KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 – Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin today recognised violence against women as a significant health issue that women’s human rights and their bodily integrity.
In his opening keynote address at the Second Malaysia Women & Girls Forum (MWGF) organised by United Nations Malaysia and United Nations Population Fund today, Khairy said that chronic stress caused by violence is linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease and diabetes. Abused women are also more likely to smoke and to suffer substance use disorders.
Khairy, who acknowledged incidents of domestic violence, period poverty, online harassment, mental health problems, and suicide, also said the Ministry of Health (MOH) is working closely with multiple stakeholders to bring an end to these problems.
He said the country’s maternal mortality rate dropped from 56.4 per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 23.5 per 100,000 in 2018.
“In the same period safe delivery by skilled birth attendants has increased from 38 per cent to 99 per cent,” Kahiry said.
However, MOH data revealed that the number of women in Malaysia who die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications increased from 21.4 per 100,000 live births in 2013 to 25 per 100,000 live births in 2017. Developed countries’ maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 12 per 100,000 live births.
Khairy also highlighted that Malaysia has successfully reduced the number of new HIV cases to 9.3 cases per 100,000 of the population in 2020 and maintained the rate of HIV vertical transmission from mother to child at below 2 per cent.
“During the vaccine rollout, our Ibunisasi campaign kicked off in June 2021 and catered solely to pregnant and nursing mothers, the first of its kind in the world.
“Yet, we know there is still a lot more that we can do to help overcome the various challenges and issues facing our women and girls, especially in the face of the pandemic.”
Khairy said that Malaysia has an undeniable responsibility in upholding human rights, including the rights to equality, dignity, autonomy, information, bodily integrity, respect for private life, and the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health.
Although every Malaysian is legally entitled to practice the right to bodily autonomy, Khairy admitted the existence of unfavourable social and legal gaps in legislation, especially for women and children.
“These gaps can and will be filled when all of us as a society decide to do better. As a policy maker, I will do more to create policies that will ensure not only the protection of women and girls, but that focus on their wellbeing in all aspects.”
A 2014 study revealed that only 50 per cent of Malaysian women use contraceptives. This figure relates to only married women; there is no data from unmarried or single women due to social stigma and barriers in accessing contraceptives and related services.
It is important to note that Malaysia is yet to allow the registration of abortion pills, namely mifepristone and misoprostol, although they have been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A pregnancy can be terminated only when a registered medical practitioner deems the continuance of the pregnancy to pose a risk to the woman’s life or cause injury to their physical or mental health.
Khairy said the government is working to expand access to women and children to voice out domestic violence and intimate partner violence through initiatives that involve various stakeholders like MOH, the police, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the welfare department, women’s NGOs and state governments.
The health minister said depending on the public sector alone cannot overcome mental health problems faced by women and children; rather, a whole-of-society approach should be embraced to solve the problem.
“With the soon to be tabled motion to decriminalise suicide – we need to swiftly create a larger and more inclusive mental health ecosystem – that adheres to international best practices for safety, confidentiality and treatment – especially for those who are survivors of trauma.”
“It is also fundamental to invest in creating more awareness about mental health, removing societal taboos about seeking help, and ensuring its access and affordability.”
He highlighted that the National Strategic Plan for Mental Health 2020 – 2025, which was launched last October, not only addresses mental health issues and suicidal behaviour, but also instigates surveillance for early detection of cases that will allow for early monitoring and intervention.
“It also consists of strategies that involve all walks of life, including children and adolescents and covers a spectrum of settings like homes, schools, workplaces and the community.”
Khairy said the wellbeing of the country can only be ensured if the wellbeing of Malaysia’s women and girls is maintained.
“When a country fails its women, that country fails. We cannot progress nor make advancements as a nation if we do not have the full participation and properly invest in our female population.”
Khairy also praised women for their role in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, the country’s biggest ever vaccination campaign.
“In my capacity of Minister of Health and Coordinating Minister for Vaccine Rollout, I have had the privilege of bearing witness to incredible feats of heroism and selflessness – especially by our women and girls.
“From nurses, doctors, volunteers, cleaners, service providers, caregivers, CSOs (civil society organisations) and civil servants – we would not have been able to gather here now today in relative safety, if it was not for their dedication, tireless effort and sacrifice.”