Globalization has increased connectedness and communication, and in so doing there is the development of converging social values-at least to some extent. Another aspect of globalization is that it provides for comparisons, as the broader social world becomes available to researchers, however there is always a danger of the imposition of cultural bias. While there is a general pattern towards increasing consensus, that process continues, and cultural boundaries and biases continue to be the main subjective framework from which judgements are made. Still, international pressures relating to human rights and health are powerful forces, and social change is occurring in developing nations. One example of this is a growing call for sex education in Malaysia, which has the potential to increase the empowerment of young women over their bodies and their health.
The need for sexual education is particularly important because many preventative clinical practices cannot be implemented across the population, such as HPV vaccination for young female students (Othman and Rebolj, 2009). These practices increase with knowledge about sexual health and provide empowerment by motivating proactive approaches to sexual health (Othman and Rebolj, 2009). Starting sex education when Malaysians are teenagers also may improve rates of compliance with sexual health prevention practices throughout the lifespan, such as the low rate of uptake of free pap smears which are offered to all women in Malaysia (Othman and Rebolj, 2009).
Wiseman, Astiz, and Baker (2016) describe how globalization studies facilitate comparison research in education, but that there can be misconceptions relating to the need for a homogenized and standardized approach to education and social values. This idea runs contrary to the importance of the acceptance of diversity in conducting comparative analysis in education and other social areas. As it entails an intercultural aspect, the researcher must note their own subjective and cultural biases.
Lee, Chen, Lee, and Kaur (2006) investigated the prevalence of sexual intercourse among teens in Malaysia and the relationship to other risk behaviors. They found that 5.4% of the sample had been sexually active of some point, with the claims being made by 8.3% of males and 2.9% of females. The mean age of first sexual encounter was fifteen years of age. Overall, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and drug abuse predicted sexual activity, but the rates of sexual activity for teens were very low in comparison to North America and Western Europe (Low, 2009).
In reflecting on my own biases and assumptions, the review of the experiences of Malaysian students, and the positioning of research, education and prevalence rates relating to teenage sex seemed to have come out of the mid-twentieth century. In my thoughts I had been using terms like “behind” to describe a continuum where on one end there were cultural and superstitious reasons to be afraid of sex education, and on the other there was a healthy understanding of sex, and sex education was offered to support better sexual health outcomes for students. I was also concerned in reading some of the methods used to study sexual practices and sex education of teens in Malaysia, as no distinction was made between consensual sexual activity and rape. These thoughts reflect my beliefs and the beliefs of many other people, but it is not a proven model against which to judge the experience and realities of delivering sex education in the sensitive environment of a Muslim country.
Cultural practices in many Muslim countries are perceived to be inequitable towards girls and women. Specially, men hold the balance of power, and women are expected not to challenge men. This creates a problem in relation to women’s sexual health. When educational policy based on best evidence, such as the provision of sex education to teenagers, is challenged by culture and customs, this can be difficult to navigate for educators and the education system. I would argue that the lack of sex education has a particularly significant influence on women’s health, since without the knowledge that comes from sex education it is harder to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease successfully.
- Lee, L.K., Chen, P.C.Y., Lee, K.K. and Kaur, J., 2006. Premarital sexual intercourse among adolescents in Malaysia: a cross-sectional Malaysian school survey. Singapore medical journal, 47(6), p.476.
- Low, W.Y., 2009. Malaysian youth sexuality: Issues and challenges. JUMMEC: Journal of Health and Translational Medicine (Formerly known as Journal of the University of Malaya Medical Centre), 12(1), pp.3-14.
- Othman, N.H. and Rebolj, M., 2009. Challenges to cervical cancer screening in a developing country: The case of Malaysia. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 10(5), pp.747-751.
- Wiseman, A.W., Astiz, M.F. and Baker, D.P., 2016. Globalization and comparative education research: Misconceptions and applications of neo-institutional theory. Journal of Supranational Policies of Education (JoSPoE), (1).