[PRESS STATEMENT] Education Ministry Must Commit to Safe Environment for Students

Illustration by Fahmi Reza, VICE

We, the undersigned, would like to respond to the Minister of Education Mohd Radzi Mohd Jidin’s statement on the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) action on period spot checks in schools.

As reported in multiple online media portals on April 26 and 27, 2021, when asked to comment on the practice of period spot checks in schools, Radzi Jidin said that there was no indication thus far that such a practice existed.

He said the ministry has been “drilling until now”, “checking one by one” and asking “all divisions” but the “answer was no”. The education minister also called on the public to “tell (him) at which school, so action can be taken”.

Whilst we support the ministry’s commitment to look into and address the systemic issue of period spot checks, we would like to emphasize that it is important to implement this commitment whilst taking the complexity of the issue into consideration.

The period spot checks, as well as moral policing and the rape jokes, are done routinely by some teachers and even prefects, i.e. figures of authority who have power on their side in each individual school. In any circumstance, whether at school or at the workplace, survivors who have been harassed, sexually or otherwise, find it difficult to come forward for fear of repercussions, especially if their perpetrators are in positions of power. 

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the ministry would obtain such direct feedback from students or teachers sympathetic to the students. It is also doubtful that perpetrators are going to be willing to come forward.

Current survivors are also likely traumatized and will not be in the best frame of mind to come forward with reports. We must not forget that it is figures of authorities here that are the perpetrators and the children’s trust in such figures are likely to be eroded. 

They are also likely to be suppressed within ecosystems that have indoctrinated their inhabitants with the acceptability of period spot checks, body shaming as well as rape culture, and have silenced others who think otherwise. 

The private nature of the violation and enforcement by a higher authority can thus be impediments for both survivors and perpetrators to come forward.

The Education Ministry should always bear in mind that these are degrading and abusive treatments that violate the physical body and personal boundaries without consent. It is made even worse by the fact that most survivors here are or were underaged when these incidents happened. 

Under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and outrage of modesty under Section 354 of the Penal Code, these cases would be considered criminal offenses and are punishable by law.

Zero Tolerance

Thus we insist that the Education Ministry adopts a more serious and systematic intervention in approaching this issue which would include a fair and comprehensive investigative process. 

This process should include a whistleblower policy that protects survivors and/or other individuals who provide the ministry with further details about schools and figures of authority that have conducted period spot checks, moral policing, and other forms of sexual harassment with a public assurance by the ministry of its implementation.

There must also be an objective inquiry process into the alleged violations which would include an objective third party such as Suhakam, in order to ensure transparency and accountability.

The results of the investigations should then be shared with the relevant authorities, including parents, child rights, and women’s rights NGOs, which can then be used as a basis for collaborations to form robust policies.

The outcome of the investigations must result in the development and institutionalization of disciplinary guidelines in schools that clearly spell out zero tolerance of conduct that violates children’s rights and dignity, including period spot checks, sexual harassment, and all forms of abuse, bullying, and harassment. 

It must also result in restorative remedies that will be properly and vigorously enforced in these schools to promote zero tolerance towards harassment, abuse, and sexual violations.

Aside from appropriate action against teachers and school authorities, the government working via the Education Ministry should look into long-term solutions to ensure that schools in Malaysia exist as safe spaces for our children and not dangerous areas where rape jokes are the norm. Long-term solutions must include:

  • An improved and enforced existing teachers’ code of conduct in teachers’ colleges or institutions nationally;
  • A newly revised curriculum for all teachers training institutes to include topics on gender sensitivity so the future generation of teachers and educators do not perpetuate the toxic culture of abuse;
  • Compulsory gender sensitisation training among current school authorities and teachers nationally to inculcate fundamental awareness of gender roles, power, physical boundaries and consent.

Social inequalities are inextricably linked to educational attainment whereby experiences of systematic harassment, abuse, and violence are linked to poor educational outcomes. 

To ensure that our children achieve their greatest potential, having a safe environment of learning that actively promotes values of respect of all persons and non-violence is thus crucial. 

This responsibility should be taken seriously by the Education Ministry in order to fulfill its commitment to the provision of quality education for all Malaysian children.

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