This Week in Asia

Malaysia rethinks school book that shames girls for having sex

A textbook which warns young girls that having sex would bring dishonour to their families and cause them to be shunned by society will be corrected with immediate effect, said the Malaysian Education Ministry on Tuesday, after a photo of the offending content went viral on Twitter.

The information, which appeared in an infographic in a Year Three health and physical education textbook, came to attention after a Twitter user in Malaysia posted a photo criticising the textbook for "victim-blaming".

"Not only does this put the responsibility of preventing sexual harassment solely on the shoulders of a girl, it also implies that she had it coming! Shaming kids is not acceptable," tweeted one user.

Using the example of a girl named "Amira", the textbook warns that failing to protect one's modesty would bring girls shame, cause them to be disliked by peers, and chip away at the family's honour.

The textbook also told girls to wear clothes that "protect the modesty of their genitals", shut the door when they change, and not to visit quiet places alone.

The photo of the infographic riled many Malaysians, with many asking their elected representatives and ministers to take action.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Cheng, describing the content as insensitive and sexist, said she had met the department responsible for drafting the content for national textbooks to demand an immediate revision.

"I have met with the Educational Technology and Resources Division and identified several issues that need to be rectified," she said on Tuesday. "We will not recall the textbook. We will send out [a] correction page to the school[s]."

The division will meet other departments to correct the information.

The deputy minister hoped to send out revised pages within a month.

Women's rights groups which had also applied pressure on the government to address the matter praised the swift U-turn.

Yu Ren Chung, advocacy manager of the Women's Aid Organisation commended Hannah Yeoh, the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, for speaking out online.

Yeoh had said on Twitter yesterday the textbook needed an overhaul because of its problematic elements.

"This shows why it's so important to have women in decision-making positions," said Yu. "We hope a comprehensive review will be done to ensure all victim-blaming and discriminatory elements are removed from the education syllabus."

Textbooks in Malaysia have long been regarded as an arena for propaganda.

Last year, a group of social activists demanded the newly-minted Pakatan Harapan government, which took over in May, to amend history books so they could no longer be used as political tools.

Political scientist James Chin, of Tasmania University's Asia Institute, said he was "cynical" about the speed at which revisions would be made, as many corrections promised by the Education Ministry had yet to materialise " particularly those concerning race relations between the majority Malay Muslims and the other races.

"They promised to mention the contributions of non-Malays, these corrections are still missing. Textbooks are a political tool to create the idea of a 'Malay-Muslim state' cemented in Malay hegemony," said Chin, adding that in the past, whatever changes the relevant departments recommended were usually only made after reviews " a process which could take up to two years.

The government has also, until recently, been circumspect on the matter of sex education in schools.

Just last week, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry announced that a sex education syllabus was in the works, after years of campaigning from rights groups.

According to Malaysian statistics, there were 12,492 unwed teenage girls who became pregnant in 2016, although the data is based on births and does not include cases involving abortions or miscarriages.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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