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We Must Improve Maternal, Sexual, And Reproductive Health Rights In Malaysia — MHC, OGSM, & WAO

Women’s rights are not only basic human rights, but a global public health issue. 

A 3D mammogram. Picture by Hologic.

On International Women’s Day 2022, the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) calls for progressive steps to improve the maternal, sexual, and reproductive health of Malaysian women. 

Women’s health is a prime global focus, reflected by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health & Well-being) and 5 (Gender Equality).

Despite recent gains in Malaysia, we must do more to ensure that all women in Malaysia will receive fair care and treatment. 

We call on the government, especially the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development (MWFCD), Ministry of Health (MOH), and Ministry of Education (MOE) to: 

1. Embed Maternal, Sexual, And Reproductive Health Metrics Into Malaysia’s Public Agenda And International Commitments.

Metrics for maternal, sexual and reproductive health include the maternal mortality rate (MMR), rate of teenage pregnancies and percentage of women able to access safe contraception.

These metrics should not be hidden in statistics or obscure reports. They are not taboo, shameful or stigmatising.

Instead, these statistics should be front and centre in Malaysia’s public agenda and international commitments through international treaties, conventions and declarations.

When these metrics are front-and-centre, progress will happen, like how Malaysia’s MMR dropped from 280/100,000 (1957) to 25/100,000 (2018), partly due to our international commitments.

However, while we call for health issues to become political priorities, we urge all stakeholders to address implementation gaps at the same time.

2. Reframe Women’s Health Issues As Public Health Issues, Not As Women’s Issues

Women make up half the total population of Malaysia. Therefore, women’s health is public health.

The goal of public health is to improve health outcomes of populations. Here, we must ensure easy access to information, screening services, self-education, and self-management tools to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health.

This can be achieved through synergistic collaboration between the MWFCD, MOH and other relevant stakeholders.

Moreover, effective data collection on maternal, sexual, and reproductive health must be implemented and included in Malaysia’s public health analysis.

This includes mainstreaming gender into the national budget, and monitoring allocations directed to women’s health services, sexual and reproductive health services and services for survivors of gender-based violence.

Most importantly, a clear and consistent strategy must be implemented to increase the effectiveness and accessibility of services for survivors of gender-based violence through One-Stop Crisis Centres (OSCCs).

3. Strengthen The Primary Health Care Response To Gender-Based Violence And Domestic Violence

The prevalence of domestic violence within the jurisdiction of a public primary health care clinic vastly exceeds its prevalence in Peninsular Malaysia (22 per cent versus 9 per cent), as revealed by a University of Malaya study in 2019.

Yet, a systematic response to domestic violence remains sorely absent at the primary care level.

Survivors who seek help from klinik kesihatan do not receive adequate support as healthcare providers are not well-equipped to identify signs of abuse or offer first-line support, while referral pathways to other resources remain unclear.

Therefore, we must improve the primary healthcare infrastructure in Malaysia through the 2000-plus klinik kesihatan, to enable victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence to receive the support and interventions that they need.

4. Implement Laws To Ensure That Every Woman Has A Right To Health.

There is no dedicated or universal law on women’s health in Malaysia.

Therefore, it is crucial to pass new laws to protect the health rights of all women in Malaysia, and to support these laws by appropriately strengthening our health system.

In specific terms, this means that all women should have access to health care, without any physical, cultural, religious, emotional or financial barriers.

This requires a multi-stakeholder approach led by the MWFCD and MOH working together with Ministry of Human Resource, Ministry of Trade, Department of Religious Affairs, and MOE. 

The lack of access to adequate maternal, sexual, and reproductive health services is a global issue, and Malaysia is not spared.

This issue is more pronounced in certain segments of the population such as adolescents, unmarried women, documented and undocumented migrants, refugees, stateless people, women living with HIV, women with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ groups.

Health care must not condone discrimination. Regardless of circumstance, every person must receive fair and non-judgemental medical treatment.

Women’s rights are not only basic human rights, but a global public health issue. 

This statement was coordinated by the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC), the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia (OGSM), the Women’s AId Organisation, and Dr Ivanna Sim and Aizat Ahmad Zaini from MHC and Isabel Chung and Rusni Tajari from WAO.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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