Malaysia: Know your reproductive rights, Malaysians told

Do you know your reproductive rights? This was the question of which the answers dominated the discussions in a media sensitisation workshop on sexual and reproductive health issues held in Kuala Lumpur on 4 November.
The heart of the debate was the compatibilty of abortion laws with Islam pointed out by Rashidah Abdullah, founder of NGO Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow).
Under the penal code, abortion is legal to save the life of the mother and for physical and mental health reasons.

"Women need abortion services due to medical reasons when raped or as a result of incest and when contraceptives fail," she said.

She explained that the National Fatwa Committee declared that abortions are permissible as long as it's within 120 days from conception.

"It was discovered that the government had decided not to publicise the fatwa for fear that it could be misused," said the founder of this 13-year-old organisation.

Rashidah added that the Health Ministry reported 22 deaths due to abortion out of 119 certified maternal deaths in 1998 which is a high 18 percent of maternal deaths due to abortion compared to the Asian average of 13 percent.

"In not giving the correct facts to women and service providers, it limits their access to legal rights. She has a choice, it's not about life and death but it's an issue of well being."

Implementation problems

She also revealed that Malaysia's current contraception prevalence rate (CPR - low use of contraceptives) has remained at a low 54 per cent since 1984.

"It is the government's operational policy that only married couples have right to contraceptives at government and NGO clinics despite high levels of youth sexual activity before marriage and high numbers of people not marrying," she said.

Malaysia's family planning programme has implementation problems as our CPR currently lags behind Thailand (72 percent), Korea (81 percent), Japan (56 percent) and Vietnam (79 percent).

Malaysia currently has no government policy or legislation specifically addressing reproductive health.

Arrow works with the objective of strengthening the women's movement and civil society's capacity to hold governments accountable to international commitments.

The media workshop organised by them is part of the parallel forums held in conjunction with the XVIII FIGO World Congress of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Kuala Lumpur from November 5-10.

Malaysiakini, Soon Li Tsin
Nov 4, 2006