PETALING JAYA: She was driven to a quiet lake instead of a bus stop by a superior and later on, was at the receiving end of sexual remarks at the office.
This woman, one of many survivors joining the call for a standalone Sexual Harassment Act, is joining the worldwide movement inspiring more women to speak out about sexual harassment, including in Malaysia.
More civil society groups are now calling for a Sexual Harassment Act to be enacted to protect Malaysians.
Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) president Tham Hui Ying said sexual harassment is “not taken seriously enough”.
She said almost 20 years had gone by since the launch of the Human Resource Ministry’s Code of Practice for the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, but it made “little impact”.
“It is based on voluntary adoption, which has resulted in low rates of implementation,” she said.
Tham said the culture of victim blaming had not helped raise the issue of sexual harassment, adding: “There is a real need for both legal reform and cultural change, to ensure sexual harassment is properly addressed.
“We hope the Government will act against this form of discrimination to enable women to fully enjoy their rights.”
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) communications officer Tan Heang-Lee said there is a “big gap” in Malaysia’s legal framework in terms of sexual harassment.
“The Employment Act requires an employer to inquire into any sexual harassment complaint received.
“Currently, employers have a lot of prerogative on how to handle these cases,” Tan said.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry acknowledged that the existing legislation is “not at the moment sufficient” to overcome sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is considered uncivilised and indecent and against good norms and values. It also reduces the quality and productivity of working life and jeopardises the wellbeing of working men and women,” it said in a statement.
The ministry said it is currently conducting a series of “consultation sessions” with NGOs to review the need to enact legislation on the issue of sexual harassment.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the Government is aware of the sexual harassment issue.
Azalina, who is the minister in charge of law, said it is up to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry on whether it wants to enact a new Act to tackle sexual harassment.
Sisters In Islam (SIS) communications officer Alia Affendy said global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp has become a great platform for victims of sexual harassment to speak out about their experiences.
“It is time for us to ensure accountability against perpetrators and ensure victims have access to legal recourse,” she said.
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group president Winnie Yee said victims often felt the need to leave their jobs if they were sexually harassed.
“But why should they leave? It is not their fault. Harassers should be the ones who suffer the negative consequences, not the victims,” she said.
Co-founder of youth group Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE), Hannah Kam, also voiced her support for a Sexual Harassment Act, saying:
“Young people in particular must work together to secure an empowered future which embraces freedom from discrimination and any violation of dignity.
“It is crucial to have a proper framework to protect each and every citizen from any type of sexual harassment.”
Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said it views sexual harassment cases seriously and urged victims to lodge complaints with their management.