10 NOVEMBER 2021
The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) applauds the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) issuance of the circular prohibiting the practice of physical period spot checks in educational institutions under its jurisdiction, as part of its commitment to ensure that this violation “does not continue to happen”. However, there is a need for clearer directives on reporting mechanisms, actions taken against perpetrators and survivor redress.
- All state education departments and district education offices were called on to conduct continuous checks in MOE’s educational institutions, and that serious action will be immediately taken against any educational institution that conducts period spot checks. This circular, however, does not specify the types of penalties and rehabilitative actions that would be taken against figures of authority who either conduct period spot checks or instruct others (especially students) to do so.
- In addition, to ensure that period spot checks are effectively addressed, there must be clear and transparent guidelines on the following: (1) reporting mechanisms available to the survivor and whistleblower, (2) investigative processes that will subsequently be undertaken (3) as well as channels of redress such as counselling, are instrumental. To develop the above, the MOE only need to emulate from the detailed flowcharts outlining procedures of handling rape and teenage pregnancy cases, which can be found in its 2011 guidelines of management of cases of sexual harassment among students (Garis Panduan Mengendalikan Gangguan Seksual Murid), and make corresponding changes that take the current educational context into account. Briefings should then be conducted with and within all state education departments and district education offices on a regular basis to entrench institutional awareness of these guidelines.
Lastly, whilst the circular is a crucial first step in the direction of zero tolerance against period spot checks in schools, longer-term points of action need to be implemented to truly ensure the eradication of this form of violation in Malaysia’s education system.
- Whilst this circular would apply to national and national-type schools, it would not (directly) apply to educational institutions that are under the jurisdiction of state religious departments and governments such as religious schools (sekolah agama), MARA colleges under the Ministry of Rural Development, and private schools. The MOE should engage and work with these stakeholders in ensuring that the necessary measures and directives to stop period spot checks are implemented.
- Period spot checks are part of a deeply-entrenched culture of sexual harassment in educational institutions – a culture that is reinforced by a lack of respect for one’s physical boundaries, consent and human dignity. Inculcation of awareness of the aforementioned values and gender sensitivity among all figures of authority in schools is important in ensuring that educational institutions no longer produce younger generations that are either traumatised by or support violence. In this regard, the MOE should prioritise regular training on sexual harassment and gender sensitivity among teachers, counsellors and higher-level school management in the medium to long-term.
To fulfil their fundamental function of enabling every child and/or youth to achieve their greatest potential and eventually become productive members of society, educational institutions need to first become safe spaces. We hope to see more progressive policies from MOE towards this end.