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Religious Conservatism Affecting Women’s Health

At the launch of the UNFPA SWOP Report 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, rights advocates gathered to discuss the pressing issues derived from the report.

What they found was that a rise of religious conservatism among the masses is leading to a negative impact to women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health. They raised concerns that religious conservatism limits the reach of women’s health to Malaysian women due to religious beliefs, which deemed any topics around sexuality to be a taboo.

According to the UNFPA’s State of World Population (SWOP) Report 2019, 53 percent of Malaysian women aged between 15 to 49 used contraceptives. Of that percentage, only 39 perfect used modern birth control like oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices, putting an alarming percentage of women at a health risk. These statistics for Malaysian women are in contrast to the Asia-Pacific average of women using modern contraceptives, which was 62 percent.

National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) chairwoman Dr Narimah Awin shared a recent harrowing story of the death of a toddler who died from diphtheria, a serious bacterial infection, because they were not vaccinated. A life lost over false religious beliefs surrounding vaccines is an issue too dire to ignore.

Situations like these can be prevented with proper sexual education provided by the government but because of religious conservatism, these efforts are being blocked, reported Dr Narimah, a former regional adviser on maternal and reproductive health for WHO. Young and unmarried people have little access to sexual education and family planning.

“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,” quoted Dr Narimah.

The road to a safer environment for Malaysian women to have access to proper care in terms of their sexual and reproductive health is a long journey but can be achieved through the never-ending efforts of these advocates.