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LETTER | Student welfare should be taken seriously by NUTP

LETTER | The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), Bulan Sisters and Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (WOMEN:girls) would like to address justifications that were given by the secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), Harry Tan, on Astro Awani’s 'Consider This' programme on May 5 for the union’s opposition to the National School Walkout Day (NSWD).

Firstly, Tan noted that NSWD was being unfair to all 450,000 teachers nationally by projecting the image of teachers “lurking around and harming students” and “waiting to make and crack jokes about (rape)”. Whilst we agree with Tan in that not all teachers are perpetrators, he refuses to understand that NSWD aims to raise public awareness of the systemic nature of sexual harassment, rape and abuse in schools. 

It also gives voice to survivors and other civil society stakeholders alike to demand for change. Many teachers are non-perpetrators but practice silence and inaction, instead of immediately reporting the teachers who are perpetrators. NUTP’s focus on reputation damage control connotes a disturbing need to “save face” for the teaching profession, at the expense of the students who are meant to be protected by these perpetrators.

Secondly, Tan questioned if sexual harassment/period spot checks/rape were indeed a widespread problem, and requested for statistics and/or data on case reporting to substantiate the issue. Questioning if the issue indeed 'widespread' allows it to happen quietly in lieu of creating sound protection policies for those who are vulnerable. 

This also brings to light the concerning lack of understanding amongst some in the teaching profession about the issue of sexual harassment, which comes hand in hand with the challenge of underreporting amongst survivors due to fear of reprisal, insensitivity by figures of authority, especially the immediate reaction of disbelief (as aptly portrayed by Tan), and a lack of survivor-centric redress mechanisms.

We would also like to point out to Tan and the NUTP that rape culture is not an all-or-none concept. Rape cases do not need to happen in every school and not everyone needs to be “joking about rape” in order for a society to normalise rape. Sexist attitudes that sanction misogyny and objectification of women’s bodies are the primary yet invisible culprits. 

These attitudes not only drive perpetrators to make rape jokes or worse, actually inflict rape, but also bystanders to not support survivors and refuse to hold perpetrators accountable for their violations.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) had a total of 1,218 sexual harassment cases, which did not reflect the statistic of 1 in 3 Malaysian women having experienced sexual harassment as depicted by the YouGov Omnibus research in 2019. Victim-blaming remains a significant socio-cultural barrier, whereby survivors’ voices are suppressed because they are often blamed for the sexual harassment incident instead of the perpetrator. 

Judging existing data as “inadequate” to evaluate whether the culture of sexual harassment and rape in schools is widespread, discounts the weight of stories shared by survivors online and offline. 

One case of sexual harassment and/or abuse experienced by a student in school is one case too many. We do note that since the issue of period checks was brought to light, the All Women’s Action Society’s (Awam) Telenita hotline has received eight sexual harassment cases in schools, of which six of them were inflicted on students by teachers.

The National Education Philosophy emphasises holistic individual development, whereby students grow to be “intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced” individuals with “high moral standards” that contribute to the nation. 

Being educated in school environments that are free of sexual harassment, rape and abuse are key in enabling well-rounded students. We feel that It is high time the NUTP bucks up and properly embraces this philosophy.

Endorsed by JAG member organisations:

1. All Women's Action Society (Awam)

2. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)

3. Empower Malaysia

4. Family Frontiers

5. Justice for Sisters

6. Kryss Network

7. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)

8. Sabah Women's Action-Resource Group (Sawo)

9. Sisters in Islam (SIS)

10. Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

11. Women's Centre for Change (WCC)

Other organisations:

12. Bulan Sisters

13. Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (WOMEN:girls)

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

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