Civil societies urge Education Ministry to adopt more serious, systematic interventions to address systemic issue of sexual harassment in schools

AWAM has proposed a whistleblower policy which accord survivors or individuals protection in exchange for information about schools and figures of authority involved in any form of sexual harassment. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
AWAM has proposed a whistleblower policy which accord survivors or individuals protection in exchange for information about schools and figures of authority involved in any form of sexual harassment. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — Civil society organisations have today urged the Education Ministry to adopt a more serious and systematic intervention in its effort to address the systemic issue of sexual harassment in schools, after a female student went public that her teacher had made rape jokes during class.

Representing 87 civil society organisations and two individual signatories, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) said it is highly unlikely that the ministry will ever obtain direct feedback from students or teachers who are sympathetic to those who made the allegations.

“Whilst we support the ministry’s commitment to look into and address the systemic issue of period spot checks, we would like to emphasise 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,” they said in a statement.

They highlighted the impediments faced by survivors who are likely traumatised and thus not in the best shape to come forward with reports in regards to the private nature of the violations and subsequent enforcement by a higher authority within the ecosystems.

“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.

“It is also doubtful that perpetrators are going to be willing to come forward,” they added,

Education Minister Datuk Mohd Radzi Md Jidin recently said his ministry is conducting an in-depth investigation into the matter and will not tolerate it if the incident really happened, but had asked complainants to name such schools instead.

The allegations were exposed by a teenage female student who, through the TikTok application, had alleged that a male teacher made rape jokes in class while discussing the issue of sexual harassment during physical education and health subjects at her school.

To address such matters, AWAM said amongst the proposal was to include a whistleblower policy which accorded survivors or individuals protection in exchange for information about schools and figures of authority involved in any form of sexual harassment.

In addition, they also proposed the inclusion of an independent third party such as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) in the inquiry process to ensure transparency and accountability.

Last but not least, they suggested for the results of said investigations to be shared with the relevant authorities including parents and NGOs which could be then used as a basis for collaborations to form robust policies.

“The outcome of the investigations must result in the development and institutionalisation of disciplinary guidelines in schools that clearly spell out zero tolerance of conduct that violate 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,” they said.

However, the groups also urged for the government to look towards long-term solutions to ensure schools nationwide exist as a safe environment for students aside from any appropriate action against teachers and school authorities.

This included an enforcement of improved teachers’ code of conduct, compulsory gender sensitisation training and a newly revised curriculum to include topics on gender sensitivity in teachers training institutes nationwide.

“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 fulfil its commitment to provision of quality education for all Malaysian children,” they added.

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