LETTER | No school should be an environment where students feel unsafe

Bulan Sisters


LETTER | Dear Education Ministry, we are sure you are now aware of the horrifying experiences shared by students on social media where they were required to prove to their teachers they were menstruating.

Without getting into the specifics, our question is: how could any decent person think that violating students' bodies to enforce school rules is acceptable? It is absurd to violate a person's body autonomy at the expense of adhering to school regulations - what more the body of a student, someone whom you were trusted to nurture.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the culture that has been created in our educational institutions, where students like ourselves are conditioned to believe that having our bodies violated or being verbally harassed with questions is an acceptable practice.

Not only do these practices inflict mental stress or trauma on students, but they can also severely impact their future relationships with authority and adults. How far will the abuse go on then, if we can’t trust anyone?

"Tell me which school", is used when deciding on whether to take action on "period spot checks" in school. Why does this matter exactly? On an issue like this, while there are more than 300 testimonies from various survivors, we should not wait for confirmatory evidence to take action.

The Education Ministry has to adopt a hard stance condemning this act and take preventive measures to ensure that such a deliberately undignified act is prohibited in any case.

If we continue to wait for evidence, we face having another student be traumatised, and another perpetrator go without consequence. Stop gaslighting survivors by choosing to believe in the one-sided testimonial of the abuser - a thief won’t admit to stealing, what makes us think a human rights violator would admit to their crimes?

Whilst there is a claim by a minority that this isn’t happening, as survivors ourselves and knowing that there is a nation of survivors (some of which have yet to report their cases and possibly never will), we plead with you to stop the abuse through the following:

1. A strict and clear behavioural conduct for teachers

As there is a written code of conduct for students, there should be clear guidelines for teachers in carrying out spot checks and for their behaviour around students.

There should be no grey area where authorities can ask students if they are "bleeding today" or make rape "jokes", which are not acceptable regardless of context and situation. The public embarrassment of students as a punishment should be ruled as archaic and should have no place in our modern educational institutions.

Spot checks can still be carried out, but only for prohibited items (e.g. alcohol and cigarettes), and must adhere to guidelines that do not degrade students or violate their bodily autonomy. Authorities who violate these guidelines should be held accountable and punished.

2. Third-party investigation

There should also be a third party (e.g. Suhakam) to conduct an investigation on the matter and speak directly to survivors respectfully and confidentially. By having an independent investigator, survivors may feel safer and more comfortable sharing their experiences.

3. Gender-sensitive training and counselling

There is also a need for gender-sensitive counselling, which involves centering and valuing students’ experiences, rather than the therapist assuming an expert position.

In light of Ain’s case where her student counselor completely downplayed the rape “jokes” made by a male teacher, gender-sensitive training for teachers and school counsellors is needed more than ever to support and empower students, instead of hindering them from speaking out on their experiences.

4. Comprehensive education for all

Educational institutions play a critical role in combatting sexual harassment. Beyond educating teachers, students should have a comprehensive education curriculum, regardless of their gender. This includes being taught the importance of consent and boundaries, gender equality, sexual harassment, and bodily autonomy.

Through having a comprehensive education curriculum, students will understand how to identify sexual assault, prevent violence, and lay a foundation for students to speak up if they are placed in a situation that is uncomfortable and non-consensual.

Dear Education Ministry, students are tired of feeling unsafe in our own schools. You have the responsibility and power to ensure educational institutions are places where students can be nurtured and learn good morals.

Should this systemic violence continue, it will defeat the purpose of an educational institution. We urge you to please protect our students, ban such dehumanising practices, and #MakeSchoolASaferPlace. Yours respectfully, Bulan Sisters.

BULAN SISTERS is a group of young women/students who tackle period poverty.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.