“My grandfather sat me on his lap and touched me in places [that are] unsafe to touch.”
“I was 12 and in boarding school- away from my family for the first time. I spent time online and met a guy. He told me he was 22 and we started chatting with one another. Things escalated after four months. He knew I was going through puberty and he told me that he would guide me through it. He told me that it is natural to have the urge to touch myself and to show my body. Then he started asking for nude photos and nude video calls. This went on for about 10 months.”
“My brother showed me his penis and asked me to suck on it after watching a movie. I treated it as a game. I was 4.”
These are just some of the many heartbreaking stories shared by students with SPOT Community Project‘s volunteers when they ran comprehensive sexuality education programmes (CSE) in schools across Malaysia.
Think that these are exceptions to the rule- that these stories do not really happen here? Think again.
The reality is this: 1 in 10 children in Malaysia are sexually abused. In 95% of the cases, their abusers are people known to them. Like it or not, we need to start talking about sex with our children, in schools and at home.
Are our children learning about sex?
Yes, they are. Sexuality education has been taught in schools across Malaysia since 1989. However, it was taught as part of multiple subjects including Science, Biology, Language, Islamic and Moral Education. In 2011, this changed. The relevant information was taught under the Health Education subject in schools.
Yet, a study conducted by UKM in 2011 discovered that 85% of students surveyed think that sexuality education taught in Malaysian schools lacks clarity. It provides information limited to reproductive health, with very little guidance for children and adolescents when navigating real-life situations.
Challenges in delivering sexuality education within Malaysian schools
Discussions around sex remain taboo in many cultures across Asia.
In a chat with makchic, Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri, the founder of SPOT Community Project shared, “the greatest challenge for SPOT is our societal norm to hide everything related to our sexual and reproductive organs. There is a lack of openness and tolerance in approaching matters surrounding sex and sexuality. This only serves to perpetuate misinformation, and the attitude of shame that perseveres across generations.”
On a personal level, she added, “I believe people tend to view sexuality education from a place of fear, instead of compassion and hope. I was taught that as a child, my body belongs to my parents; upon entering society, to the public and then upon marriage, to my husband. When is my body ever mine?”
Parents that oppose the teaching of CSE in schools often argue that this education only serves to encourage their children to have more sex. However, studies have shown that the opposite is true. Instead, they are more likely to have it later, with less partners, and engage in safe and protected sex when they do.
In schools, teachers often feel ill-equipped, uncomfortable when discussing the subject, and struggle to answer the questions posed by the students.
There is also a disconnect between the teachers’ and students’ perception of sexuality education as it is taught in Malaysian schools. 54% of teachers think that the information provided in the curriculum is enough. 58% of the students think there are gaps in the information that they should learn.
SPOT aims to bridge the gap
According to UNESCO, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is an “age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sexuality and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic and non-judgmental information.”
Since 2015, SPOT has been running CSE programmes for over 11,000 children in schools across Malaysia.
While the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE 2018) guides SPOT’s programmes, Aishah shared that SPOT also “engages and interacts with children, teachers, parents and experts as well as other agencies, governmental and non-governmental, in order to design programmes that are not only culturally sensitive, age-appropriate, and evidence-based, but complementary to the current Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah (KSSR) and Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah (KSSM).”
She further added, “We also identify specific needs of children living in Malaysia and work towards creating safe spaces for learning, and facilitating civilised and peaceful interactions.”
Boys must be included in the conversation
In the past, SPOT’s programmes were focused on girls. It has recently shifted its focus to include boys.
It is currently running a CSE programme for school-going girls and boys, aged 13 to 14 years. Expected to run throughout 2021 and early 2022, the programme will be delivered in 100 schools and to more than 10,000 students.
Aishah explained SPOT’S decision, “We need to include boys in conversations around gender and equality, encourage appreciation of the many forms of masculinity and to recognise gender norms as a social construct.”
She shared that engagement during and after the programmes have been positive, adding, “it’s important that we discuss what a healthy relationship looks like, how to communicate and negotiate without violence and coercion, beyond the usual discussions on contraception and family planning.”
We often forget that abuse happens to boys too. After attending one of SPOT’s programmes, a young participant reported his abuse by his father and asked for help. Aishah was relieved when trusted adults helped, and authorities took action.
The work continues at home
makchic firmly believes in encouraging a healthy discourse between parents and children when it comes to sexuality education, and advocates for the education and empowerment of all children. This was further cemented after running mum and daughter workshops during The Cooler Lumpur Festival in late 2019.
According to data from 53 studies involving more than 25,000 adolescents, clear communication between parents (especially mothers) and children when it comes to the topic of sex have resulted in more protective practices, especially when it comes to girls.
Liyana Taff, co-author of makchic‘s new children’s book, What if? agreed, “It is imperative that these conversations happen at home. And more importantly, to ensure the lines of communication remain open – so that the child feels comfortable talking to their parents about these crucial issues and vice versa.”
When it comes to involving parents in their programmes, SPOT is working on sharing useful tips with parents through newsletters. “We want to continue and support learning, in line with their own family traditions, values and faith. We will also offer coaching in empathy-based sexuality education to assist parents in having these conversations with their children.”
Find out how you can support SPOT Community Project’s school programmes in 2021 and 2022 by heading here.