Malaysian elementary school textbook takes fire for suggesting how girls should dress to prevent assault on their modesty

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Photo: Page from Malaysian textbook to be amended/Azrul Mohd Khalib Twitter

Social media was abuzz with outrage and anger after it was revealed that a Malaysian elementary school textbook suggested that girls should dress modestly in order to prevent sexual assault. It also placed the blame on the girl, saying that if she fails to prevent her own sexual assault, she would bring shame on her family. Malaysian authorities have since announced that they will be making changes to the textbook, which is normally used by 9-year-old girls.

Images from a section of the book entitled “Saving one’s modesty” have been circulating around different social media sites and apps.

Here is the page below, shared on Twitter:

The page featured a picture story about a fictional girl named Amira, whose parents are giving her advise on how to prevent sexual assault.

She is told to her to protect “the modesty of her sexual organs” by dressing modestly and wearing the proper clothing. To add to that, Amira’s parents tell her to close her door while she is changing and to avoid spending time in quiet locations alone.

But the narrative does not stop there. Amira is told that if she fails to prevent an assault on herself, she would be shunned and treated differently by her friends, face difficult emotional problems and bring shame on her family.

People all over social media were angry and outraged at the victim-shaming nature of the book, which was teaching children from a young age that female victims of sexual assault attacks are to blame.

Malaysian rights group Women’s Aid Organisation, which focuses specifically on fighting violence against women, spoke up on the issue.

“We are appalled,” said Meera Samanther, vice president of Women’s Aid Organisation.

“The educational material sexualises nine-year-old girls, teaches them to be ashamed of their bodies, and shifts the blame from the perpetrator to the survivor of sexual assault.”

After the image of the textbook went viral on social media, the Malaysian education ministry announced that they would cover the section in question with stickers. However, that isn’t good enough.

As reported by another media source, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Cheng said the content was “insensitive and sexist” and called for immediate amendment of the textbook.

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

In 2017, the Malaysian health ministry was condemned for hosting a competition, complete with cash prizes, for the best videos that would explain how to “prevent” homosexuality. The competition was changed after public outrage.