Hannah Yeoh’s New Malaysia ‘struggle’: Getting full data to solve problems

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh speaks during the launch of 2018 Telenisa Statistic book in Kuala Lumpur March 8, 2019. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh speaks during the launch of 2018 Telenisa Statistic book in Kuala Lumpur March 8, 2019. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — The lack of statistics on child marriage and teen pregnancies complicates the government’s efforts to resolve such social issues, Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh said today.

“One of the key struggles I face after entering Putrajaya in the last eight months is the fact that we have a lack of data and lack of data-sharing,” the deputy women, family and community development minister said at a Sisters in Islam (SIS) event.

Yeoh indicated that a data-driven approach — with up-to-date and extensive data — would allow government funds to be spent efficiently with more impact.

“If I am spending money on a programme, I need to know that the people attending my programme are my target audience,” she said, citing as example that education programmes on teenage pregnancies should also be targeted towards boys.

While Yeoh said she has tried her best to educate the public with the relevant statistics on social issues falling under her ministry, she reiterated the problem of incomplete data.

“But for me to educate, I need numbers and statistics, and that has been my greatest struggle in the last eight months whenever data is not collected systematically.”

Noting the importance of granular data such as the district with the highest number of teenage pregnancies which she said was not available, Yeoh said her ministry has resorted to asking the police and hospitals to share such information.

Yeoh said the numbers required should go beyond just a summary of teenage pregnancies according to states, but go down to further detail such as at the district level, the type of residences where teenage pregnancies occur, or the causes of teenage pregnancies.

To improve the availability of crucial numbers, Yeoh said government agencies have been asked to change the way such data is collected.

“Now we are educating civil servants, when you are doing data collection, go 100 per cent, collect those data in a meaningful way; ask intelligent questions so we can have intelligent data to do the right intervention.

“Otherwise we are all wasting money doing programmes that have no impact, no KPI coming back to us,” she said.

Yeoh also stressed on the importance of data being shared, including between government bodies.

“Government agencies don’t share their data effectively. Everybody talks about data as though this data is gold, but really, what is the value of this data if it’s not shared?” she asked.

Later when met after her speech, Yeoh told reporters that her ministry is “maximising” the data currently available in carrying out its intervention work and programmes, while at the same time asking government agencies to start collecting data in a new way.

“There are actually many challenges in Malaysia Baharu, but also many opportunities and resources existing, if we can just find creative ways to tap into them and work together,” she said.

Yeoh cited as example her ministry’s partnering with telco firms and public transport provider Prasarana and highway firm Plus to share infographics of teen pregnancies widely, such as in trains and highways, as well as asking drivers under ride-hailing provider Grab to share NUR alerts on missing children and to also look out for such missing children.

Yeoh cited the example of homelessness in Kuala Lumpur to show the importance of data collection, where data showed that many of the homeless persons were youths from outstation who came here looking for a job but found it hard to return home after being unsuccessful in their job hunt.

“So you see, if we don’t have this kind of data, we are going to end up giving wrong assistance which is welfare aid, which is not what they want, because they are young, they can go and work,” she said, noting that the data led to the government’s job matching efforts with 68 of these homeless youths matched with a job in January and February this year.

Yeoh said SIS’s statistics on its free legal aid centre Telenisa’s cases is important to help the public, while also being useful for other non-governmental organisations.

“I encourage them (SIS) to go on a roadshow to talk to all the ADUNs (state assemblymen) to present their findings so that people know how to help Muslim women.

“There are a lot of Muslim women who suffer quietly because they don’t know where to go and get legal aid and how to get maintenance money to help their children and also to help themselves,” she said, alluding to situations where Muslim men fail to provide financial support for their ex-wife and children as required.

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