Written by: Rienna Kaur
Edited by: Amirah Syazwani Shawel
Schools are meant to be the safest place second to only our own homes. Are they actually safe? Malaysian twitter has shown and proven the fact that this isn’t true at all. Recently a Twitter user who is also a Human Rights Activist @TerryDieHeiden came forward with questions regarding period spot checks and whether the practice is still prevalent in schools, but more specifically boarding schools in this country. This particular tweet was made on the 16th of April 2021 on the social media platform. An old, outdated practice of ustazah, who are female religious teachers physically checking students to make sure that they don’t try to get out of fasting and prayer by using menstruation as an excuse.
Some of the most outrageous things those teachers would ask them to do is to show them proof of their menstrual blood or will proceed to reach down to touch their private parts so as to feel whether they’re wearing pads or whether the students were lying without their consent which must be noted. All of the students emphasized the things they were subjected to were done under coercion because they did not see it as wrong. They just felt like it was a normal practice everyone had to go through.
Terry also emphasized that this should not be done under any circumstances because it is a direct invasion of privacy and this behavior if it does happen, should be reported to parents and authorities alike for further action to be taken. To everyone’s utter dismay, former and current students from different schools all around Malaysia came forward in his comment section as well as his Twitter private messages with information about the practice that was unfortunately still very much prevalent.
There were two types of reactions to this. The first one is utter shock at the information because some people, evidently the ones who've attended international schools did not know that this kind of practice exists. The other more prominent, but also very unfortunate reaction was that the majority of the public was already aware this was a thing, but never thought to say anything in fear of backlash. Some were even traumatized to the point of being silenced. It did not even occur to most of them that the things they went through were pretty loud and clear, a form of sexual harassment.
Another prominent Twitter user @AnotherAznTart said that it never did occur for her to tell her mother the things that used to happen in school because it was thought to be so common.
“When I told her the other day, she was like why didn’t you ever tell me?”
That statement above just adds to the argument that most of the students thought of this behavior as something so normal which is very much unfortunate. They should not be subjected to this kind of inhumane treatment that is done in the name of religion, but only serves to shame students into thinking they’re lying about their menstrual cycles and subjecting students to trauma for years and even decades to come. This draconian practice needs to stop being normalized.
The latest remarks on the topic by the Minister of Women, Family, and Community, Datuk Seri Rina Binti Harun has said on behalf of the ministry that she takes those asking for enquiries very seriously and it should not have happened in the first place so, strict investigations will be carried out into the matter as reported by Astro Awani. The statement was made on the 24th of April, 2021 in the form of a press release. Just as we thought, the statement didn’t go exactly well with netizens because they wanted to see those statements turn into action as soon as possible with quick results.
PUSH FOR ACTION
With all these stories resurfacing, many non-governmental organizations are calling upon the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) to start an investigative task force into the issue. NGO’s like the Pertubuhan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), and Sisters in Islam (SIS) have emphasized that the stories resurfacing on these social media platforms can be considered as sexual offenses and pressed that these offenses are very much punishable under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and also under Section 354 of the Penal Code for outrage of modesty.
These sexual offenses under the guise of making sure someone follow their religious liberty and duties only serve to hurt their modesty as well as decrease their beliefs and it should not happen to be very frank. The system needs to be rebuilt and completely revamped to make sure that students will not feel victimized and traumatized again after this. The current system has failed our current and former students alike and the action we can hope for now is for the relevant parties to work together and collaborate to create a zero-tolerance policy towards any and all types of sexual violations. A focus on their mental health needs to be emphasized on and help needs to be very accessible for them if they ever need it.