Religious Conservatism Is Affecting Women’s Health

Only 39% of Malaysian women use modern birth control like oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 — Rights advocates expressed concern that rising religious conservatism was affecting girls and women’s right to sexual and reproductive health.

Malay Mail reported that according to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population (SWOP) Report 2019 launched yesterday, only 53 percent of Malaysian women aged 15 to 49 used contraceptives, while only 39 percent used modern birth control like oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices. In contrast, the Asia-Pacific average of women using modern contraceptives was 62 percent.

“The negative impact of increasing conservatism is going to be a real problem,” National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) chairwoman Dr Narimah Awin was quoted saying during the launch of the SWOP 2019 report.

She pointed out that a toddler, who was not vaccinated likely because of false religious beliefs about vaccines, died from diphtheria last February.

Dr Narimah, a former regional adviser on maternal and reproductive health for the World Health Organisation, reportedly said religious conservatism was blocking the government’s efforts to provide sex education and family planning, especially for young and unmarried people.

“Other areas would be of course the very, very difficult area of different sexual orientations. There’s a lot of constraint in trying to accept LGBTQ,” she was quoted saying.

Child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) still occur in Malaysia as the Pakatan Harapan government has yet to ban these harmful practices.

“Many of these problems are socio-cultural, which include religion. Like you, I wish I can stop child marriage tomorrow. I wish I can stop female circumcision tomorrow,” Dr Narimah, former director of the family health development department at the Health Ministry, was quoted saying.

“But I live in a country with very complex socio-cultural values. Then I have to be pragmatic.”

A Health Ministry representative reportedly told the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) committee, which urged Malaysia last February to eliminate FGM, that FGM was safe as the procedure was performed by medical professionals.

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