“I was eight years old when I encountered sexual abuse for the first time. It was an attempted rape and a sexual penetration. As a kid, I didn’t know how to reveal this to my parents and when I eventually got to telling them what happened, they didn’t know how to react although both of them were educated,” reveals Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri.
This harrowing ordeal wasn’t the first for her as she had experienced similar incidents throughout her growing-up years, unfortunately. Aishah tells us that the disturbing episodes affected her self-confidence, mental health and even the way she looks at confidence, so she took a bolder step by taking control of the situation. “I can’t change what happened to me when I was young and vulnerable. But by taking control of what had happened and by forgiving my attackers, I managed to move on to a certain extent,” she says. “At the same time, I went ahead and started to empower others by reaching out to girls in hopes to help prevent similar incidents.”
During the course of her work to assist victims of abuse, Aishah noticed that the general public isn’t trained to deal with such an issue and most parents aren’t aware of the importance of providing a safe space for children. “We treat children as children by instilling in them that children should be seen and not heard (in some families). In actual fact, they need to be treated as human beings who have a voice and given the freedom to access and demand for their individual rights,” she says.
This led Aishah to establish SPOT (Soroptimist Puberty Organising Toolkit), a movement that provides Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) – a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. “Malaysians are generally quite conservative, but I’ve received a lot of support from teachers and parents.,” she shares. “Believe it or not, my fi rst workshop was at a religious school located in KL and when I approached the ustaz (male religious teacher) with my proposal, he called me up and asked when I could come in because his students needed this education.”
Together with three Ministries namely Education, Health, and Women, Family and Community Development, Aishah and her team are putting their heads together so that CSE will be delivered as part of the school curriculum. “We’re working together to make sure that it’s an interactive set of syllabus and the teachers are equipped to teach the students about sexual education. Not just girls, but boys and men will be involved too,” explains Aishah. “They need to learn more about their bodies and what they’re going through. Only then will they know how to respect a girl.”
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