Siti Aishah, 34, Founder and lead programme developer for SPOT with Soroptimists
Let’s talk about sex — sex education that is. Siti Aishah is the country’s main advocate for this through Soroptimist Puberty Ogranising Toolkit (SPOT), a community programme that provides free puberty education to children in Malaysia. It really all came about because she felt there was a real lack in access to information about it – she really wished she’d known more when she was younger.
What drove you to create SPOT?
When I was studying at University Malaya I volunteered as an enumerator for a flagship project on diseases among urban communities. I was tasked to gather information from families living in PPR complexes for medical doctors and researchers. From the experience I discovered a lack of awareness amongst the lower income bracket and how dangerous their outlook on the topic of sex and sexuality is. Because of this I started my own research on how to provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to help prevent child sexual abuse, reduce unsafe sex practices and child marriage.
How was it when you were first starting out?
Following my volunteer experience in the PPR project, I started to research CSE and the methods of developing programs and delivering them to suitable beneficiaries.
I created the SPOT modules after researching sex education modules from first world and developing nations and the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE) 2008. We ran our pilot programme with 62 girls over a period of 8 weeks in 2015.
How do you manage to educate young girls on sex ed while being culturally sensitive?
I always think about what I wish I knew when I was younger. I ask this question to almost everyone I meet, and there are so many overlaps in what we all wish we knew when we were younger, and the heartbreak, pain and confusion it could have spared us. In order to be culturally sensitive, I believe in being empathetic. Understanding why people may be resistant or defensive, and approaching sex ed with compassion and care is the best kind of approach there is and that is, I believe, universal.
“I always think about what I wish I knew when I was younger. I ask this question to almost everyone I meet, and there are so many overlaps in what we all wish we knew, and the heartbreak, pain and confusion it could have spared us. In order to be culturally sensitive, I believe in being empathetic.”
Why do you think that sex ed is a no-no in this country and what makes sex ed a taboo?
Politics and patriarchy. Sex education is not taboo in Malaysia. It is just not the norm. There’s a blanket of fear around the topic, we humans have this natural reaction and curiosity about things we don’t fully understand. Socially, Malaysians are comfortable talking about sex in a safe space. Unfortunately, there aren’t many safe spaces available. Also, the spaces created online host sexual and psychosexual predators. I truly believe Malaysians will make a mark in the world by having one of the best sexual education programmes available, because we’re passionate about our children. And because we have SPOT.
How do you break the stigma and convince parents that sex ed is beneficial for their children?
Sex ed is a lifelong process of learning. We aim to educate members of society from all ranks and backgrounds. SPOT empowers women and children with the right knowledge, attitude and skills that will assist them in navigating through life. Together with our partners, we are working towards becoming Malaysia’s best comprehensive sexuality education provider in our effort to empower 20,000 girls by the year 2020.
How old do you think is the right age for parents to talk about sex ed to children?
There is a misconception that sex ed should begin when children are on the brink of puberty. Oftentimes, it’s already too late, as by their pre-teen years, they have already been exposed to sexual concepts, mostly via accidental exposure or through their peers. The conversations we have in pertaining to sex is a continuing educational process that starts at an early age and continues throughout life. I believe this conversation can start when the child is 1, for example, by teaching them about ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch’.
We also run SPOTLINE, a safe question and answer platform whereby children can anonymously text or WhatsApp in questions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Answers will be provided by a panel of experts, and will be published on a weekly basis on the SPOT website. The textline is available 24-hours a day at +6018 240 4033. SPOTLINE aims to assist children and parents by providing factual and age-appropriate information with regards to puberty and sexual health. The textline is an evolution of the Magic Q&A Box that I use during SPOT workshops for participants to anonymously submit questions which will be addressed during the session.
What is empowerment to you?
Empowerment is the realisation and the internalisation that you can take action to control your life and claim your rights. If empowerment were a person, she would be Mazlan binti Othman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Zetty Akhtar Aziz, Zainah Anwar or Greta Thunberg. Use the tools at your disposal, lend a hand and support other women, and claim your power. You’ll never regret it.
Special thanks to Tropicana Gardens Property Gallery for venue assistance during the shoot.