Malaysian teen Ain Husniza speaks at UNICEF’s Inspire Conference

By Hakim Mahari

Ain Husniza, the brave schoolgirl, who stood up against her teacher’s alleged lewd and sexist remarks, was selected as a panelist for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Inspire Conference 2021.

It was a rainbow after the rain for the 17-year-old schoolgirl as she first gained nationwide attention when she posted a TikTok video expressing her discomfort over her male teacher who reportedly made rape jokes during class in April this year.

Following her post, she received a backlash on the internet and a threat, but it did not stop her there as Ain Husniza’s spirit never faded as she continued to launch a social media campaign to create awareness called #MakeSchoolASaferPlace.

Her passion in advocating for safety in schools, providing a better learning environment for the younger generation, and encouraging other students to speak up against any negative school experiences, could not be doubted as she is committed to fighting for the truth.

Thus, being selected as the panelist for UNICEF’s study “Ending Violence on Young People: Perspectives of Young People” together with other youth from the region, was a well-deserved recognition for the young schoolgirl who rather chooses to stand up for herself in the harrowing society.  

The views of children and young people are critical to ending violence against children, which make Ain Husniza the most fitted candidate chosen by UNICEF.

At the conference, she presented a finding from a regional study and a focus group discussion that was conducted where youth were asked about the three key themes of the conference: positive parenting, back to school, and mental health.

In an interview with The Star, she commented: “It’s an honour to be part of the conference and to present the findings of the focus group discussions together with other youth panelists on the international platform. I hope to advocate for children’s rights in Malaysia, and help make our voices and opinions heard and considered, especially in policymaking.”

Ain revealed that prior to speaking at the event, she had asked the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Najat Maalla M’jid about her own experience.

“I asked about her experience talking to so many people around the world and the role that youth have in policymaking, and about how and what youth have been doing to get the attention from authorities, especially governments.

The answer she received doesn’t seem to bring joy, but that makes her feel stronger for in days ahead – it is a long and hard journey that encouraged her not to give up and to persevere in her cause.

“Najat shared that during her youth, she was arrested 48 times for her activism! But I’m only being investigated for one case right now,” Ain said.

It is undeniable that her participation in the international conference has encouraged her to be tough in the journey of the human rights activist as she was exposed to others’ experiences and struggles in their part of the world.

Nevertheless, in every step that she takes is fighting for her right, there is her father, Saiful Nizam Abdul Wahab, who is always behind her daughter, protecting, supporting, and never tired of being the best dad in creating a safe space for her brilliant daughter.

Witnessing how his daughter was slammed by the cruelness of society, he was grateful for the opportunity given by UNICEF in opening the eyes of the world to the bitter truth of the sickness in society.

Indeed, Saiful Nizam is proud to see the good exposure and opportunity given to Ain in voicing the concerns of Malaysian children at the highest level, especially regarding their rights in access to quality education and a safer environment.

“We hope that a better approach and policy will be implemented by the government,” he said.

Saiful Nizam is right in saying that the policymaker should play a vital role to ensure that every concern raised is given attention and will be assisted instead of provoked. The ugliest part is that, from some of the social media postings since this case was blown up in the public sphere, it is quite clear that those who condone such a misogyny act are generally adopting a “this-is-traditionally-accepted- behaviour” stance.

Despite ours still being a patriarchal society, many changes are taking place for the better. The rights of every segment of society are starting to be recognised and accepted, albeit too slowly and often very reluctantly. It has now become a need to counter these oppressive myths and narratives. This is the task of education.

Thus, this inspiring story of Ain Husniza, a brave student who exposed not only sexist, misogynistic comments made by a teacher, but also the existence of a scary culture of such despicable attitudes and behaviours within the public school system, calls for everyone of us to do better for a safe future. 

The determination and resilience shown by Ain Husniza and her principled attempt to make schools safer places together will inspire others to stand and fight for the betterment of life. ***

(This article is written as part of individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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