Malaysia is home to people from all walks of life – read on to learn about some of the diversity and inclusion issues expats might encounter in this vibrant country.

Accessibility in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur is one of Asia’s most wheelchair-friendly cities. Most, though not all, of Kuala Lumpur is accessible, though some streets don’t have curb cuts, making traversal difficult for wheelchair users.

It’s fairly easy to get around on all forms of public transport in Kuala Lumpur, with a bit of planning. Getting to and from transport stops may be the most difficult part of travelling on public transport, due to the lack of accessible roads and sidewalks. The good news is that the situation is improving, with the government making an effort to repave sidewalks and construct curb cuts around the city.

Further reading

LGBTQ+ in Malaysia

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment. Under Sharia law, Muslims may also be sentenced to caning and fines. Although convictions are rare in practice, the state has been known to arrest or detain people at LGBTQ+ gatherings.

Transgender individuals face many obstacles in living as their identifying gender in Malaysia, mainly due to the fact that transgenderism not recognised as a genuine gender identity but is rather considered ‘cross dressing’, an act condemned by Islam.

Conversion therapy is common in Malaysia and endorsed by the government. There have been reports of government bodies raising funds for conversion therapy.

Useful resources

Gender equality in Malaysia

Malaysia has made strides towards codifying gender equality, ratifying (with reservations) the UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1995, and removing most of those reservations in 2010.

The remaining reservations have to do with equal marriage rights and a woman's ability to pass her citizenship to her children, stemming from the difficulty of unifying these ideals with traditional Islamic law. These areas aside, women in Malaysia enjoy equal rights and protection from discrimination, at least in theory, though gender equality in Malaysia is a complex issue, with a woman's status influenced by her religion and which territory she lives in.

The World Economic Forum's 2022 Global Gender Gap Report ranks Malaysia 103rd out of 146 countries, between China and Brunei. Malaysia's score is mostly hindered by a lack of women's political empowerment and economic participation and opportunity.

Although there is actually reverse parity in education, meaning a higher proportion of females are receiving education in Malaysia, women are underrepresented in the workforce. At some point, women drop out of the workforce in favour of home management and caring for children and the elderly, and only half of women participate in the workforce.

Useful resources

Women in leadership in Malaysia

In 2020, Malaysia reported that 33 percent of senior management positions were filled by women, though The 30% Club pegs the number at 28 percent in 2022. In either case, this represents a stellar improvement in recent years.

Eight out of the 15 Malaysian Federal Court judges are women, another promising indication of increasing gender parity in Malaysian leadership. In 2022, women constitute 15 percent of Malaysia's parliamentary and 16 percent of its ministerial positions, indicating that women are not yet adequately represented in the political sphere.

Useful resources

Mental health awareness in Malaysia

Due to the stress of relocation and feelings of loneliness or isolation in their new home, expats are at higher risk of depression and anxiety than the general population. While mental health was once a taboo subject, companies are becoming increasingly conscious of its importance. More companies are holding talks and workshops to raise awareness, and employers are adjusting healthcare plans offered to their employees, so that there’s better coverage for treatment in the mental health arena.

Expats in Malaysia tend to opt for private mental healthcare services. The extent of coverage provided by a particular insurer can vary, however, so it’s important to check individual policy details for clarity.

Numerous private clinics in Kuala Lumpur cater directly to expats, with diverse staff from all over the world able to practice in numerous languages.

Useful resources

Unconscious bias education in Malaysia

Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they're often inaccurate and based on assumptions.

Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention and recruitment.

In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.

Useful resources

Diversification of workforce in Malaysia

Malaysia is home to more than 2 million foreigners, the majority of whom come from China, India and Indonesia. People moving to Malaysia are often drawn by the thriving energy of Kuala Lumpur, an excellent location for advancing in one’s career.

Expats can expect to encounter a fairly diverse work environment in the large multinational companies based in Kuala Lumpur. The offices of international firms buzz with a blend of languages, with staff being sourced from all over the world.

Studies show that diversification of the workplace is hugely beneficial to companies and employees alike. In recognition of this, many of Malaysia’s largest companies are setting up diversity and inclusion programmes, ensuring that a wide variety of people is represented among employees.

Safety in Malaysia

Malaysia is generally a safe place, with opportunistic petty crime being the primary safety concern of most expats. Much of this risk can be negated by following normal safety precautions, such as keeping valuables tucked away, being aware of personal belongings in crowded areas and tourist hotspots, avoiding walking alone at night through isolated areas, and only using reputable taxi companies.

Calendar initiatives in Malaysia

4 February – World Cancer Day
March – TB Awareness Month
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
8 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day

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