Back in 2018, JUICE briefly brought up the culture of ‘period spot checks’ in one of our articles titled, 5 Things That Happen in Malaysian Public Schools that Parents Don’t Know. While it did become a topic of discussion for some, the subject never really blew up as big as it did these past few days.
ICYMI, Malaysian students have come forward to reveal the torment they face in public schools, including period spot checks, sexual harassment and public shaming.
It all started on 16 April, when Twitter user and human rights activist @TerryDieHeiden asked if period spot checks were still being practised in boarding schools.
Dulu few years ago saya ada tanya benda ni, tapi masih berlaku ke kat sekolah-sekolah dan asrama Malaysia? Tenaga pelajar check period dan private part pelajar?
It shouldn’t be done sebab invasive of privacy, should be reported to parents or authorities btw. pic.twitter.com/xCsfjpaHdP
— tērry 🐁🐀💉 (@TerryDieHeiden) April 15, 2021
According to Malaysiakini, these spot checks include female students showing their blood-soaked sanitary pads, doing swabs of their vagina with either cotton buds, tissues, or their fingers, or having a teacher, warden or school prefect pat them down at the groin area to feel if they are wearing a sanitary pad.
Usually, the main reason behind this “proof of menstruation” from girls is to avoid students from skipping their daily congregational prayers which are commonly held in residential or religious-based schools. In Islam, women or girls who are menstruating do not perform ritual prayers.
While many of the women who experienced period spot checks were from boarding schools, this was also said to be practiced at day schools and Islamic private schools. Most of the women narrated about how their growth from girls to teenagers, marked by the start of menstruation, became a source of trauma and shame that still haunts them to this day.
So, what now?
Yesterday (22 April), former deputy women, family and community development minister Hannah Yeoh said that checks on students’ menstrual cycles embarrasses the students and was a violation of child rights, according to FMT.
She said the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child had to be instilled in “every institution and layer of society” in the country.
“The women minister (Rina Harun) should immediately hold a meeting with the education minister and authorities for religious schools to investigate and put a stop to such violations, if true,” said Yeoh.
Meanwhile, former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching pointed out there was no official guideline that allowed teachers to conduct these period spot checks. Teo added that the education ministry had yet to issue any statement addressing the matter.
“So why have these spot-checks been happening? And what shocked us is, to date, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has not issued any statement on this. One senior minister with two deputies, all males, come across as insensitive and not bothered by these horrific incidents,” she said in a statement, adding that schools should be a safe place to educate children, instil good values and show love and humanity.
She also said that there are many other ways to instil awareness of the obligations of praying and fasting other than checking their private parts and looking for the sanitary pad.
Former ministers Rafidah Aziz and Azalina Othman Said have also expressed shock and anger over this issue.
“That is totally disgusting and a violation of a person’s privacy. No religion gives such permission. The Education Ministry must act to put a stop to this nonsense and lay out clear ground rules on how schools including boarding schools treat students,” Rafidah told Malaysiakini, while Azalina commented that it is moral and religious policing that oversteps the basic human right to dignity.
Recently, the Education Ministry and Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) have begun an internal investigation into its schools. MARA chairman Azizah Mohd Dun said she was taking the allegations involving Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) schools seriously.
“Mara will not compromise on any misconduct involving those working for Mara, especially when it involves the safety of students at Mara educational institutions,” she said in a statement.
Azizah said strict action would be taken against those found guilty of misconduct to ensure a conducive and safe learning environment for women and children.
NGOs including the All Women’s Action Society (Awam), Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (Women:Girls) have called for a task force to be set up to investigate the matter.
“Awam, SIS and Women:Girls call on the Education Ministry and Mara to set up an investigative task force, starting with our state boarding schools, to collect empirical evidence and (gain) factual insights into this systemic issue from the students themselves.
In that process, survivors should be given full assurance of safety and privacy, with their identities kept confidential,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT CONDEMNING SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS (1/2) pic.twitter.com/JlRM2ABQG3
— Bulan Sisters (@bulansistersmy) April 22, 2021