Content Warnings: Mentions of rape, Online sexual assault, online sexual harassment, and misogyny
We strongly condemn the misogyny and sexism of a group of men who initiated a poll on a social media platform, to vote who among their women peers deserved to be successively raped (“gangbang”). We are deeply alarmed by the poll’s vulgar sexualisation of women.
We live in a patriarchal society that consistently objectifies and sexualises women in direct and indirect ways. In the poll, 1,005 participated in this online sexual harassment, of which the majority are men. It is alleged that students of Islamic studies were among the voters. Their predatory behaviour is worrying for the safety of their female asatizah colleagues, the moral and social development of their male asatizah colleagues, and also the larger Muslim community who will rely on their future religious knowledge and guidance.
Since the poll was exposed, female asatizah have shared personal anecdotes about the sexual harassment and assault they suffered at the hands of their men peers and how their attempts at seeking redress were in vain. This shows the persistence of sexism in the workplace, where victims are constantly met with a lack of institutional support when seeking justice.
This poll shows how sexual harassment and violence is never caused by the victim’s lack of ‘modesty’. Sexual harassment and violence is never the victim’s fault. Rather, it is a manifestation of a patriarchal culture that encourages female objectification with little consequence for the perpetrators and little care for victims. All victims deserve justice and support, not only the ‘modest’ or ‘innocent’ ones.
We remind ourselves that sexual objectification begins with intentions and words. These ‘jokes’, images and conversations eventually manifest into (sexual) violence. This poll is not an isolated case. In June 2020, similar calls by women to address the misogynist ‘locker-room talk’ in OKLETSGO’s podcasts were belittled, dismissed and met with rape threats.
This poll exists in a culture where women are persistently sexualised, dehumanised and denigrated, and where male and institutional reputations are more important than women’s dignity and rights to justice. It is this culture that sows the seeds for incidents of sexual violence to keep occurring.
While we are reassured that figures from the Malay-Muslim community have spoken up, we believe that they have the responsibility to act on this matter decisively, and to address the root of the problem: deep-seated misogyny and sexism in our communities.
We call on MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) and Muslim leaders to:
- Require all (1) asatizah, (2) madrasah students, and (3) students attending overseas Islamic universities to attend Sexual Assault First Responder training by Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), and Gender Sensitivity training by The T Project Singapore;
- Provide comprehensive sexuality education in local madrasah. This includes in-depth discussions of consent, gender-based violence, power dynamics and gender inequality;
- Reconsider granting Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) Certification if detailed background checks (introduced in January 2020) reveal previous misogynist and sexist behaviours;
- Include compulsory Gender Sensitivity training and Sexual Assault First Responder training under the Asatizah Reintegration Programme (ARP) for asatizah involved in sexual misconduct (misogynist behaviour or sexual harassment). The public must be informed of the previous misconduct and what training was undertaken before the individual is reintegrated;
- Provide trauma-informed care and support for survivors of sexual harassment; and
- Implement a national campaign to address myths on sexual violence and eradicate the culture of victim-blaming.
Our groups, and so many other individuals, have addressed this issue far too many times. We want our Muslim leaders in power to take concrete action in addressing the systemic rot.
We demand accountability. We demand change.