Ensure our youths are heard

WHAT is acceptable behaviour for one person is not always acceptable to another. It’s time to stop trivialising sexual harassment, victim-shaming and body-shaming.

It is high time to stop telling the complainant not to over-react. It is not over-reaction if it threatens one’s safety, well-being or mental health. It takes a lot of courage to speak up and initiate uncomfortable discussions.

Kudos to Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam for having the guts to stand her ground. Soroptimist International Region of Malaysia stands with her.

An apology or retraction of an offensive statement does not even the score. We have to see better and more genuine efforts to address the recent flood of callous and dismissive statements and disturbing conduct among some educators. Perpetrators have to be dealt with accordingly.

We call on the Education Ministry and appropriate authorities to advocate child protection, implement effective processes to prevent similar occurrences, and to require educators to be better informed about sexual harassment. Schools should be a safe space for all children regardless of gender.

Indeed, it would be a disgrace and absolutely unacceptable if allegations that Ain has been expelled from her school and attacked on social media by the principal are true.

The psychological and emotional damage inflicted on a child by such dangerous behaviour must not be taken lightly. We must ensure that our children and youths are heard and the correct action is taken.

Some measures that are necessary include:

1. Education on the prevention of sexual harassment and assault before and during puberty. This is the time when those beliefs and values begin to set in. More consent education in health and ethics classes should be included in our primary school syllabus. For a start, “period spot checks” must be discontinued with immediate effect as it is a serious violation of privacy and constitutes sexual harassment;

2. Bystander intervention should be encouraged. Fellow students and educators must also play their part to step in when they see harmful situations developing by creating a sense of shared responsibility. They should be taught that every person has the ability and an obligation to build a safe and healthy learning environment;

3. Students must be heard, whether there is a hotline they can dial, professionally trained student counsellors they can speak to, or online support groups to hear them out. Access to advice and protection should be a click or a phone call away;

4. Parents should also get on board. They can reinforce student learning outside the classroom and help facilitate the larger cultural changes to which prevention programmes can aspire. It is time to ask parents to jointly build environments outside of school where students can practise the prevention skills they learn.

On our part, various Soroptimist International (SI) clubs in Malaysia have carried out initiatives. To highlight a few, SI club of Petaling Jaya has implemented the SPOT Community Project, which delivers comprehensive sexuality education that empowers young women and children with the right knowledge, attitude and skills to assist them in making informed decisions in matters relating to sexual and reproductive health.

This programme has already impacted nearly 10,000 girls in schools since 2015.

SI Club of Bangsar also conducts personal safety workshops for children and SI Kota Kinabalu has been raising awareness on social media through the dissemination of impactful posters and messages against sexual harassment.

Soroptimist International Region of Malaysia is calling out to our leaders, teachers and community to create a safe environment for our children and youths. They are our future, and we must protect and nurture them.

MICHELE N. KAUR , President Soroptimist International Region of Malaysia

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