GEORGE TOWN: The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill is a really timely one, and the biggest evidence of that was the antics of Pasir Salak MP Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
He went on a rampage against some female Opposition MPs, calling them indecent and even uttering an expletive in the Dewan Rakyat, according to some parliamentarians.
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While many welcomed the passing of the Bill, they were also dismayed by the actions of the controversial MP.
Civil society groups and advocates of women’s rights in the country were disgusted with Tajuddin’s tirade against female Opposition lawmakers.
He even went as far as to call them indecent. He also uttered an obscenity.
“Clearly, MPs need gender-sensitisation so they can understand the law reforms which call for non-discrimination and equality,” said Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) executive director Sivananthi Thanenthiran.
“Some parliamentarians have a history of spouting uncouth and unbecoming statements about female MPs and also about women’s dressing and menstruation.
“Ironically, making sexist statements can also be construed as a form of harassment, and that swear word uttered during the reading of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill just goes to show the need for such a law,” she said.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Advocacy Group also strongly condemned Tajuddin’s outburst.
“We call on the Speaker and Deputy Speaker to take strict disciplinary measures,” the group’s statement read.
Karen Lai, programme director of the Women’s Centre for Change, Penang, said condoning Tajuddin’s behaviour would normalise violence against women, which is “the last thing we need in Parliament”.
“That rude profanity created a hostile and intimidating environment,” she said.
She added that she had been waiting a long time for this Bill, calling it a “milestone for the women’s movement”.
“The Bill has been decades in the making, dating all the way back to the 1990s. I am glad there is legislation now,” she said.
Veteran women’s rights activist Ivy Josiah also called out Tajuddin’s “disgusting” behaviour and said he should have been removed from the “august House”.
“Even as the House was debating gender issues, he was unable to read the room, to comprehend that his response was unacceptable,” she said.
Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa was more direct. “MPs like this must go. We don’t need MPs like this in Parliament representing the Rakyat,” she said.
Sungai Tiang assemblyman Datuk Suraya Yaacob, said she was sure the Bill would be good for women.
“I feel it is good to have the government supporting women with a specific Act like this one.
“However, the Act alone is not sufficient until everyone understands that you can be sexually harassed anywhere, not just at work.
“Women and men as a whole need to understand and be made aware of what amounts to harassment,” she said.
Referring to Tajuddin’s tirade, she said she was unaware of his exact statements and hoped they were not degrading.
Johor Women’s League president Thanam Visvanathan-Suresh also hit out at Tajuddin, saying that using foul and indecent language could no longer be used as a weapon to shut down women.
She said that while Tajuddin’s words may have attracted some laughter from some MPs, such sexist comments were no laughing matter.
“When a clown moves into a palace, it does not make him king, it just makes the palace a circus,” she said.
“The fact that he was not thrown out of the Dewan after that kind of behaviour speaks of a wider culture of people being let off the hook time and time again,” she said.
Thanam said Tajuddin was “tone-deaf and clueless about his own behaviour” for trying to defend himself after his remarks.
She said the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill was a long-awaited one to protect women and it was a shame that such an important matter was marred by his distasteful behaviour.
JiShan Single Mothers Club chairman Goh Teck Kuan also hit out at Tajuddin, calling him “unfit to be an MP”.
“The worst thing is, this was not even his first time making such comments or insulting women.
“As a man trying to champion women’s issues and help them improve their lives, I am sad that this kind of disrespectful behaviour is still going on, what more in the Dewan Rakyat.
“Enough is enough.
“He should stop affecting Malaysia’s image with his bad behaviour,” he said.