18 MAY 2021
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) would like to respond to the press statement issued by the Ministry of Education (MoE) on 12 May 2021.
AWAM recognises and applauds the MoE’s first step of accountability towards its commitment of zero-tolerance towards rape jokes in its transfer of the teacher who made jokes in Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam’s class in April 2021. At the same time, however, we would also like to reiterate that the rape joke is only but one incident in a systemic culture of sexual harassment and bullying in educational institutions in Malaysia. In an effort to more comprehensively understand how pervasive this phenomenon is, we have collected and analysed 275 testimonials, of which 269 of them were shared with us by 2 social media influencers, and 6 directly by survivors who approached us via WhatsApp and Instagram. These stories were shared within the space of 10 days from 16 to 26 April. Our analysis yielded the following findings:
– 125 cases involved period spot checks, 108 were bullying and 88 were sexual harassment. Many survivors experienced more than 1 form of violation.
– 91.6% of survivors were women and girls. Men & boys constituted 6.2%.
108 survivors revealed their ages when they were sexually harassed/bullied. Among them, 99 (91.6%) of them were children. The age subgroup of 13 to 15 years old, when students (especially girls) experience pubertal changes, was found to be the stage when sexual harassment and bullying were most prevalent among survivors.
– Predominant sites of sexual harassment and bullying were primary, secondary and boarding schools, having 51, 58 and 55 cases respectively. Violations also occurred in colleges, daycare centres and school camps, though much fewer in the number of cases.
– Perpetrators were predominantly figures of authority. Out of 311 perpetrators, 247 of them (79.4%) were teachers, ustazah, ustaz and wardens. Whilst there were student perpetrators such as prefects and senior students, in especially cases of period spot checks, these violations were committed in the context of a normalised practice that was openly sanctioned and enforced by teachers, ustazah and ustaz.
– Among period spot check testimonials that provided specific details about the nature of violations involved, stripping and showing pads to figures of authority had the highest count (30 reports), followed by groping (23 reports) and cotton bud/tissue swabs (21 reports).
– Though much fewer in number, sexual harassment and bullying of male survivors are no less devastating. Cases of bullying include public humiliation, being slapped and punched, as well as racial bullying. Sexual harassment violations include pinching nipples, groping of private parts and being stripped by figures of authority to check for signs of puberty.
As the primary body nationally that is in charge of the safety and welfare of students across the country, it is crucial that the MoE swiftly prioritises and implements long-term solutions to ensure that educational institutions in Malaysia can become safe spaces where sexual harassment and bullying will not be norms. While we understand that not all teachers and wardens are perpetrators, the number that are perpetrators will leave long term negative effects to the school system. Long-term solutions are achievable, such as the following :
– Working with relevant civil society organisations such as AWAM to implement gender sensitisation training among school authorities nationally to inculcate fundamental awareness of gender roles, power, physical boundaries, consent and gender-based violence
– Establish a working relationship with Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia to provide the necessary support for teachers who are also their school’s counselors to better understand the working ethics of a counselor and be able to provide quality assured counselling services
– Working with relevant civil society organisations such as AWAM and other gender experts to revise the curricula in teachers’ training colleges to include topics on gender awareness and sensitivity, so that future generations of teachers and educators do not perpetuate rape and sexual harassment culture
– Improvise the existing teachers’ code of conduct in teachers’ colleges or training institutions to include sexual harassment, abuse and bullying, subsequently enforcing it nationally
– Implement a monitoring and evaluation system and other supportive measures and interventions that promote gender equality, and girls’ and women’s empowerment
Being a signatory to many international agreements that affirm the principles of empowerment, gender equality and justice, we fully support Malaysia’s unstinting efforts towards meeting its global commitments and we believe by domesticating these efforts, Malaysia will fully achieve the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development’s objective of “leaving no one behind”.