Having been sexually abused as a child, Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri has always turned to volunteering as a means of coping with her own adversities.
Her work eventually led to a research project on health awareness amongst families in People's Housing Project (PPR) in Kuala Lumpur where the 34-year-old noticed a severe lack of understanding on sexual health among the people she met.
“I realised there was a lot of lack of knowledge on sexually transmitted diseases, on HIV/AIDS, as well as on contraception,” says Aishah.
Realising an urgent need to fill the ‘information gap’, she decided to start SPOT (Soroptimist Puberty Education Toolkit), a homegrown Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program, targeting young girls and adolescents.
“Children are often left vulnerable to exploitations from a very young age. So, while I was trying to find a way to address this issue, I came upon CSE.”
SPOT: A Volunteer Initiative Focused on Developing and Delivering Information About Puberty and Sexual Abuse Prevention
Founded in December 2014, SPOT is a volunteer project that develops and delivers puberty and sex education modules to bring greater awareness on those subjects among girls.
“A CSE is a teaching and learning process, aimed at empowering children and young people. It is also to make them realise that (puberty and sex) is not just about the physical wellbeing but emotional and mental health too.”
The comprehensive modules created by Siti Aishah and her team are based on five pillars, consisting relationship building; good values, culture and identity; skills for health and well-being; and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“First and foremost, it is to equip them with the necessary knowledge, attitude and skills to be able to access and demand for their rights for the rest of their lives,” says Siti Aishah.
SPOT: Why It's Best to Start Sex Ed When Kids Are Young
There is an urgent need to introduce comprehensive sex education among children, says Siti Aishah, particularly because topics on sex, even if its pertaining to health, are treated as taboo in the Malaysian culture.
This will lead to kids failing to understand the concept of autonomy over one's own body - and teaching consent begins with teaching bodily autonomy, she emphasises.
Our parents didn’t speak to us about it when we were younger, so we don’t speak to our children about it. So, we need to train ourselves to address this first
“We inherited the inability to speak about sex. Our parents didn’t speak to us about it when we were younger, so we don’t speak to our children about it. So, we need to train ourselves to address this first,” says Siti Aishah.
“We are raised by a village; we are not raised as an individual. So the more children are exposed to people, the higher the risk of them being violated,” she adds. “87 percent of the time, the perpetrators are the family members or people that the children know.”
“UNICEF had reported that one in five girls must have, in one form or another, been sexually abused or exploited or harassed. One in seven boys would’ve been (exploited) too, and that number is quite alarming.”
SPOT’s programme seeks to be inclusive, addressing five different age groups through their programmes, starting from the primary school level up to university. Parents are also part of their target group too.
“Children are very sensitive beings, they will be able to realise that you are uncomfortable talking to them about these things,” says Siti Aishah. “It’s very difficult for children to trust their parents and trust is very much needed when you discuss personal issues.”
SPOT: Address The Change and Curiosity Among Kids
Introducing SPOT to the public was challenging at first, says Siti Aishah but she is encouraged to see more support towards the initiative; even even religious figures who traditionally would stay away from such ‘taboo’ subjects have shown more willingness to talk about sex education.
“We have educated 5,140 girls in 42 schools across six states,” says the activist, who conducts the programmes, along with 106 other volunteers.
“We go into schools and talk to teachers and parents. The children, meanwhile, will have about 10 contact hours - so, two hours for each pillar.”
The cost to sponsor a child to be educated through SPOT, is about the price of a Starbucks drink
Facilitated under the Soroptimist International Club of Petaling Jaya, SPOT has succeeded in bringing the programme to main states in Peninsular Malaysia.
“This year we are expanding to Johor Bahru, Kuching and also to Kedah, and hopefully Terengganu too.”
Upon completion of the SPOT program, a graduation ceremony will be held for the participants.
But it doesn’t end there; SPOT has set up a hotline to allow anyone with questions regarding sexual health, or even relationship matters, to contact the volunteers.
“That’s why we started SPOTline, so that they can all continue to access the knowledge (in our programme) and develop the right attitude and skills; which is our aim in the first place.”
As a social enterprise, Siti Aishah is now actively looking for partnerships with relevant stakeholders to make the programme sustainable. But for anyone who wishes to sponsor the programme, they can do so at a very small sum.
“The cost to sponsor a child to be educated through SPOT, is about the price of a Starbucks drink,” says Aishah.