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Public Funds Must Not Be Used To Create Harmful Educational Environments

Justice for Sisters is concerned by the announcement of a new research academy in USIM to study the ‘LGBT issue’ as reported by Free Malaysia Today on 2 February 2018. Even more concerning is the fact that the academy is being co-funded by the university and the Ministry of Higher Education.

The Ministry of Higher Education must assess the multiple adverse impacts of funding such academies, especially in terms of safety and well-being of students and staff in educational institutions. The research academy is also founded on harmful misconceptions and bias towards LGBTIQ persons, and a lack of structural and systemic analysis of the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTIQ persons.

We are concerned that the Ministry of Higher Education is essentially funding an anti-LGBT project that will increase harm towards students and staff at USIM by compounding the increasing intolerance towards LGBT persons and the deterioration of human rights. We are very concerned about the environment that this research academy will create for students and staff. Educational institutions must be a safe space for students to expand their minds and express themselves.

Efforts by the Government to fund such anti-LGBT initiatives are taking place within a broader context of institutional homophobia and transphobia. The Pelan Tindakan Menangani Gejala Sosial Perlakuan LGBT 2017-2021, or the Action Plan to Address Social Ills (LGBT Behaviour) 2017-2021 in collaboration with 22 strategic partners[1], includes government agencies such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and Ministry of Youth and Sports. According to media reports, since the launch of the Action Plan, in collaboration with Islamic NGOs, JAKIM has launched a ‘self-help’ ebook on changing one’s sexual orientation and gender identity, and developed treatment and rehabilitation (Ilaj Wa Syifa) modules for lesbian and gay persons, amongst others.

Research and documentation has already shown that educational institutions are a site of violence for many LGBT and gender diverse or gender non-conforming students. The I am Scared to Be a Woman and On the Record: Violence against LBT Persons reports document multiple forms of discrimination, micro aggression and violence experienced by LBTQ persons in educational institutions, including bullying; name calling; isolation by peers; physical, emotional and sexual violence by peers, educators and staff; restrictions on participation in extracurricular activities of their choice; subjected to disciplinary actions due to gender expression (e.g. length of hair); inability to continue learning in educational institutions due to non-inclusive and gender normative policies and lack of access to facilities; increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression; amongst others – all of which can result in drop outs.

Educational institutions have also become increasingly unsafe for students, evidenced by the school guidelines that penalize LGBT persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity; anti-LGBT campaigns, rallies and talks in educational institutions; and boot camps for gender diverse or gender non-conforming students, intended to ‘increase their masculinity’.

In 2017 a young person in Penang died after being brutally attacked by former schoolmates who bullied the young person in school due to gender expression and perceived sexual orientation. This case shows the escalation of microaggression and bullying into brutal and deadly violence. In this case, the 19-year-old victim was subjected to ongoing  name calling, taunting and bullying in school, for not conforming to masculine ideas of a ‘man’. The teachers and parents could not intervene or find a resolution to the matter. In the end, it was entirely the burden of the young person to seek solutions to a systemic problem. This case also reminds us that bullying and violence faced by students is not limited to the school compound and duration of education, although it may begin in schools. This case is a reminder of the urgency of gender education to address gender-based violence and systemic problems in a society that perpetuate violence against LGBTIQ people.

Given this context and reality, the Ministry of Higher Education must use its budgetary allocation wisely and effectively, especially in a time of increasing budget cuts to meaningfully address the multiple serious issues in educational institutions in relation to students’ well-being and safety, rather than perpetuate and exacerbate the existing discrimination and violence towards LGBTIQ persons by providing financial resources to further it.

Justice for Sisters calls on the Ministry of Higher Education to stop funding blatantly harmful programmes that fuel the creation of toxic educational environments.

This statement is by Justice for Sisters, and endorsed by

  1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  2. Association of Women’s Lawyers (AWL)
  3. Diversity Malaysia
  4. PELANGI – Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiatives
  5. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  6. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  7. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor (PSWS)
  8. PLUHO, People Like Us, Hang Out!
  9. SAWO (Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group)
  10. SEED Malaysia
  11. Seksualiti Merdeka
  12. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  13. QUASSA
  14. Women’s Aid Organization (WAO)
  15. Women Centre for Change (WCC)

[1] Listed partners include, Jabatan Kehakiman Syariah Malaysia; Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat; Lembaga Penduduk dan Pembangunan Keluarga Negara (LPPKN); Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia; Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia; Kementerian Belia dan Sukan Malaysia; Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia; Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia; Jabatan Agama Islam Seluruh Malaysia

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