Ms Mariam Jaafar: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs (a) what form of sex education and youth engagement is conducted in madrasahs and mosques; (b) what form of training is provided to the staff on how to handle allegations and incidents of sexual harrassment and counsel victims of such incidents; and (c) what is being done to promote gender equality in the mosque and madrasah communities.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs & Minister for Social and Family Development:
Sex education and youth engagement in madrasahs and mosques
- Our madrasahs incorporate sexuality education in their existing curriculum for both male and female students. While this is not a standalone subject, it is covered substantially within the syllabus through topics like boy-girl relationships, gender, sexuality, and managing issues relating to self-image, puberty and adolescence, as well as managing peer pressure. This is targeted at students aged 13 to 16 years old.
- Beyond the classroom, madrasah students have the opportunity to participate in youth engagement programmes that address these issues and are offered at the inter-school or national level.
a. For example, the National Youth Council’s Youth Conversations in 2019 helped madrasah students gain awareness and engage other youths on issues such as equality, mental health, and jobs and the economy.
b. Part-time madrasahs in the mosques also conduct holiday programmes for students aged 9 to 15 years old, to expose them to religious guidance on issues that affect young people.
- The Islamic education curriculum for madrasahs are regularly reviewed to ensure they remain relevant in addressing emerging issues and developments affecting our Muslim children and youths.
Staff training on handling incidents of sexual harrassment and counselling victims
- 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. Club HEAL organises talks for madrasah teachers to communicate effectively with distressed students, and raise their awareness of mental health issues. There are also programmes to train teachers through certified courses on how to deal with students’ psychological, emotional and developmental needs. 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.
- 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. We expect the revised policies to be fully implemented later this year.
Gender equality in the mosques and madrasahs
- Men and women are of equal worth in Islam. The special position of women in Islam is one of the core teachings of the faith, where Muslims are taught the need to treat all women with respect, honour and dignity.
- This high regard for women is embedded in our madrasahs’ ethos. For example, three out of our six full-time madrasahs have female school principals. The proportion of female madrasah students taking up leadership positions such as head prefect, in student councils, and Co-Curricular Activity clubs, is similar to the proportion of females in the school population.
- Both men and women have equal opportunities to volunteer and serve in various appointments in mosques. Many full-time mosque staff are women, with some serving as mosque managers and heads of departments for corporate services and social development. There are also women holding leadership positions such as the vice-chairperson in the mosque management board, and women leading committees that plan and organise events for the congregants.
- Muis is committed to ensuring that our madrasahs and mosques remain inclusive spaces for both men and women, where all Muslims can develop their full potential and be strong contributors to society.