After a page from a school textbook telling young girls to "protect the modesty of their genitals" went viral and resulted in backlash, Malaysia's Education Ministry ordered the page removed and replaced on Wednesday, the Guardian reports.
Read by most 8- and 9-year-old girls in Malaysia, the textbook page featured illustrations instructing young to change behind closed doors, wear clothes that cover up their bodies, and avoid going quiet places alone to prevent sexual assault or advances.
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Many pointed out that the page, part of a section called "Saving one's modesty," perpetuates a culture of victim-blaming for sexual assault that disempowers women and girls around the world and fails to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their actions.
"The infographic sexualises 9-year-old girls, places the burden on them to avoid sexual assault and shames those who experience sexual assault," Yu Ren Chung, the advocacy manager of Women's Aid Organisation who called for sex education to be taught in Malaysian schools, told the Guardian.
On the controversial page, the textbook uses a young girl named Amira as an example whose parents dispense advice on how to protect her "modesty." The text adds that a girl whose modesty is compromised could experience emotional pain and ostracization from her peers.
From a Darjah 3 textbook. Victim-blaming is not acceptable. Not only does this put the responsibility of preventing sexual harrassment solely on the shoulders of a girl, it also implies that she had it coming! Shaming kids is not acceptable. @hannahyeoh@maszlee@KemPelajaranpic.twitter.com/qORfLu9ZTj— Azrul Mohd Khalib (@azrulmohdkhalib) January 14, 2019
The page's removal has sparked conversations around the lack of sexual education in Malaysia as well as further examination of the contents of such textbooks, which are issued to schools by the government.
"Sex education has always been a taboo in Malaysia," minister of education, Teo Nie Cheng told the Guardian. "But I believe with affirmative action and engagement with experts and NGOs we will be able to see changes."
In many parts of the world, sexual education is similarly seen as taboo and schools often operate under the myth that teaching young people about sex will encourage them to have it. However, sexual education has had an opposite on effect and has been shown to reduce risky sexual behavior that could put young people's health in jeopardy, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
As Malaysia and other countries take steps to establish sexual education programs in schools, it will be essential that boys and girls have equal access to information to protect their health and well being.