[PRESS STATEMENT] Education Ministry Must Intervene in Ain’s Possible Expulsion

Picture Taken from The Star

We are outraged by SMK Puncak Alam’s warning notice of expulsion to Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, especially in light of the lack of transparent penalties against the teacher who made the rape comments amongst his students in a class session on sexual harassment, where Ain was present.

There seems to be a string of unchecked and increasingly brazen displays of power by figures of authority within educational institutions in an attempt to punish Ain for speaking out about her teacher’s rape jokes.

First, there were the online lewd comments about Ain’s body shape and breast size allegedly from teachers in response to her TikTok video. A week later, the secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) openly contested the widespread sexual harassment and rape culture in schools, when hundreds of current and former students have already come forward online with their violations experienced.

At the same time, disappointingly, key authorities have failed to take swift and concrete action to keep these perpetrators in check and address the deeply entrenched toxic culture of sexual harassment, rape, and power abuse in educational institutions. Until now, the teacher who made the rape jokes is allowed to continue teaching, with no updates from the Education Ministry on the inquiry.

Furthermore, despite expressions of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and rape in schools by the Education Ministry, this stance has not been followed by public commitments to short-term or long-term solutions that address gender insensitivity and sexist attitudes within the country’s institutions of education.

In a scenario where the survivor is punished but not the perpetrators, we are now at risk of further regressing Malaysia’s understanding that gender-based violence is an act that devalues women. We are perpetuating the culture of victim-blaming and sending out the message that perpetrators can violate women with impunity.

The government needs to understand that state structures and practices that condone acts of violence against women and/or do not provide adequate punitive actions against those who commit such acts, result in societies where women are subject to state-sanctioned violence. Is this the image that Malaysia wants to portray?

The process to support Ain, other students like her, and Malaysian women against the social ill that is gender-based violence is not rocket science. The steps are clear.

Ministry Must Do the Right Thing

Firstly, the Education Ministry and the government needs to focus on primary prevention, the aim of which is to stop violence before it happens. This is done by increasing awareness on issues of gender-based violence and empowering women and men through training of leadership development and capacity building, to attempt to change the attitudes and behaviors that allow violence against women to occur.

The second priority area is to increase access of survivors of gender-based violence to quality mental health and legal information services, all of which are publicly available at low cost, to build the resilience of women and girls under the cloud of gender-based violence.

The third priority area is linked to long-term solutions, which involves developing and reforming policies and legislation to prevent, respond to and punish all forms of violence against women.

In this day and age, gender-based violence is recognized as not only a form of discrimination against women and girls, but also a gross violation of fundamental human rights of freedom from violence and bodily integrity. Having one’s voices heard in a non-violent manner is also a universal right that is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international human rights agreement that is also ratified by Malaysia since 1995.

If Ain’s expulsion is allowed to go ahead, the Education Ministry will be indirectly intimidating all women and girls in Malaysia into silence even after they have been violated. Ain did the right thing by calling out on rape jokes and the systemic culture of sexual harassment and rape.

It is now Education Ministry’s turn to do the right thing in upholding existing standard operating procedures (SOPs), which in principle place schoolchildren’s safety, wellbeing, and best interest as the paramount consideration. The Education Ministry must take action against the perpetrator and actively address the issue of systemic sexual harassment, bullying, and rape culture in schools.

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