The subject of embracing equity is vastly important—it must be ingrained in every community’s DNA. Therefore, the goal of this year’s International Women’s Day is for people to converse about why equal opportunities are not enough. It’s critical to understand the difference between equity and equality.
Individuals come from different backgrounds, which means meaningful participation and belonging need equitable action. As a society, we all have role to play; to question gender stereotypes, speak out against harassment, and call out bigotry—all of which will help achieve gender parity. Change doesn’t happen alone; society as a whole needs to support women in their efforts.
We decided to reach out to Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, the founder of #SaveTheSchoolMY to dive further into the topic of #EmbracingEquity.
You founded Save The School Malaysia in 2021, how’s the campaign doing currently?
It was currently on hiatus since it has been a one-woman show through and through. But this year the project somewhat started getting limelights once again. The platform receives new followers every single day, despite the last post being in March 2022. It warms me knowing that people still care about making our schools safer for our kids.
Walk us through the story submission process.
It’s pretty straightforward; we allocate a form that allows you to share your story plus some indications of what kind of school did the survivors go to, which state, and whether they require any help – be it psychological, or even legal. The form collected 30 responses within 24 hours since its inception and it has been snowballing ever since.
What was one thing that the #SaveTheSchoolMY project has accomplished since its first establishment that you didn’t necessarily expect?
I collaborated with All Action’s Women Malaysia (AWAM) for a thematic analysis report involving 770 entries and 1145 incidents of sexual harassment, rape culture and abuse across out schools. It is still up on AWAM’s official website.
This year, #IWD focuses on Embracing Equity. But we are yet to see the idea develop fully in Malaysia. In your opinion, what can our country do in order to reach equity, fairness and justice when it comes to survivors reporting assaults?
I think it always goes down to believing the victims and taking their words seriously instead of reducing it to an insignificant manner. Thorough investigation should be in place as well. But throughout my experience running the platform, it has been made known to me that teachers should be trained to handle these kinds of cases.
However, it is no secret that our teachers already have so many things on their plate. Maybe what would be helpful is an interlinked independent investigation committee that can track back reported cases at schools to ensure more consistent, targeted efforts in eliminating sexual harassment, rape culture and abuse in schools.
So how do we empower individuals within schools or companies to report harassers when their legals won’t act?
We need to empower our boys and girls on their bodily autonomy and their rights so they can stand up for themselves better. Many survivors are scared to come forward because there’s no sense of security or guarantee that justice will prevail, perhaps we can look into that. There are so many acts and signed conventions in place, it’s time to uphold them better.
In your own words, what makes a school an emotionally safe place?
We spend a huge part of our life in schools; they are basically our second home. Our school should nurture us beyond academic excellence. It should be a place where our kids are free to explore themselves and discover their identities without receiving blatant repercussions or even worse, being degraded for who they are.
What’s the best way to educate young girls regarding sexual abuse and or assault through the media?
I came from the 3R era, which was such a game changer for young ladies and girls that time. We need empowering shows to talk about these matters. If we want to talk about local films and series, my current watch is Projek: High Council which successfully highlighted issues revolving around toxic masculinity, from sexual harassment among men, machismo, and more; which is well received by the audience who are having conversations around this matter. Maybe what we need is a powerful portrayal of these issues that resonates with the young crowd so we can prolong the education for our young girls.
Last but not least, what’s next for Puteri Nuraaina and #SaveTheSchoolMY?
As for me, I have many things on my plate to sort. But maybe it’s time to revive #SaveTheSchoolsMY, for the greater good of all of us.