Periods, sex, and mental health issues; these are the things that we would whisper about in public and address only behind closed doors. As Malaysians, we've been conditioned to steer clear of these topics because talking about them will cause us to “lose face". With these things being a natural part of the human condition, it’s high time we start viewing that mindset as misguided. Instead of perpetuating the silence, our organisation has been determined to fight unfounded stigmas head-on with a series of talks on all different aspects of health.
The first session in the series discussed community health and issues within the Malaysian healthcare system. I was made aware that people in marginalised communities could be turned away solely because of their refugee status. Before this, I was blinded to the severity of the struggle that refugees and the B40 community faced. Accessibility is another huge issue because those who live in rural areas risk losing their lives en route to the nearest hospital. Those who make it often have to decide between taking medicine and putting food on the table. This is the reality of so many in Malaysia and that’s why I share in the belief of Dr. Sarah (Doctors on Ground) that strong healthcare policies are needed to allow marginalised communities to survive and eventually thrive.
The topic of sexual and women’s health was also covered extensively in this virtual health event. A fruitful discussion between our seasoned speakers left me with answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. I soon learnt that sex education wasn’t just about sex; it also includes menstrual health and gender identity. With Malaysian sex education not being up to par, it’s no surprise that many youths don’t have a full understanding of sexual health. Coming from a strict Catholic school, the only formal education I had regarding this topic was when female teachers assembled all the girls and told us not to throw pads into the toilet bowl. Of course, we were also taught human anatomy in Science class, but that isn’t the same as learning about consent and human sexuality as a whole. Instead of being seen as inappropriate, comprehensive sex education should be viewed as a tool to enable all Malaysians to make informed decisions when it comes to sex.
The health symposium has left me with many insights but the biggest one of all is that we need to accept other people’s differences. It’s a very simple notion yet hard to execute because we are easily swayed by judgement and preconceived biases. Every single one of us is different; while some of us may be different because of the conditions we’re born with, that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve compassion and care. It actually implies the opposite because accommodations should be made when the things that set us apart are beyond our control. I can’t control period cramps, no more than someone else can control which community they are born into. As a society, we have to start embracing each other’s differences because we’re all just trying our best with what we’ve got at the end of the day.
We are a long way from erasing these taboos from the Malaysian mindset. As stereotypes still plague our minds, we have to remember that they are generalisations of people who are always much more than a label. Charisma Movement has joined in the efforts of many to open the doors inch by inch so that one day, everyone can speak openly and proudly about what sets them apart. Only when we enable marginalised voices and advocate for change, do we start our journey on becoming a more inclusive and accepting society.
If you missed the virtual health event, you can listen to all the sessions on YouTube.