Tuesday, July 23

An alliance to ensure no one is left behind


Alexandra (left) with Denison (right) and Chan (second right) at a session moderated by Yong Li Na of PurpleLily Kuching.

SARAWAK aspires to form an alliance of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to complement Malaysia’s efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

The SDGs, themed ‘Leaving No One Behind’, covers 169 targets and 230 indicators with an aim to help countries identify areas, requiring attention, and take systematic action which can be evaluated and monitored for progress.

All governments are expected to meet these SDGs, replacing the previous Millennium Goals, by 2030 as the world seeks sustainable and environment friendly development.

CSOs are identified as necessary to steer the nation towards achieving the SDGs and while a national alliance of CSOs has been established, the formation of a Sarawak chapter is underway.

What have the CSOs in Sarawak been doing to advance their aspirations? To answer this, let’s take a look at the 17 SDGs.

The 17 SDGs to transform the world.

The SDGs call for collaboration between the governments and private and non-government sectors to achieve the following multi-pronged objectives:

1.    Zero poverty,

2.    Zero hunger,

3.    Good health and well-being,

4.    Quality education,

5.    Gender equality,

6.    Clean water and sanitation,

7.    Affordable and clean energy,

8.    Decent work and economic growth,

9.    Industry, innovation and infrastructure,

10.  Reduced inequalities,

11.   Sustainable cities and communities,

12.  Responsible consumption and production,

13.  Climate action,

14.  Life below water,

15.  Life on land,

16.  Peace, justice and strong institutions and

17.  Partnerships for the goals.


Bigger voice

To strengthen Sarawak’s voice in national planning to achieve these goals, several CSOs convened on July 28 to deliberate six issues such as reducing inequalities, addressing needs of marginalised communities, judicious use and care of environment, health and well-being for both urban and rural settings, improving the quality of education and strengthening social institution for justice and peace.

Co-chair of the national alliance of CSO-SDG Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria in his keynote address at the workshop, touched chiefly on the potential of CSO-SDG.

He said the federal government of the day is in the midst of conducting a mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) and this is where CSOs could play a pro-active role to offer valuable inputs to see a more comprehensive roadmap for development.

According to him, the National Alliance has about 30 CSOs as well as four umbrellas with about 350 associated and 26 individual organisations.

“CSOs are directly involved alongside target groups such as children, youth, women, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, urban poor, undocumented people and migrant workers. CSOs have the potential to undertake micro studies, including ethnographic and in-depth social mobility studies,” he said.

Denison stressed CSOs should be the voice of people of diverse religions and backgrounds while recalling having worked with the Human Rights of Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

“I remember working with Suhakam to study the Penan community and a dam project in Sarawak. We want to see people move from poverty level to middle income level, from very poor to out of poverty. We can even bring the local community into national, regional and even international forum.

“There is a need for capacity building of CSO workers and volunteers in data collection, writing alternative narratives and undertaking micro case studies.

“CSOs can also work with think-tanks and academic institutions to conduct longitudinal studies of between five and 15 years to see real change.”

He asserted that although CSOs were playing a dynamic role, some quarters or even the government “might not fancy them” to some extent.

He said as CSOs were serving the community they would worry less about being liked or otherwise, adding: “Let our voice be heard and let us be inclusive. Let’s see to it that politicians are accountable to their promises so that no one is left behind.”

A photo call of CSO representatives and speakers attending the workshop.

Gender equality

Alexandra John from the Sarawak Women for Women Society, started her talk ‘Reducing Inequalities: Across Gender and Within’ by sharing a famous quote.

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance,” she quoted Kofi Annan, UN secretary general (1997 to 2006).

Alexandra said there is no reason not to push for gender equality when half of the population in Malaysia are women.

According to her, discrimination encompasses class, race, age, sex, religion, income, disability, ethnicity and sexual orientation, thereby depriving those being discriminated against of services, access to opportunity, choices and better quality of life.

She observed that “women are more disadvantaged globally”, given the income gap and gender discrimination, while “women are more vulnerable in times of crisis”.

Malaysia signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) way back in 1995 but full compliance of human rights treaty remains in question today, she noted.

Citing figures from Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), she said Malaysia there were 10,282 reported domestic violence cases based on the statistics from Jan 2014 to Jan 2016 and of the reported cases, 2,651 are male victims, making up about 26 per cent of the total cases.

Alexandra said one of the reasons women were abused was that they were not economically independent.

She pointed out that a nation that recorded a high level of gross domestic product (GDP) does not ensure a high score of social progress.

“GDP only measures economic development and does not tell how well your country treats human rights, so we need to do more. In Sarawak, there are discriminatory laws against women such as the adat law protects only the child and not the women.”

She opined that women had to stand up for themselves by telling the community that they should be given an equal opportunity.

For instance, she added, women in rural areas who are traditionally not assertive, should recognise they had not been treated fairly, pointing out that they would be able to progress to the next step once they recognised that fact and initiate some change.


Universal health coverage

Former Sarawak health director Prof Datu Dr Andrew Kiyu, in his talk on ‘Health and Wellbeing: Urban and Rural Settings’, said health services contributed to only 20 per cent of a community’s health status – the other 80 per cent are attributed to health behaviour, social and economic factors, access to care and quality of care as well as physical environment.

He asserted that Malaysia should aspire to attain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to provide decent healthcare services for its people.

Dr Andrew, now with the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), said UHC meant all people are covered with no barriers to accessing services.

“It also means health services are comprehensive, that all people are protected from financial hardships, and health services are flexible, innovative and resilient.”

He said it had been the norm that almost all private practices operated in urban areas rather than the rural areas.

“Even though there are rural clinics in Sarawak, there are still remote areas without rural clinics, and services will be provided by the Flying Doctor Services (FDS) once a month.

“Apart from this, the government has identified certain people in remote villages and trained them to provide health services to the local community.

“This is because even with the FDS, these remote villagers are still without health services for 29 days since FDS are available once a month and only three hours for that one time.”

Dr Andrew, who previously served in Kapit and Baram areas, added that rural folk had more often than not forked out more for transportation cost than medical fee as treatment is almost free at all government hospitals and clinics.


Dire situation

According to him, some villages are so remoted that people have to spend over half a day just getting to the clinic for treatment.

“Imagine they have to spend RM200 travelling from their village to a government clinic, and sometimes by the time they get there, the clinic is already closed.

“People having cancer in rural areas do not have the means to go to government hospital for treatment because the helicopter service is meant only for emergency cases. And even if the hospital is willing to airlift them, how do they go back to their village? They can lose all their earnings,” he pointed out.

Dr Andrew termed the cost as “catastrophic expenditure”, stressing it would “destroy the family’s savings and income”.

He said although CSOs were not empowered to make policies, they could advocate for the community and put forward their suggestions to policymakers to bring about improvement so that UHC could be attained.


Needless time-wasting

During a Q&A session, a participant asked why calls made to 999 had to be routed to Kuala Lumpur and then back here.

The participant who raised this issue said it took the authorities about 45 minutes to finally get back to the local caller.

Responding, Dr Andrew said the previous government had implemented the policy of centralising all distress calls so that the call centre could direct it to the nearest station to render assistance or rescue work.

“This is because hospitals are not the only agencies with ambulance as you have Bomba and Red Crescent. It is hoped that the call can be directed to the nearest one but after many years, there still seems to be problems. GIRN (Government Integrated Radio Network) was once proposed and we wanted to have that but unfortunately, it is only meant for the security personnel.”

He pointed out that the FDS could not operate beyond 4pm, given that the pilots were not certified to fly at night when visibility was low.

To another question, he said he was happy with the level of health literacy in Sarawak where 99 per cent of health service delivery “is safe delivery”.

By definition, he explained, safe delivery meant all patients were attended to by trained nurses.

However, he did not rule out in some cases people approached formal health care late because of shyness.

“Some cases are not so much due to lack of health literacy. It’s not that they don’t know what should be done but that they are shy,” he said.


Change mindset

On the topic of ‘Strengthening social institutions for justice and pace’, Simon Siah, representing lawyer Kamek For Change (LK4C), said people had to alter their mindset if they wanted to see change in an institution.

He noted that the Sarawak government of the day was following what the British government back then had done, thinking the natives were not capable of taking care of their land property, thereby refusing to issue titles to native landowners.

He said it didn’t make sense to use the reasoning that “the natives will gamble away their land titles” not to issue the titles.

“I’m a Chinese, do the Chinese not do the same? When we need money, we go to sell things,” he said, claiming that ‘pulau galau’ which means reserve forest, existed way before the White Rajah arrived in Sarawak.

Siah also spoke on the issue of stateless persons in Sarawak, saying the National Registration Department (JPN) did not do a good job in addressing it.

According to him, under the existing law, he if a Malaysian man is not “properly married” to a non-Malaysian woman, the couple will not be able to register their child as the child is to follow the nationality of the mother.

“There’s this case where the couple, Malaysian father and Indonesian mother, could not register their first child because they were not properly married. After they made their marriage proper, they managed to get their second child registered with JPN but their first child remains stateless,” he said.


Formulating policy

Siah stressed every individual has to be regarded as a human being “because we are not disposable and dispensable”.

“Through advocacy, we can seek certain change. Together, we can actually formulate a policy and take it up with the government for a change of policy.”

Other speakers included Dr Henry Chan from World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF) on ‘Environment: Wise Use and Care’, Thomas Jalong from the Indigenous People Network Malaysia on ‘Inclusivity and Diversity: Addressing Needs of Marginalised Communities’, and Dr Philip Nuli Anding from Unimas on ‘Improving The Quality of Our Education’.

Although the UN set up the 17 SDGs in 2015, the guidance to governments across the globe for delivering sustainable development is not yet widely known.

As such, many CSOs remain uninformed despite the significant contributions they are already making towards meeting SDGs.

The SDGs give CSOs the opportunity to advance their aspirations and develop meaningful local and global partnerships with the government towards ‘Leaving No One Behind’.