Sex Education in Malaysia
According to the 2022 United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report, Malaysia is listed as an upper-middle-income developing country. However, a large proportion of the country’s population is still struggling with not only absolute poverty but also relative poverty as well as increasing inequalities. Those with low socioeconomic status (SES) have less access to healthcare, which increases their vulnerability to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and other diseases. Although subjective, factors like income, financial security and educational attainment can determine SES. Economic inequality can impact STI preventative information, infection rates and treatment accessibility. This is where sex education in Malaysia can play an important role in preventing STIs and other reproductive health issues.

The Importance of Sex Education

Between April and May 2022, Durex Malaysia conducted a nationwide Sexual Health and Intimate Wellness Survey online to study Malaysian youths’ knowledge of sexual health. This study surveyed more than 1,000 Malaysians between 18 and 30 years old. The survey found that Malaysian youths are engaging in more sexual relations at 35%. This is an increase from the last 2016 Durex survey which indicated 18.8%. The findings highlighted gaps and misconceptions in their understanding of STIs and women’s reproductive health. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines comprehensive sex education as a “rights-based and gender transformative approach” that is taught inside and outside schools. Educators teach it over several years by taking into account age-appropriate information for young people. UNFPA notes that sex education should discuss culture, gender roles, relationships, family life, human rights as well as bodily autonomy and threats such as sexual abuse and discrimination.

Engaging young people in exploratory discussions helps them to understand and develop positive values about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Organizations like UNFPA work with governments to apply sex education through community training and outreach. It also advocates for policies and investments for internationally standardized programs. In 2018, the agency published “International technical guidance on sexuality education: an evidence-informed approach.” It acts as a tool for curriculum developers to create comprehensive sexual education curricula as UNFPA described. Schools do not have a comprehensive sexual education curriculum in Malaysia.

Sex Education in Malaysia

There was a 2011 study that analyzed schools’ coverage of sex education in Malaysia. Respondents of the study stated that the effectiveness of instruction depended on the teachers themselves. Ninety-five percent of the respondents expressed vague teaching processes regarding sex education. This is due to incomplete coverage of topics or ineffective teaching methods. Sexual education in Malaysia is most commonly delivered through biology and Islamic study classes. These classes cover physical adolescent development, reproductive development and sex in an Islamic context. Most of the criticisms regarding sex education as taught in Malaysia’s schools stemmed from the lack of a comprehensive syllabus. STIs and HIV/AIDS continue to affect many people in Malaysia.

STIs and Efforts to End HIV/AIDS

A Malaysian medical lifestyle application named Cleadoc reported that the top three common STIs in Malaysia are syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV. There were approximately 82,000 adults and children living with HIV in Malaysia as per the statistics provided by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In 2017, UNAIDS set up “90-90-90”, an ambitious treatment target to help end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2020. UNAIDS document mentioned achievable targets stating that 90% of people living with HIV would be aware of their HIV status by 2020. Another 90% of patients with a diagnosed HIV infection would have received sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020. It also stated that 90% of those who were receiving antiretroviral therapy would have their viral load suppressed by 2020.

As reported in the 2021 Global AIDS Monitoring Report that the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s HIV/STI/Hepatitis C Section produced, there were more than 153,000 reported cases of HIV/AIDS in 2020. The cumulative number of deaths related to HIV/AIDS was 45,450. Malaysia’s progress toward the 90-90-90 treatment target was 87-58-85 respectively. However, organizations in Malaysia have been actively advocating to improve access to sex education.

Advocating For Access to Sex Education

UNFPA works with the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations of Malaysia (FRHAM), one of the country’s three main sexual and reproductive health (SRH) program implementation partners. This partnership focuses on hard-to-reach populations with the help of health screenings, tests, contraceptive access services and general sexual/reproductive advisement. The service-based nonprofit, FRHAM is the leading non-governmental organization (NGO) in Malaysia that also advocates for SRH. It promotes access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). FRHAM also conducts workshops, training and exhibitions to engage with specific target groups to help develop knowledge and skills as “peer educators.” Organizations have been teaming up to improve false perceptions of SRH in Malaysia.

Steps to Improve Sex Education in Malaysia

After Durex conducted its first survey, it teamed up with the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), FRHAM and AISEC Malaysia to help correct the false perceptions regarding SRH among young Malaysians. Alongside Durex, the government launched an awareness and education campaign in 2013 called Choose2Protect. It was the first program of its kind for youths to educate one another. They receive training on issues concerning reproductive health, including the dangers of STIs. They also receive soft skills training that allows them to share knowledge in culturally and religiously sensitive contexts. The program emphasizes the importance of remaining non-discriminatory and non-judgemental.

The results of the 2022 Sexual Health and Intimate Wellness Survey were revealed with a #COMETOGETHER campaign which promoted open conversations on sex amongst the Malaysian public. The goal was to inform the public with accurate information and help them make informed decisions. This occurred through question-and-answer social media posts, workshops at higher-educational institutions and an “A-Z Pleasure Guide” that influencers and health experts developed. Some are taking steps to address the lack of comprehensive sex education in Malaysia. Organizations like UNFPA, FRHAM, WOA, Durex and the government are working together to close the gaps.

– Aishah French
Photo: Flickr

sex education in the PhilippinesThe general purpose of sex education is to inform youth on topics including sex, sexuality and bodily development. Quality sex education can lead to better prevention in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it decreases the risks of having unsafe sex and increases responsible family planning. To help address issues, like overpopulation, high rates of teen pregnancy and the rise of HIV, the Philippines is gradually implementing sex education and accessibility to contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Act

The Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Act) after a 14-year wait. Through the act, the government integrated sex education into the public school curriculum for students ages 10 to 19. The Philippines also gave funding for free or subsidized contraceptives at health centers and public schools.

The government passed the RH Act in response to the many health issues impacting the country, such as infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths and a rise in HIV/AIDS cases. Moreover, teen pregnancies in the Philippines are common, where 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 start child bearing.

Lack of knowledge about reproductive health is significantly associated with poverty, especially in regard to overpopulation. Therefore, the RH Act aims to help the population make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It provides more equal access to sex education, while also ensuring that the government reaffirms its commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, providing accessible family planning information, and hiring skilled maternal health professionals to work in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines.

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Around 80% of the Philippine population identifies as Roman Catholic. Accordingly, the Catholic Church largely influences the state of sex education in the country. The Catholic Church opposes sex outside of marriage and fears sex education will increase sexual relations. The Catholic Church consequently remains critical of the RH Act, increasing difficulties in putting the RH Act into concrete action.

Additionally, the Catholic Church opposes implementing sex education in schools as well as the distribution of contraceptives. The Church prefers to rely on parents to teach their kids about reproductive health. However, many families are either unequipped to do so or will not address the subject directly with their children.

The Implementation of the RH Act

In an effort to reduce the country’s rate of poverty, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duerte, ordered the government to provide access to free contraceptives for six million women in 2017. Duerte aimed to fulfill unmet family planning needs. This came after a restraining order was placed on the RH Act in 2015. However, the government appealed to lift the restraining order to continue applying the RH Act and addressing issues due to overpopulation.

In 2019, Save the Children Philippines — an organization with the purpose of supporting Filipino children — advocated for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention bill. The organization also fought for requiring schools to fully integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) into their curriculum. Save the Children Philippines hopes to combat the country’s high rate of teen pregnancy. CSE in the Philippines includes topics such as consent, sexual violence, contraceptives and others. The bill would also advance access to reproductive health services, further supplementing the goals of the RH Act.

Increased Conversation Surrounding Sex Education

In addition to greater governmental action, there are various organizations that are working to increase access to sex education and services in the Philippines. The Roots of Health is a nongovernmental organization that provides sex education to women in Palawan and Puerto Princesa. Started in 2009, the founders, Dr. Susan Evangelista and Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, initially provided reproductive health classes at Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa and have since expanded into free clinical services for young women. The Roots of Health provides services that assist with birth, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives, prenatal and postpartum check-ups, and ultrasounds. By 2018, they served 20,000 women and adolescents in the Palawan and Puerto Princesa communities, demonstrating that there is a growing grassroots movement towards reframing reproductive health in the Philippines.

Sex education will remain a controversial subject in the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is a developing matter that is expected to evolve with continued conversations between governmental, faith and nongovernmental actors.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Reproductive Healthcare in SenegalThe country of Senegal has made major strides over the past 10 years for access and care in women’s reproductive and maternal health. Here are some initiatives and four recent centers that have opened to provide women with reproductive healthcare in Senegal in both rural and urban settings.

Reproductive Healthcare Barriers for Senegalese Women

Senegal’s healthcare system is not free to the public. If one does not have the funds to pay for their needed care, they are refused treatment. With more than 50% of Senegal’s population in poverty, only 32.5% of births are performed with a healthcare professional, making the maternal death rate one in 61 women.

Senegalese women are averaged to have at least four children, which is often a result of early forced marriage and the patriarchal family structure. Young women are limited from attaining an education, inhibiting their ability to gain knowledge and power over their reproductive and maternal health.

Over 77% of Senegalese women who desire sexual contraception such as birth control, do not have access to that resource. This has led to unplanned pregnancies for women 20 years old and younger. Additionally, most young women do not receive sexual education in school or at home. This results in less than a third of women in Senegal having a comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDs or how to protect themselves from such diseases. Government initiation and non-profit organizations are improving these statistics. More women in Senegal are receiving resources and education for their reproductive healthcare.

The Maputo Protocol

Before the 2000s, there was no access to national government or international organizations’ reproductive health for Senegalese women. In 2005 Senegal signed the agreement of the African Charter of Human Rights and Rights of Women, known as the Maputo Protocol, declaring Senegalese women’s reproductive health to be a “universal human right” that must be protected. Following the Maputo Protocol, the Senegalese healthcare system began providing contraception as well as pregnancy and STI testing for women over the age of 15.

4 Centers and Initiatives for Women’s Reproductive Healthcare in Senegal

  1. Keur Djiguene Yi Center: The Keur Djuguene Yi Center is the first public OBGYN clinic in Dakar, Senegal that provides complete reproductive and maternal care to women who cannot afford or have access to government-provided healthcare options. Opening its doors in 2017 with the help of Dr. Faye, the lead gynecologist on-site, more women than ever before in Senegal now have access to pre and post-natal exams, “education on contraception, HIV prevention, family planning and infant immunization,” free of cost. Dr. Faye has been consciously expanding on the center, adding another full-time gynecologist in 2019. She hopes to expand the center to operate at full capacity with an entire team of OBGYN professionals to help four times the number of patients the Keur Djiguene Yi Center services currently.

  1. VOICES mHealth Program: The World Health Organization partnered with the Voices project, created an initiative for reproductive and maternal awareness in Senegal. The VOICEmHealth Program uses voice messages to spread the word about openings of women’s healthcare centers as well as education on maternal care and child-feeding practices. The project works with Bajenu Gox, known as “community godmothers,” to extend the amount of knowledge and power for young women through home visits and information on their healthcare during and after their pregnancy to reach women who do not have access to a cellular device. Voices mHealth program is a highly effective project in its ability to have immediate, trusted contact with Senegalese women living in both rural and urban communities.

  1. Le Korsa: Le Korsa is a nonprofit organization that empowers communities and healthcare centers in Senegal to improve their provided healthcare with grants and educational resources. One of the organization’s most impactful recent projects was in 2017 when Le Korsa began the renovation of the Tambacounda Hospital’s Maternity and Pediatric Units. The project is expected to finish in 2021, providing more enhanced and comfortable care to the 47,000 annual visitors.

  1. Bajenu Gox Project — Action Et Developpement: The Action Et Developpement organization in Senegal has made major strides in having increased community inclusion and education on women’s healthcare with a global lense. Partnering with the Bajenu Gox of the Kaolack, Fatick, Saint Louis, Louga and Dakar regions in 2015, the Bajenu Gox project has brought new, needed knowledge to rural and urban Senegal. The Bajenu Gox in these locations are now trained on how to talk about the prevention of  STI’s and HIV/AIDs in their local communities. They are bringing a new wave of education to young women and forever changing the empowerment of women in Senegal through awareness of their rights.

With the remarkable breakthroughs in women’s reproductive healthcare in Senegal, women now have access to centers and initiatives. The foundation for a new perspective, action and approach towards the autonomy of a women’s health and reproductive system in Senegal is now able to grow and flourish.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi

Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Sex Education in IndiaAdequate sex education in India has been lacking for centuries. However, India has started to make way for a whole new sex education curriculum. Here are five facts about sex education in India.

5 Facts About Sex Education in India

  1. The current Indian Health Minister was against sex education in India. In 2014, India’s Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, declared that he wanted to ban sex education. Instead of sex education, Vardhan declared that yoga should be compulsory in schools. This declaration against sex education was in opposition to a 2007 health education program for adolescents that India’s National AIDS Control Organization and its Ministry of Human Resource Development was promoting. He opposed this education because he believed it was against traditional Indian values. In an interview with the New York Times, Vardhan said, “condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner.” There was a great amount of uproar among opposers because of all his comments on this topic encouraged abstinence over education. After receiving a lot of grief from his comments opposing sex education, he tweeted, “Media got it wrong again. I am against “so-called” sex education not sex education per se. Crudity, Vulgarity out, values in.”
  2. Teachers were threatened with violence if they were to conduct sex education. Around the same time as Vardhan’s comments, the right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti led an attack that included “threats of physical violence against teachers and schools that dared to carry out the 2007 health education program. As a consequence, several different states in India banned sex education.
  3. Better sex education is now a part of India’s school curriculum. After years of sex education being banned in many Indian states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out a sex education program in 2018. This training is vital since India is number three in the world’s HIV epidemic. This education involves role-playing and activity-based modules that are taught by trained teachers and student peer educators. In this training, students learn about sexual violence and sexual health among other topics. The whole training in total is 22 hours. Each week the schools set aside one period for the training.
  4. The Internet Could Be a Key Tool to Provide More Comprehensive Sex Education. Better India conducted research in 2017 and found that 77 percent of males and 54 percent of females use the internet. Projections show that internet usage will reach more than 600 million people by 2021. In a society where sex is taboo, learning about sex education privately online is often times the solution. Media content on sex education in Hindi has become popular. mDhil’s videos on sex and STIs have received 1.2 million views on YouTube. The shareability of this content increases the reach of sex education.
  5. The fight for fair sex education is not over. Despite great strides, sex education is still considered taboo in India. It is considered by many to be a Western influence that corrupts Indian culture. The Family Planning Association of India conducted a workshop on “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All” in July of 2019. The organization hopes to break down taboos around sex, reproduction and homosexuality. India’s Health Ministry is also working to improve awareness about sex and sexuality. In 2017, it stated homosexual feelings are natural. This is a progressive stance for a country with previous laws against homosexual intercourse.

This biggest barrier toward sex education in India will probably be cultural norms against talking about sex. These norms are heavily ingrained in Indian society. However, India is making small but important steps to provide more comprehensive sex education.

– Emily Joy Oomen

Photo: Flickr