The Star: More women are delaying marriage. Here’s why and why it matters

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To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story was shared by The Star (Malaysia). 

Better national policies are needed to meet the needs of a growing number of women in Malaysia who are opting to marry later or remain single.

Data from the Statistics Department (DOSM) shows that the average age of a woman’s first marriage here has gone up from 23.5 years in 1980 to 28.1 years in 2020.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Critical Media Studies Assoc Prof Dr Jamaluddin Aziz, said the trend could impact birth rates.

What’s needed, he said, are better policies that help women regardless of their choices on personal matters such as marriage and childbearing.

Jamaluddin and other experts said such policies could include those that promoted better social security for both married and single women, while others include stronger measures to stamp out sex and age discrimination at the workplace.

Fertility incentives, gender and age sensitisation efforts, as well as the sharing of wealth and power or decision making in families are also needed.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) research officer Chai Sen Tyng said studies showed that marrying later was a trend that affected both men and women.

Referring to a study on “Correlates and Consequences of Delayed Marriage in Malaysia” by the National Population and Family Development Board (NPFDB), Chai noted that the average age of marriage for men increased from 25.5 in in 1970 to 28.0 in 2010.

“Unless Malaysian males are marrying foreign brides in big numbers, increase in single females should also be in tandem with increase in single males, especially after considering polygamous unions,” he said.

The mean age of a mother at first birth also increased from 25.6 years in 1990 to 28.0 years in 2020, while the total fertility rate (TFR) has dropped from 4.9 children on average for each woman of child-bearing age in 1970 to 1.7 in 2020.

“What is lesser known is that the age-specific fertility rate has declined too, meaning that successive cohort of women are having less children at older ages,” said Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) research officer Chai Sen Tyng.

He said although DOSM had yet to release its 2020 social statistics, the proportion of females who never married or were single was expected to be higher at all age groups, compared to the past.

Chai said this trend showed that more men and women are not interested in marriage for reasons ranging from prioritising personal freedom and career, to personality or socioeconomic reasons or just missed opportunities.

The increasing opportunities for tertiary education, he said, had resulted in delayed marriages, which naturally led to delayed childbirth and shorter fertility windows.

“Women today have more choices than marrying, and despite it being a powerful societal norm, an increasing number of women are putting their careers ahead of marriage and childbearing,” he said, adding that women’s decisions to put off marriage had something to do with the societal burden that they had to carry once they were married.

He pointed out that more often than not, the responsibilities for housework, childcare, as well as eldercare, fell upon womenfolk.

“If both husband and wife work, then the responsibilities of unpaid work should also be evenly divided between the couple.

“However, even in the United States and Britain, there is a significant gap between the sexes when it comes to housework,” he said, adding that this is more so in Asian households where unpaid work at home went unmeasured and unrecognised.

“In patriarchal societies, when men consider it beneath them to perform routine household chores, is the real reason why most working women suffer from emotional, physical and mental exhaustion,” he said.

Chai said MyAgeing’s survey had shown that while older men expected their spouses to care for them when they became sick or frail, fewer older women could expect the same of their husband and instead had to rely on adult children, who were mostly daughters or daughters-in-law.

“This is due to the fact that women in general marry older men, and with the life expectancy gap, more women are widows than men who are widowers. Women’s duration of widowhood is also longer,” he said.

He added that men are more inclined to suffer socio-emotionally, as the stereotype of carefree old bachelors impedes the development of emotionally sustaining social support.

“Both men and women need support groups, whether from a circle of friends or family members,” he said.

Chai said the world could no longer blindly pursue a high population growth policy at the expense of sustainability.

“We can no longer expect growth on a purely numerical level but by the quality of human resources that we have.

“What is the point of a 100-people labour-intensive farming when we can have one modernised agricultural worker who can operate machinery to increase yield by tenth or a hundredth fold?” he said.

Marriages could happen at different ages after adulthood, and women should not be reduced into reproductive units, said Chai.

“Allow individual women to decide their priorities and ensure that we as a society, are supportive of unmarried or childless women and men.

“That is what the state’s provisions are for, and the government must act accordingly to changing times and norms,” he said.

Jamaluddin said framing women’s reproductive rights within economic and social discourses was unfair to women.

“If economic and social discourses are used, then women’s welfare must be prioritised in the development agenda.

“Women’s protections from all forms of gender-based violence must be made explicit, and not mere rhetoric,” he said.

USM’s Centre for Research on Women and Gender (Kanita) member Professor Dr Noraida Endut encouraged a better programme for the society on marriage and equality.

She said women who delayed marriage or did not marry might be discouraged by divorce rates and domestic violence within the society.

“We should not view marriage as the main goal for people in society.

“It is an important goal to populate the country but it has to be balanced with better policies on how to ensure better quality of marriages and work life for our citizens,” she said.

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The Star: Malaysia’s skewed sex-ratio, what it means and what must be done

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To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story was shared by The Star (Malaysia). 

Malaysia is becoming an increasingly ‘male country’, with males increasingly outnumbering females over the decades.

According to the Statistics Department, the country’s population sex ratio in 1970 stood at 102 males to every 100 females.

The gap has since widened to 110 to every 100 females in 2020.

The trend, according to Statistics Department, is being driven by the large number of male foreign workers coming to Malaysia as well as higher male birth rates.

A big influx of foreign workers over the past decade accounts for a large part of the shift.

The sex ratio for Malaysian citizens, for instance, remained unchanged from 2010 to 2020 at 103 males to every 100 females.

The country’s non-citizen male population, on the other hand, grew rapidly over the same period, rising from 149 males to 100 females in 2010 to 229 males per 100 females in 2020.

Higher male birth rates are also a factor.

In 2020, there were 243,617 (51.8%) male newborns compared with 226,578 (48.2%) females.

Chief Statistician Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin said the sex ratio at birth is not equal, with males outnumbering females in most countries.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) research officer Chai Sen Tyng said the excess of male births has been widely documented and consistent across populations around the world, with 103 to 107 boys born for every 100 girls.

“But in countries like China and India, the cultural preference for sons and a combination of population policy and use of ultrasound for sex determination have resulted in highly skewed sex ratios.

“The United Nations World Population Database showed that the sex ratio at birth (male births per 100 female births) for China and India in 2020 was 111 and 110 respectively, compared with 106 for Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Thailand,” he added.

Mohd Uzir said the working-age population, which includes those between 15 and 64 years old, was also dominated by males at 52.9% as compared with women at 47.1%.

“The sex ratio in each state depends largely on the factors of labour force and socioeconomic status.

“There are many males working in the construction and agriculture sectors,” he said.

The department’s Labour Force Report showed that males largely dominated industries such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture, especially in states such as Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Pahang, Selangor and Melaka.

Others such as Putrajaya showed a higher female population, as more women work as civil servants.

“From the Labour Force Report, the sex ratio for civil servants in Putrajaya in 2020 was 61 males compared with 100 females,” Mohd Uzir said.

Citing research by Schact, R and Kramer, K titled “Too many men? Too many women? Effects of sex ratio imbalance on marriage and family formation”, Mohd Uzir said having a male-biased population may impact social stability.

“From a socio-demographic perspective, male-biased sex ratios leave many men unable to find a partner and so elevate competition among males, disrupt family formation, and negatively affect social stability,” he said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Critical Media Studies Assoc Prof Dr Jamaluddin Aziz said the influx of foreign workers taking up lower-paying jobs is inevitable as a country’s population becomes better educated.

“For the same reason, we are also experiencing a brain drain with more educated males and females deciding to work abroad,” he added.

He said having more men or women can only be negative if it infringes on the right to equal access to resources and opportunities.

“What we need to work on is improving access for women to quality resources so that they can be more competitive in the face of global challenges,” he said.

MyAgeing deputy director Assoc Prof Dr Rahimah Ibrahim said policies, workplace procedures, and societal norms have generally been orientated to and with intended benefits for males.

“This will continue unless something is done about it,” she said.

She said despite some developments in terms of female empowerment, long-standing macro issues still affect women, including the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, and pay bias.

“As such, women have to work even harder to create awareness and make changes to turn things around,” she said.

She added that male-dominated occupations may affect gender relations, gender bias, and gender equity, but this may depend on the level of masculinity expected or normalised in such work sectors.

“Studies have also found that men in male-dominated industries face greater risks of work-related injuries and deaths and higher rates of suicides,” she said.

She said to a larger extent, the workforce and society are still structured around traditional gender roles.

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The Star: How breastfeeding mothers have been affected by the pandemic

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To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story was shared by The Star (Malaysia). 

Women who gave birth since the start of the Covid-19 have faced many difficulties breastfeeding their babies.

With Covid-19 restrictions affecting the income of many households, some women were forced to choose between spending more time at home nursing their babies or going out to work to support their families.

Others who delivered while infected with Covid-19 were not confident about breastfeeding for fear of infecting their babies.

As the initial movement control order restricted people to their homes, many new mothers found it hard to get adequate information and support about breastfeeding.

These difficulties illustrate how the pandemic has affected breastfeeding in Malaysia, said the Health Ministry’s nutrition division director Zalma Abdul Razak.

“Many families’ source of income was affected by the pandemic, which led to a disruption in the mother’s emotions and decision to continue breastfeeding.

“There are mothers who also had to go out to work to help increase the family’s income,” she said in an interview with The Star in conjunction with the World Breastfeeding Week from Aug 1-7.

She added that the mother’s emotions were also affected by the birth management protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic, which limited direct contact with their new-borns for mothers who were confirmed or suspected of having been infected with Covid-19.

“Mothers indirectly feel less confident to start or maintain breastfeeding due to the limited support and care system for mothers during and after delivery,” she said.

The Health Ministry, in its Guidelines for the Implementation of Baby-Friendly (Rakan Bayi) Hospital Practices during the Covid-19 Pandemic, stated that mothers with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 are allowed to room-in with safe spacing between feedings.

However, mothers need to adopt hygiene measures and minimise contact with the baby.

“If the mother cannot carry out all the hygiene measures and the condition of the ward is crowded and not conducive to safe confinement and breastfeeding, the mother and baby will be kept away from each other,” said the guidelines, with the implementation subject to the current policy code and instructions from the hospital director.

Zalma said mothers who lacked knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding would opt for alternatives.

“Mothers may also lack the skills to breastfeed, especially in relation to technique and position, which can lead the mother to feeling uncomfortable or experiencing pain while breastfeeding.

“Babies will be fussy or cry when they are not getting enough milk and this may cause the mother to think that she does not have enough milk for her child,” she said.

Nursing mothers need more support

Zalma said mothers who do not receive adequate support from their husband or partner, family, employer, and the community will often stop breastfeeding before the recommended duration is over.

“Such support is especially important to ensure that the child is given breast milk even when the mother is not with her.

“Inflexible working hours can make it difficult for mothers to express milk,” she said, adding that mothers also need suitable care centres and nursing-friendly workplace facilities.

She encouraged the government to produce policies that support breastfeeding, while employers can ease a mother’s breastfeeding journey by giving them adequate time and flexibility at work.

Babies weaned off earlier due to the pandemic

Fertility specialist and gynaecologist Dr Agilan Arjunan said several studies conducted in Western countries showed many mothers choosing to end breastfeeding earlier than usual during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is due to many uncertainties with Covid -19 infection, such as the severity of the infection, mother-to-baby transmission risk, effectiveness of vaccination and uncertainty on whether vaccines harm the new-born baby.

“New mothers tend to have shortened the breastfeeding duration due to difficulty getting family and social support during the pandemic,” he said.

Other challenges that contributed to the decline in exclusive breastfeeding, Dr Agilan said, were fear and anxiety during the pandemic and difficulty in getting support from healthcare facilities such as government health clinics.

“During the pandemic, especially during the initial stages when we lacked knowledge about the infection, many deliveries were done via caesarean section.

“This further caused difficulty to initiate breastfeeding, especially when there is no further support available for first-time mothers,” he said.

The Health Ministry now advises that indications for a caesarean section for Covid-19 positive mothers should be determined by obstetric indications rather than the diagnosis of Covid-19.

Support from early stage crucial

Dr Agilan said a mother’s breastfeeding journey starts even before delivery, where antenatal sessions can help educate both parents on the importance and benefits of breastfeeding.

“The involvement of the future father is also crucial as he is the pillar of support,” he said.

He added that hospitals should provide baby-friendly and father-friendly settings to initiate early breastfeeding and encouragement for all women during delivery

He said mothers should be given pain and relief support during delivery for them to be able to initiate breastfeeding immediately after delivery.

“Lactation nurses need to support all new mothers after delivery so that the mothers can learn the optimum breastfeeding technique,” he said, adding that paternity leave for fathers was important to allow them to support their wives during the initial stage of breastfeeding.

Other types of support for breastfeeding mothers include helpline and support groups to advocate for breastfeeding, as well as accessibility of nursing rooms at all public areas.

“Details on breastfeeding should be readily available to all mothers so that they may seek immediate help when needed,” he said.

Gynaecologist Dr Milton Lum Siew Wah said breastfeeding is best supported by practices that keep the mother and baby together, in addition to providing quality professional and peer support.

He said many studies had reported decreased face-to-face professional support, in addition to decreased or absent face-to-face peer support during the pandemic.

“Others report the negative impact of maternal postpartum depression on breastfeeding,” he added.

Dr Lum, however, noted that there were no Malaysian studies on the Covid-19 impact on breastfeeding in general.

“A Thai study had reported a switch to bottle and mixed feeding. This was associated with decreased contact with professionals, family support and help,” he said, adding that Malaysia needed to establish a national database on breastfeeding practices.

He advised breastfeeding mothers to consume a balanced and varied diet from preconception for the wellbeing of the mother and new-born baby.

“The risk of inadequate nutrient supply for breastfeeding is increased in certain groups, for example, those on exclusion diets, underweight, overweight, smokers, adolescents, as well as mothers with multiple or close pregnancies,” he said.


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The Star: Back at the office, nursing mums are struggling

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To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story was shared by The Star (Malaysia). 

With the return of workers to the office following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, many nursing mothers are struggling to cope.

Working mums who found it convenient to breastfeed their babies while working from home now find it a struggle to express milk while dealing with long hours at the office.

These are among the challenges cited by nursing mothers in a survey done by The Star in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week from Aug 1-7.

A total of 555 breastfeeding mothers took part in the survey.

Commenting on the findings, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (Waba) director Datuk Seri Dr Anwar Fazal urged employers to create Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces (BFWs).

A BFW is a workplace that provides an appropriate and friendly environment for their breastfeeding employees to express milk.

Anwar said it was important to keep in mind that babies need nursing even when separated from their mothers who are at work.

“Every time a mother is not able to breastfeed her baby, she needs to replace it by expressing her breastmilk.

“It is important for breastfeeding employees to continue to express while away from their baby to ensure the milk supply is maintained,” he said.

He said nursing mothers who continue expressing milk will have a lower risk of experiencing blockages or mastitis, which may result in illness and the employee requiring time off.

Among the survey respondents, 75% are full-time working mothers, 14% are housewives and the remaining 11% work part time.

The majority or 68% of the respondents were between the ages of 30 and 39.

More than half of the respondents said they were involved in expressing breastmilk to feed their child.

Respondents said the biggest problem they faced when breastfeeding were related to physical challenges in breastfeeding (27%).

These include insufficient supply or oversupply, breast inflammation, blocked milk ducts or mastitis, and others.

The next major issues were pumping and storing breastmilk, as well as a lack of lactation rooms and other facilities for breastfeeding.

Nursing mothers also said they faced a lack of support from their family or at the workplace.

Most of the nursing mothers suggested that more baby-friendly facilities be set up in public places to help improve their breastfeeding experience.

They also called for more flexibility at work so they could have time to express milk, as well as longer maternity leave.

The respondents also suggested dedicated facilities be set up at workplaces for nursing mothers to express their breastmilk.

The survey revealed that a total of 33% of the respondents said they had breastfed for up to two years or longer.

However, the majority of those who had breastfed for less than 18 months said they intended to stop within the next six months.

When asked whether the Covid-19 pandemic had affected their breastfeeding journey, two-thirds of the respondents said it had not.

However, out of 201 mothers who said the pandemic did have an impact on their breastfeeding journey, almost 70% said the pandemic actually made their breastfeeding journey easier due to being able to work from home.

Others cited experiencing loneliness, lack of support, anxiety and confusion when breastfeeding during the pandemic (17%), as well as receiving insufficient knowledge or guidance from healthcare providers (11%).

Meanwhile, working mothers, especially healthcare workers, who had increased workload and inflexibility at the workplace due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said their milk supply was affected as they did not have time to express milk when at work (2%).

This scenario may become more common as nursing mothers go back to the office.

Anwar said nursing mothers need time, space and support at work so they can continue breastfeeding.

He called for internal work policies that are in line with the National Breastfeeding Policy to be implemented at the workplace to support mothers who wish to breastfeed.

He also suggested that flexible working hours or schedules be made available to allow mothers to take appropriate breaks to express their milk.

“Employees could incorporate extra time such as coming in early, staying late or others to replace time taken for breastfeeding activity.

“Such a flexible and breastfeeding-friendly policy would allow mothers to be more at ease, better focus on their work without added stress or distractions and express more successfully.”

Anwar said workplaces should have a lactation room that is accessible, safe, secure, and clean.

“Mothers should have access at least two to three times daily, at three-hour intervals, for an average of 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

“A clear schedule is essential to enable mothers to plan lactation times, obtain uninterrupted access to the facility, and avoid conflicts with other mothers who need to use the lactation room.”

According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), infants who are not exclusively breastfed could be at a substantially greater risk of death from diarrhoea or pneumonia.

“Breastfeeding strengthens infants’ immune systems and may protect them later in life from chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

“Yet despite all the potential benefits, only two fifths of infants 0–5 months of age worldwide are exclusively breastfed and only two in three children aged 12–23 months receive the benefits of breastmilk,” it said on its website.

Get cracking now

Last month, this Leader asked a pertinent question: Is the world serious about global warming? It does not believe so, because after much deliberation about what needs to be done, pretty much everything has remained the same.

Climate scientists have warned that efforts to limit global warming must be done now if we want to avoid a future of extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, tropical storms and other disasters.

We are already experiencing some of the disasters, the current Covid-19 pandemic, notwithstanding. Look around us.

BBC reports that at least 120 people have died and hundreds more in western Europe are unaccounted for after some of the worst flooding in decades.

Record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks, devastating the region. The death toll in Germany and Belgium continues to climb. The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland are not spared.

Elsewhere in Turkey, more than 200 wildfires burnt 1,600 square kilometres of its forest in its Mediterranean region between last month and this month. The country’s leaders say it is the worst ever wildfire season in Turkey’s history. If all these are not indicators of climate change, what are they?

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. The outlook is grim. The report warned the world was on course to reach 1.5°C of warming around 2030.

It said “the climate crisis is not only here, it is growing increasingly severe”. World leaders, green groups and influencers, according to news wires, reacted to the report “with a mix of horror and hopefulness”. The 3,500-page report is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013.

Its release comes less than three months before the key climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow. The world needs to “cool down”. Governments need to mobilise experts in all fields to respond and give ideas about tackling climate change, and it must be done now. What has been done? Have current efforts met their objective? Admittedly, not enough, given the IPCC report.

Malaysia, too, needs to do more. Reportedly, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, when chairing the first meeting of the Malaysian Climate Change Action Council in April, said Malaysia would participate in carbon trading systems, but not allow them to affect the country’s own greenhouse gas emissions commitment.

Another development is the green recovery plan in which Malaysia becomes a green economy, services and technology leader, while fostering healthy green lifestyles in all walks of life.

Enough said. If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught us, it’s that it requires global solutions. The Covid-19 crisis will not be resolved until all countries bring the pandemic under control through widespread vaccination, just as the climate crisis will not be solved until all countries swing into action.

UN secretary-general António Guterres said: “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe.” The world was not prepared when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and how, in less than two years, it engulfed us and altered the pace, fabric and nature of our lives. The global death toll is devastating. We cannot afford another pandemic — climate change — which will change the world forever. We have been warned.

This editorial published by the New Straits Times, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters.

Too Hot to Handle

CLIMATE anxiety is real – and it’s going to get far worse according to the latest report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of scientists backed by the United Nations.

The report, approved by 195 governments in a virtual meeting early this month and based on more than 14,000 studies, confirms that the world is surely and irrevocably warming – even though some politicians and industrialists may still deny it.

More alarming is that, as the IPCC report points out, even if governments were to drastically and immediately cut carbon emissions today, we can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years.

Total global warming, says the report, is likely to rise by around 1.5°C within the next two decades and along with that hotter future comes its attendant effects.

This means that heatwaves, such as the one that slammed into the Pacific North-West of Canada and the United States and sent temperatures into the high 40s a few months ago, as well as wildfires in Europe, Nordic countries and Siberia, and deluges in Germany and China will become more frequent.

The most damning aspect of the IPCC report, however, is that humans are the only ones to be blamed for this hot mess we’re in, with the rise in global average temperatures being driven by countries burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and spewing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the air.

If that isn’t enough, a paper recently published in the Nature Climate Change journal suggests that a crucial ocean circulation system in the Atlantic called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC), which helps to stabilise the climate in Europe, is showing signs of slowing down.

Although it is yet to be established if this is linked to climate change, the slowing, if proven true, further imperils the state of our planet.

In the words of the United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, this is nothing less than a “code red for humanity”.

Apocalypse now?

While Malaysia seems to have escaped for now much of the heat-induced stress – the south-west monsoon is even wetter this year so we are not expecting to see haze from Indonesia – global warming will affect Malaysia.

This is because much of the weather in Malaysia, particularly Peninsular Malaysia, is influenced by the monsoon system.

Universiti Malaya climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah says Malaysia is on a maritime continent, an important component of the whole global circulation heat engine.

“We are also influenced by what happens – not only in the Northern Hemisphere, especially during the north-east Monsoon, but also by the Southern Hemisphere related to the south-west monsoon.

“So any warming or cooling in the mid-latitudes, especially during the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere’s winter, will have an impact in weakening or strengthening our monsoons,” he says in an interview last week.

Should this happen, it will have an effect on the biological productivity of the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea, which are very much influenced by the monsoon.

Normally, a tropical ocean is less productive biologically compared with the colder oceans in the midlatitudes and polar regions – except for the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea.

“This (effect on the monsoon) will have a grave consequence for the fisheries and the region’s food security,” explains Prof Azizan, pointing out that the marine ecosystem in these areas is already under stress from overfishing.

“Global warming will further stress these seas and the ecosystems,” he adds.

Prof Azizan, who is from UM’s Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, says being in the humid tropics, he does not anticipate prolonged drought in Malaysia, such as that experienced by northern Australia that is associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or Enso.

“We may have a few weeks without rain around February which is our normal drier period. This will be further enhanced if Enso is also present,” he says.

However, Prof Azizan points out that in a warmer world, the atmosphere will be able to store more water vapour, usually translating to stronger thunderstorms and more rainfall.

“Depending on the duration of the rain, this can result in frequent flash floods or, if the duration is longer, river flooding (akin to) the 2014 flood,” he says.

The 2014 flood, which affected over 200,000 people and killed 21, devastated parts of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang on the East Coast, as well as other states.

It also damaged infrastructure, including homes, highways and rail lines, to the tune of billions of ringgit.

The stronger monsoon in the region is the north-east monsoon, which lasts from November to February and is also the time of heavy rain for Peninsular Malaysia.

Most weather models, says Prof Azizan, are predicting a weaker north-east monsoon and a stronger south-west monsoon from global warming.

“That is why regionally, they are predicting that Indonesia south of the equator will experience a drier climate in the future due to a weakened north-east monsoon,” he says.

Melting pot

While the present IPCC report approximates a sea rise level of about 3.2mm per year from glaciers melting in Greenland and the Antarctic continent, many glaciologists, says Prof Azizan, feel this to be an underestimation.

He says there are two components to rising sea level, one which is about 50% due to water expansion as ocean temperatures rise, and the other is from glacier melting.

“However, many Antarctic glaciologists think that this (the IPCC forecast) is an underestimate due to the rapid melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf that is now unstable.

“This may contribute a further 7m of sea level rise if all of the West Antarctic ice shelf were to melt away,” he says.

Also being threatened are the mangroves, seagrass and coral species along Malaysia’s coastlines – already these are under stress from development and, before the days of Covid-19, overtourism. 

Such damage basically leaves the country’s coasts “naked” and vulnerable to floods and erosion.

Pointing out that Malaysia is a “mega biodiversity region”, Prof Azizan says this area hosts about 70% of the world’s mangrove, coral and seagrass species.

“So our ocean is an important biodiversity refugia that is under threat from global ocean warming and acidification.

“While we tend to focus on conserving our terrestrial biodiversity like our rainforests, it is our ocean that plays an important refugia for global ocean biodiversity.”

(Refugia refers to an area in which organisms can survive unfavourable conditions, especially glaciation.)

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s climatologist Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang, who authored a number of scientific papers cited in the IPCC report, says it does not specifically provide information on the future climate of a particular country.

However, he says that “Malaysia is projected to experience increased extreme climate events in future: “These include more heatwaves, more droughts and floods as well as rising sea levels in decades to come if there is no deep cut to greenhouse gas emissions soon,” he says.

Prof Fredolin is the review editor for Chapter 10 of the IPCC report as well as a contributing author of the Atlas Chapter.

Lest any climate sceptic tries to throw doubt on the report, Prof Fredolin says it represents a credible body of scientific evidence on the climate system that is based on a comprehensive and holistic, open, robust and transparent assessment of related published literature, involving over 1,000 authors and editors.

Although the Nature Climate Change paper was not assessed in the IPCC report having been published recently, Prof Fredolin believes that the collapse of the MOC will likely trigger an abrupt change in regional weather, including Malaysia’s, which is regulated by the monsoon cycle.

“I believe there is no particular paper addressing how this affects climate in Malaysia but this would be an interesting issue to investigate,” he says.

However, Prof Azizan believes that changes in the Atlantic will have only an indirect impact on Malaysia.

“The more direct impact will be changes in the Pacific and also the Indian oceans.”

No more talking shop

With slightly more than two months to go before the Glasgow Climate Change Conference at the end of October, the IPCC report has upped public expectation for the thousands of negotiators, politicians and diplomats to at last come to an understanding.

However, despite the fact that humanity’s survival depends on it and despite high hopes and criticisms, each time the conference has a dismal record of not performing up to expectations.

Should an effective agreement fail to materialise from Glasgow, current policies being pursued by governments will likely push warming up by 3°C by the end of the century, warns the IPCC report. In contrast, the goal of the much hailed Paris Agreement of 2015 has been to limit global warming to well below 2°C or preferably 1.5°C compared with preindustrial levels.

“The current pledges under the Paris Agreement won’t be able to cap the warming under 1.5°C and 2°C. More impact from extreme climate is expected in future decades,” agrees Prof Fredolin.

The report, he adds, also indicated that without deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C threshold is projected to be breached between 2021 and 2040 – likely in 2030 – and 2°C in 2050.

However, scientists behind the IPCC report believe there is still a chance to avoid the more harrowing effects of global warming by preventing the planet from getting even hotter.

According to the report, if a coordinated effort among countries can head off CO2 emissions by 2050 by moving away from fossil fuels and removing carbon from the atmosphere, this will allow global warming to likely halt at the level of around 1.5°C.

Failure is not an option because as many of the young climate strikers like to remind us – there is no Planet B.

Eye on the future

Malaysia’s main priority now, according to Prof Azizan, is to plan a more climate-resilient, sustainable socioeconomic strategy.

“This is to anticipate a soft landing for our nation and region in the future as the world warms up,” he says.

He argues that even if Malaysia is not a major emitter of greenhouse gas, the existing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere have already locked in a future global warming of 1°C to 2°C.

“So the question is more about how much warming is acceptable to maintain our status quo without any major climate shift and to maintain the ecosystem that we are familiar with or adapted to,” he says.

The 10 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (in descending order) are China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada.

Prof Fredolin says given the fact that Malaysia’s emissions contribute less than 1% to total global emissions, the focus should be on adaptation measures in increasing climate resilience.

“Having said this, of course, the country should enhance mitigation measures consistent with what is required by the Paris Agreement.”

Both Prof Fredolin and Prof Azizan agree on one thing: the country has to quickly come up with a national adaptation plan or strategy.

While Environment and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang told The Star in April that the government is coming up with specific legislation and policies to tackle climate change, there is currently no national adaptation plan.

“We need to look into water and food security strategies, using the climate scenarios of a warmer world,” says Prof Azizan, suggesting that Malaysia uses the Enso as a natural scenario to study how the ecosystem responds and from this, plan how coastal, rural and urban areas can adapt to changes.

Malaysia, he points out, needs to plan up to 30 years into the future.

“This is so that we can slowly build the necessary investment and governance structure at the macro level based on a number of scenarios – from optimal to a worst case scenario – and test how our ecosystem and socioeconomic system adapt.

“The bottom line is the world is getting warmer and we have no choice but to plan for it so that we can avoid a climate crisis in the future.”

IPCC Simulation. Picture by REUTERS

This story, originally published by the The Star, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters. 

Good journalism no longer appeals to readers?

Having been in journalism for so long, a question that I have always been asked is: what is news, and what makes “good journalism”?

For a long time, I thought that the question was rather interesting.

Good journalism should be what is most ideal for journalism.

The entire journalistic system and production chain – from the tips received, to reporting, editing and publishing – have all been operating impartially within the most ethical and professional journalistic framework.

Additionally, good journalism should be about inspiring the readers.

This is done by exposing and rectifying acts of corruption, overseeing government operations, and voicing out injustices within our society.

To become a watchdog the villains will dread. This is the most ideal scenario in journalism.

Although I don’t think I have penned any good stories throughout my journalistic career, I consistently instil these philosophies in my students, so that these journalists-to-be will have a very clear idea of their future obligations.

Of course, it is beyond my control whether they will eventually put this into practice one day, because to be honest, I do not think today’s media industry and audience are capable of digesting such a profound ideal.

Take Malaysia for instance. The readers here are very much more attracted to sensational news characterised by violent or explicit content.

As the audience is more inclined to such news and reporting, local mass media increasingly carry stories violence and conflict.

As a former journalist and now a media education worker, it has never crossed my mind that orthodox journalism should be led by the nose or by audience preferences.

Content presentation and headlining are becoming more sensational too, in a bid to capture the attention of a new generation of readers.

By academic standards, such content is the exact opposite of what makes good journalism, . It is also what we could label as “bad journalism”.

This phenomenon of sensationalised news gained traction following the rise of social media, especially since any individual can build his or her own media brand.

The entire information market has inevitably plunged into a whirlpool of vicious competition, making it harder for regulators to control the quality of news.

As a result, large numbers of content farms, plagiarists and fake news factories come into being.

In other words, today’s information market is not only inundated with bad journalism, but also plagued with “fake news” and “headline news”.

Such articles are fact- distorting, plagiarised, excessively sensational, exaggerated and inappropriately headlined.

Sadly, these are the stories that command the most attention on the social media. And most importantly, such audience engagement appeals tremendous to online advertisers.

Media organisations in Malaysia are confronting unprecedented challenges arising from such a trend.

Against such a backdrop, orthodox good journalism has become increasingly unattractive to the audience under the powerful siege of bad journalism.

Sure enough, some may argue that the current political climate has somewhat contributed to the unpopularity of good journalism, too.

For instance, Singapore has enforced a quasi-authoritarian approach to information management.

Content that is perceived to be seditious, overly sensational and exaggerated will come under the watchful eyes of the republic’s communications and information ministry, which is known for having the region’s strictest control over the spread of misinformation.

Although the public may consequently relinquish their freedom of criticising the government, a stable administration will ensure expanded space for (extra-political) good journalism.

As for Malaysia which has seen a change of federal administration for two years, there are already signs pointing to a more liberal expression freedom.

Unfortunately, the political turmoil has further complicated the information market, and the authorities remain unprepared for media challenges.

The highly intricate information market and intense confrontation has created a favourable environment for the propagation of fake news and bad journalism in an attempt to crush a political rival or divert public attention from some highly controversial issues, and these make excellent topics for gossips.

With the proliferation of bad journalism , room for survival of good journalism is destined to constrict further.

As such, I always tell my students that good journalism has become a rare commodity because the local media industry appears to be slowly giving up on the production of high quality news that constitutes good journalism

It is instead going after production speed and attuning itself to the audience’s preferences.

Such a “rushy” content production model has deprived a journalist of the time to contemplate the depth of journalism.

What is more worrisome is that this phenomenon seems to have developed into a global trend, as I have heard from fellow journalists from regional countries like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as Taiwan, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

As the audience is more inclined to such news and reporting, local mass media increasingly carry stories violence and conflict.

They too are also encountering the same problem of bad journalism and fake news dominating the information market.

In other words, safeguarding the integrity of good journalism is posing a major challenge to the global media industry. And the elements that make up such a challenge are highly convoluted: a shift in audience preferences, media organisations’ pursuit of advertisements, unrestricted information dissemination channels, availability of information devices, and resurgence of media manipulation, among others.

Tackling one specific factor alone will not alter the status quo.

In view of this, I urge media workers in this region to constantly keep in mind what used to draw them to this profession.

Some of you might have joined this industry after pursuing a course in journalism, and I would like you to look back at all the expectations “good journalism” once promised you.

As a former journalist and now a media education worker, it has never crossed my mind that orthodox journalism should be led by the nose or by audience preferences.

The media industry has an irrefutable obligation of inspiring the public and enhancing their awareness.

We must stand united and take the initiative to tell these people what “good journalism” is, and help them nurture the ability to filter out unauthenticated news and bad journalism.

I always believe it is not that good journalism does not appeal to readers, but rather to their supervisors.

The article by Liew Wui Chern will be published on Sin Chew Daily on Sep 28. Liew Wui Chern teaches Journalism in University Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia.

Taking down a drug mule syndicate

In a crowded shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, 16-year-old Shirley* (not her real name) met with two men she had never seen in her life. They gave her a flight ticket to Hong Kong, and RM2,000 (US$474.32) in spending money. A friend she had met on Facebook, 15 years old at the time, had arranged the trip, telling her it was a free holiday. He had gone several times before, and even brought souvenirs back for her.

On the morning of her flight, one of the men showed up again and gave her and another fellow traveller a pair of shoes each. They were asked to wear them to Hong Kong.

Hours later, her life as she knew it was over. After arriving at Hong Kong International Airport, she was picked out for a body search, and 700g of heroin were found in the soles of the shoes.

In the past year, nearly 30 young Malaysians – some still teenagers – have been arrested in Hong Kong for being drug mules on behalf of international syndicates; and experts say the arrest numbers are just a fraction of those who actually make it through.

For Shirley’s parents back in Malaysia, the nightmare was only just beginning. For nearly two months, they had no idea what had happened to her. The last time they saw Shirley, their only child, she was begging them to let her go to Hong Kong with her friends. She was only supposed to be gone for three days.

Her parents searched everywhere – the airport, the police, hospitals – and found nothing. They couldn’t eat or sleep, and yet, as the owners of a small business, they had to continue working each day to survive.

And then came a phone call which gave them fear and relief in equal measure. It was from Hong Kong Correctional Services – their daughter was facing over 20 years in prison on drug trafficking charges. Ever since that moment, Shirley’s parents have been working frantically and desperately to prove their daughter’s innocence. But Shirley is not alone.

In the past year, nearly 30 young Malaysians – some still teenagers – have been arrested in Hong Kong for being drug mules on behalf of international syndicates; and experts say the arrest numbers are just a fraction of those who actually make it through.

With drug production in South-East Asia’s infamous “Golden Triangle” region hitting record highs in the past year, the number of mules being recruited to transport drugs could grow even higher across Asia, and Malaysia – the region’s low-cost airline hub – appears to be the perfect transit country.

Drug syndicates operating in Malaysia have been using Facebook pages and WeChat groups with devastating effect, luring impressionable young people with “paid holidays” (like the one Shirley went for) or part-time courier jobs. Some openly say the job involves drugs.

If the mules get arrested, they are left to rot in prison while the syndicates get off scot-free. All communications are done using fake profiles on chat apps, so the recruiters can’t be traced.

Posing as a potential mule, a R.AGE undercover journalist (left) secures a meeting with a drug syndicate recruiter.
Source: R.AGE

After receiving a tip-off from a lawyer and a prison chaplain in Hong Kong, investigative journalists from R.AGE started looking into this increase in drug mule activity and working with the families of the arrested mules to find out more about the syndicates. Through its investigations in Malaysia and Hong Kong alone, the journalists were able to uncover syndicates which were sending mules to Vietnam, China, South Korea, Taiwan, the Middle East, Australia, and even as far as Brazil and Peru.

The team then went undercover, posing as potential drug mules to meet with the syndicates’ recruiters, in hopes of exposing their tactics – which range from friendly recruitment to brutal physical force. Little did they know, their investigations would eventually help expose a dangerous drug trafficking network, with connections to a dealer in Hong Kong.
But it all started with a series of prison visits in Hong Kong.

Shirley, now 18, told R.AGE her story from behind a glass panel at a Hong Kong prison. She was supposed to be graduating high school this year. Her Facebook page is full of photos of her and her friends from school. None of them know what happened. Only her parents and a few close relatives were clued in.

“I told her not to go,” said Shirley’s mother, her voice trembling as she spoke from their home, in a small town two hours south of Kuala Lumpur.

They haven’t moved anything in Shirley’s room, the bigger of the two rooms in their home. It’s also the only one with a window, so the parents offered it to her. “She’s such a sweet child – her grandmother’s favourite, and popular with all her schoolmates – but she started mixing with these ‘friends’ on Facebook, and now they’ve ruined her life.

“She begged me to let her go with them. I felt bad because we never had the money to bring her for a holiday overseas, but I still said no. In the end, we just couldn’t stop her,” said the mother.

Her parents, too, had never been on a plane. Despite surviving on a combined RM3,000 a month, they spent almost all their savings making two trips to see Shirley in Hong Kong, desperate to find evidence that could help her case before she is sentenced.

“I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I just cry myself to sleep every night thinking about her,” said the mother. “Just one trip – her first time on a plane,” said her father ruefully. “Look what it has done to us.”

“I believe I was set up (to be arrested),” said Shirley. “I was the one to take the fall. Why else would they only plant 700g on me? That seems like a very small amount.”

Shirley has not heard from the 15-year-old friend who recruited her. He was on the same trip, but on an earlier flight. As far as she knows, he’s back in Malaysia, safe and sound. Other mules tell us it’s a common diversionary tactic – keep the authorities busy with one or two arrests, while the majority pass through.
“I believe I was set up (to be arrested),” said Shirley. “I was the one to take the fall. Why else would they only plant 700g on me? That seems like a very small amount.”

Proving that in court, however, seemed an almost impossible task for her parents. The syndicate had burned all traces of their involvement, and the parents didn’t have enough money to hire a lawyer.

Although Shirley eventually pleaded guilty to avoid trial, the group of undercover journalists’ investigation behind this story put a dent in local drug syndicates’ operations by exposing their mule recruitment methods.Their work has helped raise awareness about Father John Wotherspoon’s work, a prison chaplain from Hong Kong on a mission to expose drug mule recruiters in Malaysia before they ruin any more lives. With the help of corroborative intel from Father Wotherspoon and families of incarcerated drug mules, a drug lord dubbed as Shanker was detained under the Special Preventive Measures by narcotics officers in February.

Another three senior figures in his syndicate were arrested as well. However, much remains to be done, like many others the teenage recruiter who made Shirley a drug mule is still at large.

* All names have been changed to protect the identity of the families involved.

This story by Ian Yee and Shanjeev Reddy was originally published by R.AGE, the Star on June 24.

Drug syndicates operating out of the infamous Golden Triangle in Myanmar have been flooding Asia with record levels of synthetic drugs, with Malaysia a strategic transit point — particularly for the recruitment of innocent young mules. Undercover journalists from The Star’s R.AGE team followed the trail of information left by the mules and their devastated families to track down the syndicates’ recruiters, and found enough information to help Malaysian narcotics officers make several arrests, crippling at least one drug mule network. Their work, which included a hidden camera sting operation on a mule recruiter, helped stem the tide of Malaysian drug mule arrests in Hong Kong — another strategic transit point for drug trafficking, according to experts. It also helped create widespread awareness about the drug mule syndicates’ recruitment strategies. In the months after R.AGE’s investigations, there were zero Malaysian mule arrests reported in Hong Kong, according to one activist; compared to the over two dozen that had been arrested in the nine months before. Then, on May 2019, another two arrests emerged. R.AGE is now working with the arrested mules’ families to provide information that could help the mules’ cases in court, and is planning a follow-up campaign to tackle drug abuse.

A Minister on a Mission

As the world awakens to the enormity of the plastic waste crisis, Malaysia’s Yeo Bee Yin has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s most vocal champions for biodegradable plastics and a new circular economy.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC), together with her inspection team, discovered 450 tonnes of contaminated, low-quality plastic waste that was brought into the country illegally in shipping containers.

The containers, Yeo said, had originated from Australia, the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China and Bangladesh, and were en route to illegal recycling facilities in Malaysia to be processed in an environmentally unsafe manner. Yeo estimated that they would find 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste once all the containers were inspected.

“Although people have started to segregate their waste, 90 per cent of the plastic waste in the world is actually not recycled,” Yeo shared with Asian Scientist Magazine from her office in Putrajaya, the government district south of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

“Instead, this waste goes from developed countries to developing countries like Malaysia, and ends up being dumped in some way or recycled in illegal factories.”


While plastics account for only 10 per cent of the total waste humans generate, they constitute approximately 90 per cent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, equivalent to 46,000 pieces of plastic floating on every square mile, says the United Nations Environment Program.

At the current rate, a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum estimated that plastics will outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050. And since it is impossible to rid the oceans of plastic waste and microplastics, the problem needs to be tackled at the source.

Since being sworn into office on July 2, 2018, Yeo has made plastic pollution a key policy focus. Besides plastic straws — 500 million of which are used every single day in the US alone — the problem also includes disposable plastic bottles, packaging, construction materials and other industrial uses of plastic.

“The only thing we cannot do is say, ‘there are problems to the solution, let’s go back to business as usual,’ because you already know business as usual will not be sustainable in the future for Malaysia, and for the world,” Yeo said.

Malaysia is ranked 8th in mismanaged plastic waste, behind China in first place, Indonesia in second place and the Philippines in third place, according to a study published in the journal Science in 2015. This statistic has not gone unnoticed by Yeo, who, on October 31, 2018, announced a 12-year roadmap and legal framework towards eliminating single-use plastics in Malaysia by 2030.

In phase one of the plan, single-use plastic bags will cost consumers a nominal 20 sen (US$0.047) per bag. In states such as Penang, supermarkets, department stores and pharmacies have gone a step further and stopped dispensing single-use plastic bags altogether.

The 20 sen cost is not simply punitive, Yeo said, pointing out that recycling plastic waste isn’t exactly free either.

“Hydrocarbon-based plastics have proven to be very difficult to recycle—many of them have to be recycled illegally to make it work (for the contractors financially). People need to pay not just for the cost of production, but also for the cost to recycle the plastics (in an environmentally safe manner).”

Yeo’s 12-year roadmap thus calls for research into new materials for bioplastics.

“We are seeing that with reduce, reuse, recycle, the recycle part is really not working for plastics. So perhaps we need a fourth ‘r,’ which is to replace it, and to replace it, we need a lot of science,” Yeo said.

“What sort of materials can we use to continue packaging because you still need packaging? How do we find a material that is environmentally friendly? Biodegradable bags have a lot of science (behind them). For some of them, the strength of the biodegradable bag is not good, and some of them don’t decompose.”


Citing a 2015 World Bank report that showed Malaysia spent only 1.3 per cent of its GDP on research and development (R&D), Yeo wrote on her personal blog that “this (statistic) is even lower than the average R&D spent in low- and middle-income countries.”

“When I first came in as a minister, I found that most of our grants are given to academics. Most of our R&D (funding) was spent on academics and higher education … but it’s not solving the problem; it’s not helping our economy,” Yeo told Asian Scientist Magazine.

“Historically, only 8.6 per cent of R&D funding in Malaysia was spent on industry research. We now want 50 per cent of (grant funding) to go to research collaborations with industry, or at least market-driven research,” said Yeo, adding that the four strategic areas her ministry is focusing on are halal food science, Islamic finance, health and wellness, and Industry 4.0.

Yeo also wants to create a pipeline of researchers to industry and raise the proportion of researchers in the private sector from the current 12 per cent today.

“There used to be a huge disconnect in Malaysia between scientists and the economy. We want to completely change how this works. And we’ll start very small; we’ll start by shifting our government researchers to industry for free for this year.


After being elected into office, Yeo was christened as one of the “Top 10 People Who Mattered in Science in 2018” by UK-based science journal Nature. In 2019, she was appointed a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Could Yeo use her twin platforms of rising public popularity and policy making to shape the destiny of plastic use in the region?

Indeed, Yeo has ambitious plans for Malaysia to lead a new plastics circular economy in Southeast Asia.

“For the next three years we are developing a circular economy—how do we have a circular economy, not only for plastics, but also for electronic waste, like batteries? If we start changing our lifestyle to become more electrified, batteries need to be in a circular market.”

In parting, Malaysia’s plastics reformer spoke philosophically of the challenges in front of her, which include raising Malaysia’s renewable energy target tenfold by 2025 and implementing the 12-year roadmap to banning single-use plastics.

“The only thing we cannot do is say, ‘there are problems to the solution, let’s go back to business as usual,’ because you already know business as usual will not be sustainable in the future for Malaysia, and for the world,” Yeo said.

This story by Dr. Juliana Chan was first published by Asian Scientist Magazine on July 19.

In a male dominated field, Yeo Bee Yin stands out as a young female minister handling five portfolios. Her background in chemical engineering is unusual, making her an example of how a scientifically trained person can have an impact on politics. With climate change high on Yeo’s agenda, these factors led the Asian Scientist team to approach the Minister to find out what difference the unconventional individual sought to make. “One of the less well-explored areas in climate change coverage is the disparity between how it will affect developed vs developing nations. Malaysia, with its recent change of government, was in a unique position to come up with a new way of addressing that challenge,” said Dr Juliana Chan, editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine. Widely read and shared online, the article raised awareness about the Yeo’s plans to address plastic pollution in Malaysia.

The Road to Radicalisation

The Road to Radicalisation is a story told of ‘Hani’, a wife and mother of three children whose husband, ‘Azmi’, gets caught and charged for terrorist activities related to IS or Daesh. Hani is candid in telling us her entire story from how Azmi first got involved, persuading her to move to Syria, right till his arrest. 

When people think of producing a documentary, the thing that always comes to mind is the extensive shooting, recording and editing process. But rarely do people think about the commitment that the documentarians make towards finding the right subject and then gaining their trust. 

The Road to Radicalisation is a story that Ezra Zaid and I told of ‘Hani’, a wife and mother of three children whose husband, ‘Azmi’, gets caught and charged for terrorist activities related to IS or Daesh. Hani is candid in telling us her entire story from how Azmi first got involved, persuading her to move to Syria, right till his arrest. 

It took me a while to identify Hani. Ten months to be exact. Ezra and I tried to make contact with ex-detainees, current supposedly active ‘terrorists’ and even their lawyers, but were never successful. We came close several times, but when it came down to going on the record, these people would always back out and bail. 

It was frustrating. Then, on the tenth month, I met Hani. 

It took Zan Azlee (above) ten months to identify ‘Hani’. Source: Zan Azlee

A friend who works at an NGO that provides legal assistance to those who can’t afford it contacted me and said that he might have someone who would be willing to talk to me. It was a woman whose husband had recently been arrested for being involved in IS. He explained to me her story and I got the number and the next day, I gave her a call. 

Hani was very hostile in the beginning. She yelled and screamed at me accusing me of wanting to take advantage of her story to make money. She even threatened to sue. I let her cool off for a day then I texted her politely and continues to explain why we thought it was important to tell her story and how it would benefit others. 

I almost gave up. But then, after a week, I get a call from her. I answered the phone excitedly and then she started talking. She said she had done some research (ie: Google) and found out that I actually am a journalist and that she was impressed by my anti-establishment viewpoints. 

Then, Hani said that she had spoken to her best friend about the documentary and that we wanted to interview her. She told her friend my name and, lo and behold, her friend and I were friends back in university! Her friend told her that I can be trusted and that she should tell us her story. That did it and Hani agreed! What luck! 

And that’s how we got the story to The Road to Radicalisation. Hani didn’t hold back and told us everything. We hear how she disagreed with her husband and fought with him, how her children suffered after his arrest and how she is conflicted in disagreeing with her husband and still loving him and wanting to be a loyal wife. 

She tells us all this in hopes that it will help people to understand how to fight extremism and how to deal with the situation of losing a loved one to it as well. Now, aside from the documentary being broadcast on radio and available online, it is also being brought on tour around the various universities in Malaysia. 

We engage with students after screening the documentary and we discuss issues related to religious extremism, conflict, and indirectly, multiculturalism, pluralism and human understanding. These screenings and discussions have become a safe space where these students are able to speak and have discourse without prejudice or being judged. 

Since the programme was broadcast on BFM89.9, the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) under the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs got in touch with us to explore the possibility of showcasing the Road to Radicalisation documentary with their respective collaborators. This included a request from the Malaysian Prisons Department, who expressed interest in airing the programme to prison detainees as a part of their rehabilitation programme. 

This is something we, the documentarians, and Hani are extremely proud of. 

This story by Zan Azlee and Ezra Zaid was originally published as an online podcast by BFM 89.9 on 4 October, 2018.

Now, aside from the documentary being broadcast on radio and available online, it is also being brought on tour around the various universities in Malaysia.
We engage students after screening the documentary and we discuss issues related to religious extremism, conflict, and indirectly, multiculturalism, pluralism and human understanding. These screenings and discussions have become a safe space where these students are able to speak and have discourse without prejudice or being judged.
Since the programme was broadcast on BFM89.9, the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) under the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs got in touch with us to explore the possibility of showcasing the Road to Radicalisation documentary with their respective collaborators. This included a request from the Malaysian Prisons Department, who expressed interest in airing the programme to prison detainees as a part of their rehabilitation programme.