When the case of a 17-year-old Malaysian student went viral on TikTok in April, it forced Malaysians to take notice of a topic that is brushed aside for being petty.
In her video, Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, called out a male teacher for a “rape joke” he shared in front of her class. It then triggered a debate nationwide and got international coverage.
But, how did we arrive here?
Does the answer lie in Education?
One often ignored arena for systemic change is education, gender activist and communications consultant Tehmina Kaoosji, told GoodNews.
She added that women’s rights are human rights and for society to actively support this, the issue must be approached strategically.
“To address the gaps between rights and knowledge, introducing both human rights education and comprehensive sexuality education into public schooling curriculums is key, so the current generation grows up framing women’s rights issues as non-negotiable,” said the independent broadcast journalist.
Looking back at Ain’s case, Kaoosji said it was crucial for MP’s to raise child protection issues in Parliament.
“They should raise it in Parliament and table legislative solutions and actions that can more comprehensively address the issue.
“However, as Parliament is currently suspended during the Emergency, it’s important to continue raising awareness for improved child protection, especially in schools,” she added.
Ain Husniza’s admirable visibility in campaigning against rape culture in schools and also widespread misogyny, toxic masculinity and dealing with body shaming both online and offline, is a resounding reminder of the need for the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), she said.
“Both the teacher accused of making light of rape and the male classmate who threatened Ain with rape, clearly would have benefitted from a thorough syllabus emphasising CSE during their formative years.
“Additionally, the issue of period spot checks by female teachers brought to light by student Siti Aimy’s viral TikTok video is yet another disturbing example of how child rights violations and sexual harassment intersect,” she told GoodNews.
Parliament could hold the key
There is much to do in Parliament, first by tabling Malaysia’s long overdue Sexual Harassment Bill.
“It is another critical step in better protecting our children and to #MakeSchoolASaferPlace.
“Let’s also not forget about the V2K Telegram incident, from October 2020- with NCII (non-consensual intimate images) of even underaged girls. It is still unresolved with even more such groups surfacing since then.”
The widespread and perennial nature of such violations of child rights proves just how endemic the issue is in Malaysia, she stressed.
Continued pressure for enacting the actionable solutions of CSE and protective legislation, both of which are already staring us in the face, is logical, essential and urgent, she added.
Kaoosji is all for Petaling Jaya Member of Parliament Maria Chin Abdullah’s suggestion of having at least 50% women MPs in Parliament, however she pointed out that Parliament is still way off from even achieving 30% female representation.
“Yes, I agree that fairer female representation is one of the pillars for enacting more equitable policies. However, let’s also remain cognisant of the fact that just being a woman does not make an MP/politician gender sensitive.
“Also, we’re still a ways off from achieving even 30% women in Parliament.
“Thus, it’s equally imperative that women as well as male MP’s are gender sensitised and well versed in the broader interests of national development being served by gender progressive laws and policies,” she said.
More women lawmakers would assure better legislation in favour of women.
“This is particularly true when it comes to increased gender parity at all levels of government, moving towards 50% equal representation.
“Political science research has repeatedly confirmed that female legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women and children. Lived reality is the reason behind this, women face different, gendered obstacles to success before, during and after winning office, as compared to men.
“This, in addition to their specific intersectional experiences as a woman, including factors like race, faith, age, social class and background lend them with further insights.
“Being able to empathise with issues that have a direct connection to women like domestic violence, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse- means women lawmakers are also more likely to prioritise these issues for lawmaking,” she told GoodNews.
Besides CSE, laws on child protection should include provisions against child marriages.
“There are loopholes which allow for Child Marriages and forced early unions to occur. Addressing core issues of poverty and unplanned teenage pregnancies are key to safeguarding the future of vulnerable girls.
“Period poverty is another issue deeply impacting women and girls from underserved communities. The pandemic related economic vulnerability has worsened the situation for impacted women and girls. A positive step could be emulating Scotland’s model of making period products free for all who need them.
We need to remember that period poverty ultimately impacts national development, as girls excluded from access to period products also suffer education gaps, dropping out of school and lack of higher education and career development opportunities.”
Malaysia must improve on Gender Equality
Kaoosji urges Malaysia to seize the golden opportunity amidst the pandemic to work towards Malaysia’s national development goals and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
One of Covid-19’s worst impacts has been a notable increase of gender inequality, she claimed.
“Women have suffered disproportionately in the labour market, unpaid and informal economies, and for women in other marginalised communities, the impacts have been substantially worse, including the shadow pandemic of Domestic Violence.
“Any economic recovery packages must specifically account for these gendered consequences and help redress still widening disparities. This can be achieved through Gender Responsive Budgeting.”
The current focus on #MakeSchoolsASaferPlace, begs for communication between all stakeholders.
“Open communication between parents, students, teachers, the Education Ministry, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and NGO’s working in this arena, can go a long way in achieving both short term and long term solutions.”