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Youth Activists: Make Sexual And Reproductive Health Political

Qyira Yusri tells politicians not to just talk about corruption, but also sexual & reproductive health and rights; activist Fara Rom says boys and men must be involved in reproductive health.

Qyira Yusri from Undi18 speaks at the "Tackling Unintended Pregnances in Malaysia" conference organised last May 20, 2022, by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy in Kuala Lumpur. Picture by Saw Siow Feng for the Galen Centre.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — Youth activists have called for comprehensive sexuality education in Malaysia to inform both young women and men on how to have healthy sexual relationships and avoid unintended pregnancy.

They also urged politicians and elected reps to address sexuality and bodily autonomy issues that affect young adults’ personal lives.

“It’s a sin not to teach comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) with the technology we have available,” reproductive rights activist Fara Rom told a conference on unintended pregnancy that was organised by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy last May 20 here, supported by health care company Organon Malaysia.

Referring to the case of the 15-year old statutory rape victim from Kemaman, Terengganu, who was charged with murder after allegedly stabbing her newborn baby to death, Fara said that society failed the teenager from the start by not providing CSE and access to abortion.

“Coming from a rights perspective, it’s straightforward. The girl has gone through a lot of obstacles. The system has failed her,” she said. “People are concerned about the infant, but not the welfare of the girl.”

There are a lot of components to sexual and reproductive health, including the physical and the mental. “Need to connect these two issues to understand that going through nine months of pregnancy is not easy,” she said.

Fara said that empathy is crucial in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

According to a book she read on psychosocial and legal perspectives on infanticide, girls who kill their babies have a psychosocial disability. “We need to tackle the problem at the root,” she said.

The problem though is that it is difficult to separate religion from policy, said Qyira Yusri, founder of Malaysian youth movement Undi18. “Our morals dictate policy. We grow up in religious socialisation.”

She said that socialisation and upbringing prevent citizens protected by law from knowing about their rights. “Even if the law allows it, many young people don’t know it’s an avenue or option.”

Qyira observes there is still a lack of political will when it comes to addressing SRHR issues. She pointed out that during the Johor state elections last March, politicians did not talk about SRHR or bodily autonomy.

“If we want this to be an issue that politicians care about, it also has to be an issue voters care about,” she said. “It needs to be championed by all regardless of political affiliation.”

Hot button issues are not just corruption and politics, Qyira said, adding that there is a need to communicate issues that personally affect people’s lives. “In life and education, we are not encouraged to talk about the difficult issues that affect us.”

Power Dynamics In Sexual Relationships

Reproductive rights activist Fara Rom speaks at the “Tackling Unintended Pregnances in Malaysia” conference organised last May 20, 2022, by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy in Kuala Lumpur. Picture by Saw Siow Feng for the Galen Centre.

Sexual relationships are not just about pregnancy as it also involves power dynamics, said Fara. “When we have conversations about rights and women, we shouldn’t be discounting ourselves.”

She said not speaking up when rape jokes are made is one example of this. “Don’t take scraps from guys. Because of power dynamics, we tend not to negotiate in sexual relationships.”

Involving men and boys in reproductive health is important because the burden is always on girls and women, Fara said.

“Looking from the religious lens, one young girl can get pregnant in one month, but one guy can get 30 different girls pregnant in one month.”

She questions why there are different modules for boys and girls in sexuality education. “In the end, it’s the girls who feel the impact of the systemic failure.”

Although people are influenced by culture and religion, Fara said a conversation about reproductive health should focus on health.

“We come from reproduction. Why are we shaming people who talk about reproductive health when we are a product of it?”

Fara also questioned why there are many reports of unintended pregnancies when solutions are available, “when we know what needs to be done.”

“We need to see girls as needing help. We need to save her from a pregnancy which could affect her entire life instead of seeing having the baby as the right thing to do.”

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