Malaysian girls’ uniform encourages rape comment sparks debate

May 23rd, 2008 - 4:57 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, May 23 (IANS) A Malaysian student body’s statement that the uniform worn by girls in government-run schools encourages “rape and pre-marital sex” has triggered a nationwide debate on social mores. Many students, teachers and social activists are angry at the observation made by National Islamic Students Association of Malaysia’s vice-president Munirah Bahari.

Bahari Wednesday said: “The white blouse is too transparent for girls and it becomes a source of attraction.” She even said that girls deliberately wore the dresses “to lure men”.

In multicultural Malaysia, home to majority-Muslim Malays as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, girl students in government schools have a choice of wearing a white blouse with a knee-length skirt or pinafore. They may also wear a baju kurung, the traditional Malay dress, and a headscarf is optional for Malay students.

While calling for review of the uniform policy so that it did not violate Islamic ideals, Bahari said that “covering up” according to Islamic precepts was important to fend off social ills, including “rape, sexual harassment and even premarital sex”.

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said what was needed was “a review of misguided beliefs about women’s attire”, not a review of the uniform policy.

“Statistics and research has shown that all women - young, old, women clad in tudung (headscarf), miniskirts, even babies in diapers - have been victims of rape and sexual assault.

“It is entirely irresponsible for anyone to suggest the idea that rape is a result of attire. Rape is not about attire, it’s about power that perpetrators feel they have over their victims,” Josiah said.

Norhayati Kaprawi, Sisters in Islam programme manager, said: “Something must be seriously wrong with local men if the sight of girls in their school uniform turns them on.”

Many men also spoke out against Bahari, The Star reported Friday.

Men’s Action Network Against Violence member David Anthony said such statements stereotyped men as people who don’t see women as anything other than sex objects.

“It’s the wrong attitude… it’s perversion,” he said.

One male teacher even suggested that instead of debating the sexiness of the uniform, focus should be directed towards male self-control.

D. Presana, a sixth form student, said: “Pre-marital sex has nothing to do with what girls wear to school. It is the people’s mentality and the spiritual guidance they receive that influence their behaviour.”

A teacher at a girls’ school in Klang Valley said Bahari should not have made such baseless statements.

“She should carry out a study and see if our school uniform is indeed a factor that contributes to rape and pre-marital sex,” she said.

The teacher added that it was compulsory for female students at her school to wear a camisole under their baju kurung, the traditional Malaysian dress, and only white and skin-coloured bras were allowed.

A Malay teacher in Malacca, however, suggested that thicker material be used to make the white blouse.

While the debate rages at the public level, the government observed silence. Women, Family and Community Development Minister Ng Yen Yen declined to comment on the issue.

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