Mariam Mokhtar on Minister of Education Radzi Jidin and ‘period spot checks’

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Why is the Ministry of Education (MoE) dragging its feet over the ‘period spot checks’ issue?

The Star

Perhaps, the Minister of Education, Radzi Jidin, and his two deputies, do NOT consider ‘period spot checks’ a serious matter.

Two months after Malaysians first learnt that schoolgirls had been forced to undergo this humiliating treatment, Radzi said that the Ministry of Education (MoE) was in the final stages of forming a committee to deal with the issue.

The MoE is slow to act. Have MoE officials too much time on their hands, or are they afraid to confront allegations of a sexual nature?

Period spot checks and allegations of sexual bullying, sexual abuse and sexual harassment have plagued our schools and institutions of higher learning for decades. Many parents are unaware of some of these issues, because their daughters are ashamed to tell them.

Schoolgirls are reluctant to complain about issues of a sexual nature, because ironically, they will be ‘victim-blamed’. Many face further humiliation with accusations of lying, or seeking attention, or of making things up.

These may help explain why there is a low complaint rate about period spot checks and other issues of sexual harassment. Many schoolgirls suffer in silence and only a few reveal their nasty experiences, years after leaving school.

On 20 June, when asked by a reporter for an update regarding the issue of period spot checks, Radzi said “This matter is being looked at by the ministry.”

This blanket statement on a problem is a common response issued by the various ministries. The remark does not mean much. We are aware that any ministerial investigation will take a long time, and will delay the presentation of findings, all because the ministry hopes we will forget.

Radzi added, “We are in the final process to set up a committee to look into the matters raised, not only this matter but also related matters.”

How slow do the wheels of the MoE grind?

Two months almost to the day since the ‘period spot check’ story broke, no investigation has been made because in Radzi’s words, they are only in the “final process of forming the committee”.

What happened to the MoE’s SOP for dealing with complaints? The existing mechanisms for investigating complaints should suffice, but Radzi wants a new committee formed. He is aware, as are we, that this will cost more money, and from our experience, will take ages to start.

Two months ago, when the story first shocked the nation, Radzi went on the defensive and denied that any school practised the period spot checks. According to Bernama, Radzi said, “…We’ve asked all divisions, and the answer was no (such practices existed).”

Having seen the anger of the public, former ministers and MPs, did Radzi think that any school head will admit to this abhorrent practice?

He then said that he would be glad to receive more information about the schools which indulged in period spot checks.

Why isn’t the MoE able to take the initiative and investigate this issue? From the outset, Radzi appears to want to wash his hands off the matter.

An internal investigation by school heads will only generate a conflict of interest as the people who condone this practice will want a cover-up. They would be reluctant to get to the root of the problem and in the end, no one will be found to be at fault, and the issue will recur in the future.

Nevertheless, Malaysiakini, which first reported the issue of period spot checks, provided Radzi with a list of schools in which former pupils alleged had practised period spot checks. So, will Radzi update us about these schools?

More importantly, whilst deeper investigations are ongoing, did Radzi issue an immediate directive to schools throughout Malaysia, that period spot checks should be stopped? Or did he fail to do this?

Radzi’s hesitancy to deal with this issue is damaging to our schoolchildren and students of higher institutions of learning.

First. He does not inspire confidence and does not treat the complaints of both the students and their parents with urgency and the seriousness they deserve.

Second. The delay tactics show that the MoE is inadequately prepared to deal with issues of a sexual nature.

Third. Will Radzi address the trust deficit in our teaching fraternity? Physical checks, like showing a blood-stained sanitary pad or prodding a girl’s pubic area for evidence of wearing a pad, mean that teachers and wardens think students are lying, and using the ‘period’ excuse to escape group prayers at school. In Islam, menstruating girls are not allowed to pray.

Fourth. Ministry officials are condoning this disgusting practice which violates a girl’s personal space. If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, this practice has been ongoing for at least twenty years. It is highly unlikely that MoE officials were unaware of this practice. Why and how did it start? This is another means of conditioning and controlling the behaviour of young girls.

Finally, is Radzi really serious about getting to the root of the pupils’ allegations of a sexual nature, including the period spot check issue?

When will he update us on the findings of the yet to be set-up committee? – Rebuilding Malaysia