Societal taboos have indeed made the teaching of sex education an immensely difficult process to be executed in our country especially, with religiously-driven concepts such as sexual acts are unholy and the mentioning of words in public like, ‘sex’, ‘penis’, ‘vagina’ and ‘period’ should be censored. These rules and societal taboos are the real reason why sexual health education in schools are not comprehensive enough leading to a large number of teenagers resort to believing myths surrounding sex and end up in a crisis where they either impregnate someone or get themselves pregnant.
Hence, the surge in baby dumping cases. Now, even the rise in baby dumping cases are attributed to the interference of religion towards the legal rights for women to get an abortion. Since this is a pretty grey area when it comes to religious values and sexual education, any sort of campaign intended to educate the public on the taboo topics of menstruation and vaginas would automatically get chided by the public as it’s deemed to be closeted topics!
So, this was the same case when Libresse launched their limited edition V-Kebaya pad lineup. Now, before delving into the flak, let’s focus on the good side of things. The intricate kebaya designs on the pads are indeed beautiful — but there’s more!
If you look closely at the flowers, there’s the depiction of a vagina. According to Twitter users, the flowers are actually the clitoria ternatea or in the local language, the bunga telang. These flowers are a perfect illustration on how women should appreciate their body and feel good about themselves and we, are happy to see that the narrative that the vagina is dirty is getting erased day by day.
Now, with the frustrating outcome of this positive campaign! Uztazah Asmak Husin, a religious preacher tweeted that Libresse does not respect women. Attached to the tweet was Dr Safinar Salleh’s statement regarding this matter. Dr Safinar is actually the chairperson of the Yadim Muslim Women’s Council (MAYA).
The statement reveals that, “To misuse an image of a woman’s private part on the advertisement design of your sanitary products is a dishonour to women. To widely promote it as a motif on your sanitary pad packaging, a design on our national heritage of the kebaya in your V-Kebaya campaign, and as an origami in your Know Your V Campaign are also considered as an exploitation of women’s bodies in advertising. “
Adding on, the statement implies that the promotion which depicts the vulva motif has undermined the dignity of women and violates the norms of decency in the Malaysian society. They have also requested Libresse to withdraw this promotion immediately from all channels of print, digital and social media.
With some supporting this tweet by claiming that it is indeed against religious norms, many have resorted to chiding this statement. Popular YouTuber, Jinny Boy said, “Sorry, but I think you’re not respecting the fact that Libresse is taking the bold step to move forward on spreading education on something that no one chooses to speak about in the open. This is no way degrading. It is empowering and normalising sexual education.”
Co-Founder of The Malaysian United Democratic Alliance Party (MUDA), Dr Thanussha Xavier Francis stated that, “Traditional shaming and taboo related to body parts and biological processes are illogical, ridiculous and degrading. Lack of menstruation awareness is precisely why chronic menstrual pain is still thought of as ‘normal’ by many and some men are clueless about the whole thing.”
Content creator Jenn Chia also made a video regarding this issue. She stated that when she saw the advertisement for the very first time, it took her awhile to realise that there was a vagina motif in the design. However, she revealed that she doesn’t see how incorporating the vulva into the batik design helps her learn more about her body part but it made her question herself on her knowledge about her vagina and reproductive health.
She even implied that she doesn’t even feel shameful about her hilarious and outrageous videos but she does indeed feel shy and awkward about it especially, when it comes to the topic of going to the gynaecologist. Adding on, she felt that, in her opinion, Libresse’s campaign aims to educate and empower women to not be shy or be grossed out about their vagina because similarly to batik, it’s beautiful.
Some Twitter users have also questioned the Uztazah’s move to chide Libresse’s campaign when harmful drinks to tighten vaginas and whiten the female private area were not addressed by her or the women’s organisation who released the statement.
It should be very evident that billboards promoting the tightening of the vagina for one’s husband’s pleasure is the one that’s supposed to be disapproved for not respecting women.
As a follow up to this tweet, Libresse has since retracted all forms of promotional material regarding this campaign and have resorted to using a minimalistic design on their sanitary pad packaging. This is very sad, indeed. Nevertheless, we really hope more brands out there would do their part in educating the public about menstruation and the female genitals. This could pave way for a more comprehensive sex education subject in school.