The Malaysian education ministry has ordered the removal of a page from a school textbook which warned young girls that having sex would bring shame on their families and urged them to “protect the modesty of their genitals”.
An illustration in the textbook, issued to all eight- and nine-year-olds in Malaysia, instructed girls to get changed behind closed doors, wear clothes that covered up their bodies, and not to visit quiet places alone.
Using the example of a young girl called Amira, the page in the textbook, titled “saving modesty”, said the implications of young girls compromising their “modesty” included bringing shame and emotional distress on themselves, being ostracised by friends and becoming a source of shame for their families.
Campaign groups said the textbook perpetuated a culture of victim-blaming for sexual assault at an early age.
“The infographic sexualises nine-year-old girls, places the burden on them to avoid sexual assault and shames those who experience sexual assault,” said Yu Ren Chung, the advocacy manager of Women’s Aid Organisation, who called for sex education and consent to be taught in Malaysian classrooms.
After a picture of the page went viral, Malaysia’s education minister, Teo Nie Cheng, described the illustration as sexist. “We have decided to replace that particular page,” Teo said, adding that “a replacement page will be sent to all the schools involved starting from 29 January”.
Teo said the incident had prompted a wider review of both the national curriculum and the contents of textbooks distributed in schools by the government.
“This shows the lack of awareness amongst our society when it comes to sex education, which we did not take seriously in the past,” said Teo.
She said she would be using the incident as a platform to examine the lack of sex education in Malaysian schools, following a similar pledge by the ministry of women, family and community development last week, although she emphasised it could take time in the country’s conservative society.
“Sex education has always been a taboo in Malaysia,” added Teo. “But I believe with affirmative action and engagement with experts and NGOs we will be able to see changes.”