Be more transparent in investigations into ‘period spot checks’, sexual harassment in schools

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Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urges the Ministry of Education to be more transparent in investigations on period spot checks and sexual harassment in schools.

JAG is willing and able to assist the ministry in those investigations and has recently sent a letter to the ministry to request a meeting to discuss ways to address sexual harassment in schools.

Recently, Malaysiakini, an online news portal, in an effort to assist investigations on alleged sexual harassment in schools, handed a list of 15 schools where female students were allegedly subjected to period spot checks to the Education Minister, Mohd Radzi Md Jidin.

A copy of the list was also sent to his deputies, Muslimin Yahya and Dr Mah Hang Soon, the ministry’s secretary-general, and the Corporate Communications Department. Other details were submitted with the list, specifically the dates of alleged offences (most of which were from 2011 to 2018) and the wardens or teachers involved.

Three weeks ago, the systemic issue of sexual harassment in schools and universities was brought to public attention through the appalling stories on period spot checks, sexual harassment, bullying and abuse shared by current and former students online. This was met by resounding calls on key stakeholders to address this issue from various quarters of civil society, including members of Parliament, women’s and child rights groups, as well as members of the public.

The systemic issue was further highlighted when a secondary school student Ain Husniza called out via TikTok her male PE teacher for making rape jokes. She subsequently received a rape threat from her male classmate and online lewd comments for doing so.

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Since then, more survivors have come forward. To date, the All Women’s Action Society (Awam) has received 13 cases of gender-based violence against children in schools, of which 12 were sexual harassment and one was rape. Four of the sexual harassment cases involved refugee children. In all 12 sexual harassment cases, the teachers were the perpetrators.

The deeply entrenched toxic culture of sexual harassment does not just negatively affect students. Ain’s father, Saiful Nizam recently mentioned that he received many stories of sexual harassment from female teachers, with many disclosing to him the names of their male colleagues who had harassed them.

Sexual harassment can happen to and be perpetrated by anyone. Its effects on the survivor can be wide ranging yet devastating. Among the psychological effects include self-blame, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, with self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide being among the most severe consequences.

Survivors of sexual harassment often experience poor academic outcomes and reduced work productivity, as well as poor relationship quality due to stigma and judgement from surrounding others on the violation.

In schools, teachers and administrators are given the responsibility to protect students. By allowing sexual harassment, bullying and abuse to happen, figures of authority in schools are creating and perpetuating a violence-supportive environment that indoctrinates students with problematic values of disrespect for physical boundaries, human dignity and women.

At the same time, these figures of authority are also entrenching a culture of mistrust, fear, hostility and trauma, making schools physically, psychologically and emotionally unsafe for students.

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The Ministry of Education has the responsibility of providing our children with a quality education in a safe environment of learning that actively promotes values of respect for all persons and non-violence. This includes being transparent and timely in the current investigations into sexual harassment, bullying and abuse happening in our schools.

The results of the investigations should then be used as the groundwork for a multi-sectoral collaborative response to this extremely serious issue. All of us – the ministry, civil society, parents, teachers, the police – must come together to form sustainable solutions or risk having a society of young people forever scarred by their schooling experience.

Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:

1. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
2. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
3. Empower Malaysia
4. Family Frontiers Malaysia
5. Justice for Sisters (JFS)
6. Kryss Network
7. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
8. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
9. Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
10. Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
11. Tenaganita
12. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
13. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

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