Dr Shahira Abdullah: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs (a) what is the progress of investigations into the online poll ranking of female Muslim religious teachers for sexual attractiveness; (b) whether the perpetrators have been identified; (c) whether there is a larger trend of sexual misconduct in religious schools and institutions; and (d) what are the training, initiatives and support systems available to encourage members of religious schools and institutions to whistleblow on such behaviour in anonymity and without fear of adverse consequences, harassment, victimisation, retaliation, or pressure from others.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs & Minister for Social and Family Development:
Online poll sexualising female religious teachers
- On 26 May 2021, Muis was alerted to an online poll sexualising female Muslim religious teachers. Muis immediately reached out to offer support to the victims of the poll, such as counselling as well as psychological, emotional and religious support. Muis also lodged a police report for the police to investigate the poll. As Police investigations are ongoing, Muis is unable to provide further comments until full investigations have been completed.
- Over the past 3 years (i.e. from January 2019 – June 2021), Muis has received a total of 12 complaints alleging that a member of the asatizah fraternity was a perpetrator of sexual harassment, and 2 reports where asatizah were victims of sexual harassment.
Anti-harassment workplace policy
- Muis has a set of processes to deal with harassment at the workplace:
a. First, members of staff who feel that they have been harassed or witnessed the harassment of fellow colleagues may make a report or complain to the Chief Executive of Muis when an incident occurs;
b. Second, upon receiving the report or complaint, Muis will immediately reach out to the affected member of staff in confidence to provide support. This includes assigning a Care Officer who will provide support and counseling throughout the process. Muis will also commence investigations into the allegations immediately.
c. Third, if the allegations are found to be true, a Committee chaired by the President of the Muis Council and Muis’ senior management will determine the action to be taken against the offenders. Where appropriate, a review of workplace processes or arrangements will be undertaken to prevent recurrence of such misconduct.
d. Finally, at any point during the investigations, Muis will also not hesitate to make a police report if there is evidence a criminal act has taken place.
- Muis works closely with the mosques to handle allegations and incidents of sexual harassment. These include putting in place anti-harassment policies and procedures for reporting such incidents, including the necessary support for victims. Muis is currently engaging the madrasahs and mosque clusters to review their policies and procedures for reporting incidents of harassment, which will be fully implemented later this year.
Training and support for staff and students
- Training is provided to staff on appropriate professional norms and the safeguards that are in place. Muis has conducted a series of internal workshops with NTUC and TAFEP to help Muis employees better protect themselves and look out for their co-workers.
- Madrasah staff attend talks and programmes to equip themselves with skills to respond to incidents of sexual harassment. Full-time madrasahs currently have an ongoing partnership with Club HEAL, a local Malay/Muslim organisation which offers assistance for people with mental illness, to organise talks for madrasah teachers to communicate effectively with distressed students and raise their awareness of mental health issues. Teachers also receive training on how to deal with students’ psychological, emotional and developmental needs through certified courses. Each madrasah has at least one teacher who has been formally trained to address such issues and two roving counsellors deployed by Club HEAL to support students who require such services.