Questionable menstruation spot checks that have been conducted on adolescent girls in school over the years have rightly earned the wrath of alumni and current students, feminists, medical experts and a religious scholar.
Apparently, the intrusive inspections, as revealed recently, are for the school authorities to ascertain that only girls who genuinely have their periods are excused from Islamic ritual prayers in schools.
Such a practice violates the privacy of the schoolgirl, who is required to show her bloodstained sanitary pad, cotton swab or tissue paper that has been wiped over her private parts or even a finger to prove she is menstruating. This is scandalous.
Humiliating the schoolgirls in this manner suggests abuse of power and harassment by those in authority. These girls do not deserve such indignities, especially at a young age.
It is even traumatic for schoolgirls who have irregular periods as this invites unwarranted suspicion and slurs on their reputation. No student should be subjected to such public disgrace, nor have their human rights trampled upon.
Such physical scrutiny is tantamount to shaming the girls’ bodies for sheer reason of biological cycle and making them feel vulnerable. This could leave a psychological scar on them for years to come.
Indeed, this offensive examination can make some girls feel “dirty” and possibly ashamed of their bodies, which may bring about a sense of insecurity.
Girls should not have to endure such treatment in school that their male counterparts do not have to experience. As it is, there are certain obstacles that await schoolgirls in the wider society that still have traces of patriarchy.
Those who conduct such searches must cease to have a misplaced sense of power and control over the bodies and dignity of the schoolgirls concerned. School should not be a starting point for adolescent girls to encounter abuse of power, which, unfortunately, may be repeated in their later life.
This crass form of scrutiny is a microcosm of the larger society, where a group of people take upon themselves the “responsibility” to conduct moral and religious policing.
Inspection of this nature does not encourage the placing of trust on co-religionists to perform their obligatory rituals using their own good sense. What needs to be emphasised here is not coercion but conscience in fulfilling religious obligations.
Islam, as pointed out by Penang mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor, does not condone the practice of embarrassing fellow beings as their self-dignity must be respected and, if we may add, emphasised.
The concern for the welfare of adolescent girls should be widened to include such things as sex education and “period poverty”. Period poverty means a lack of access to menstrual products, knowledge of menstruation or hygiene facilities, which are likely to affect many schoolgirls, particularly those from poor backgrounds.
Such lack of access can also adversely affect their academic performance and self-esteem in the long run if it is not adequately addressed by the relevant authorities.
It is incumbent upon the Ministry of Education to put a stop to this controversial practice, which smears the image of our educational institutions. – The Malaysian Insight