more inclusive for all children, particularly for the B40 group or the “Bottom 40” — which represents the lowest earners in the country. According to Maszlee, 60 percent of residential school spots have been reserved for B40 students. These students have also been given priority enrollment into secondary and tertiary institutions.

The Ministry has also been targeting special-needs enrollment by implementing a “Zero Reject Policy” in schools throughout the country. More than 5,400 special needs students are now enrolled in Malaysian schools as of 2019. The government is also working toward making 11 years of education compulsory by revising the Education Act of 1996. Making secondary education mandatory will help to improve the quality of education in Malaysia by enforcing higher levels of classes throughout the country.

STEM education has also taken a forefront throughout 2019 in the Ministry’s new STEM4ALL campaign. The initiative is working towards making STEM education a priority for both boys and girls throughout primary and secondary education. STEM4ALL is working toward bringing technology to rural schools as well, since many of these schools are only accessible by boats or dirt paths. The program is also partnered with Microsoft Malaysia to bring more technology into classrooms to better prepare students for future careers.

Student-Centered Education

The Ministry decided to eliminate midyear and final exams for years one through three in schools to adopt a more student-oriented method of learning. This has impacted more than 1.3 million students because teachers can focus less on test-oriented materials and adopt more personal approaches for teaching. This swap also allows parents to see more growth from their children as opposed to only seeing test results at the end of the year.

Dr. Maszlee bin Malik has made multiple strides to enhance the quality of Malaysian education. His many initiatives to infuse technology into classrooms and increase funding to repair school buildings have significantly improved Malaysian school systems in recent years.

– Kristen Bastin
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