Voice Out returned once again to tackle the issues surrounding sexual and gender-based violence among youths.
by Stanley P, Carrybeans
Malaysians were outraged a few months ago when news broke of a 41-year-old man marrying an 11-year-old girl, sparking conversations surrounding child marriage and pedophilia. Then, Sabah mufti Datuk Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar caused an online uproar with his statement that girls should be allowed to marry at 14 years old.
Both of these incidents show us that Malaysians’ awareness of these issues is still lacking. In response, an annual youth festival by Good Shepherd Services chose to focus on sexual and gender-based violence this year.
Voice Out is an annual event aiming to empower and give voice to Sabahan youths. The team behind Voice Out is YouthPREP Centre of Good Shepherd Services, a centre for skill development and counselling for young people. Entering its eighth year, the event started out back in 2011. Since then, they have been tackling issues such as cyber-bullying and child grooming. Through the theme Dare to Stand Up (or Bangkitlah), they are focussing on the issues surrounding violence based on gender and sexuality.
Voice Out coordinator Jeinorvay Vitalis
According to this year’s Voice Out coordinator Jeinorvay Vitalis, they picked Tambunan for the second time because Tambunan has a high record of sexual violence and they wanted the youths there to be better equipped in managing the issue.
“We want Tambunan youths to think openly and creatively on how they can handle this issue. We want them to have the courage to stand up for themselves in line with this year’s theme, Dare to Stand Up.”
– Jeinorvay Vitalis, Voice Out 8 coordinator
According to Jeinorvay, one of the objectives of the event this year was to celebrate the youths, especially the ones in Tambunan and give them a chance to express themselves through creative art and performances. So, it comes as no surprise that the event was mainly attended by students from nearby schools.
Dance performance from Kiawayan Dance Club
Tambunan District Officer Thomas Logijin officiated the event and students from Kiawayan Dance Club provided dance performances during the opening. Throughout the day, performances by students and local artists entertained the crowds.
Forum panel members, (L-R) Rex Alvin, Elsie Primus, Wendy Inggu, Philip Kitingan and Amy Dangin.
One of the highlights of the whole event is the forum titled Just a Child, Not a Bride. During the forum, the panelists discussed the issue surrounding child marriage from several viewpoints, including statistics, civil law, native law and sex education. The panel was made up of the following:
Elsie Primus – lawyer and High Court deputy registrar (administration)
Rex Alvin – ex-researcher with UNICEF
Philip Kitingan – Tambunan District Chief OKK
Amy Dangin – KK12FM radio announcer
Wendy Inggu – moderator, teacher
It was refreshing to hear an open discussion of the topic. The panelists certainly didn’t shy away from mentioning things usually considered taboo amongst Sabahan. The message they were trying to deliver was clear; sex education is key in order to stop child marriages from happening. It is also important for everyone to be more open in discussing sex and sexuality to young children and youths.
Amy Dangin talking to students
Voice Out 8 is also a platform for organisations to reach out to the youth and provide help to them. Befrienders Kota Kinabalu opened up a booth to let young people know they can always reach out to the Befrienders if they ever feel the need to talk to someone. The Befrienders also has an instant messaging service, where people can reach out to them via Whatsapp messages.
SK Lambidan also opened up a booth to raise awareness on the plastic waste problem. The problem has been worsening over the years, which is why they are promoting the use of eco-bricks. An eco-brick is made up with a plastic bottle filled with non-biological waste. Once the plastic bottle is full, it is used as a reusable building material.
Voice Out 8 was an eye-opening experience for not only the youths but also the adults (we’re certainly young at heart, but in truth we’re just reluctant grown-ups). The artistic performances that day were entertaining and everyone had fun. But more than that, the festival was a great way to raise awareness and educate people on the issue of sexual and gender-based violence as well as child marriages.
Members of Women Support Group Tambunan
Education is very important for us to combat such pressing issues. According to Women Support Group Tambunan leader Eline, education is crucial in order for us to secure a good future. Therefore, educational programmes, such as Voice Out is very important, especially for youths.