Longer wait for protection against gender-based violence

PETALING JAYA: Those seeking better enforcement and protection against gender-based violence and discrimination will have to wait longer with the suspension of Parliament during the emergency.

The Emergency proclamation until Aug 1, or earlier if the Covid-19 contagion is brought under control, will see lawmakers missing two Parliament meetings usually held in March and July.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said no new laws or amendments to existing ones on gender-based violence and discrimination are likely to be enacted during the period, including for anti-stalking, sexual harassment and amendments to the Employment Act.

“Without a parliamentary meeting, these legislative changes cannot be adopted. But the government can stand by its commitment to gender equality through law and policy, by continuing on the path to finalising the draft Bills and amendments.

“This includes through consultations with civil society so that they may be tabled without further delay during the next Parliament meeting, ” WAO said.

The need for a standalone sexual harassment law is crucial, said All Women’s Action Society (Awam) programme and operations manager Nisha Sabanayagam.

“Evidence is seen in the increasing trend of sexual harassment cases that Awam has received in the past year and even this year.

“In 2020 alone, Awam received 162 reports of sexual harassment, of which 68 were online harassments, ” said Nisha.

She said these cases revealed that survivors of such acts, mainly women, were being harassed at work, at public spaces like malls and on the streets, and at universities.

“We also received a number of sexual harassment complaints from young women about driving school instructors, ” she added.

Nisha said the first 12 days of the year saw Awam receiving 10 cases – almost one per day.

“These were cases reported to Awam. Imagine the number of unreported cases. It can be estimated that for each report made, at least five to 10 cases remain unreported.”

Nisha said calls for such a Bill have resonated with the rakyat, as reflected by 17,690 people who signed an online petition and 700 people who endorsed a paper petition presented to Dewan Rakyat last December.

Both initiatives were part of Awam’s #RakyatfortheBill campaign in 2020.

DAP’s Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto said many Bills are being pushed back as Parliament may only convene in August.

“What will happen to the Sexual Harassment Bill due to be tabled this year? And also a new Bill to combat cyberbullying?

“What about the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Bill (which was tabled for its first reading)?

“Not forgetting the Bill to recognise social workers as doing a professional job, ” said Kasthuri.

The IPCC Bill is important as it will ensure accountability and transparency in the conduct of the men in blue, as well as to protect the dignity of those in the police force, she noted.

Apart from that, the welfare and amenities for police officers must be given priority as well. The Parliament meeting in March was also due to discuss the 12th Malay-sia Plan, Kasthuri said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia Assoc Pof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said the focus of the Emergency proclamation is on Covid-19.

As such, Bills that are not required for Emergency purposes may not be made into an Emergency ordinance.

“Until then, we have to make use of all other laws until Parliament functions again, ” he said.

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