Rights groups call for equal, unfettered enforcement of sexual harassment law

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 21 Jul 2022

PETALING JAYA: Several rights groups hope the recently-passed anti-sexual harassment legislation will not be misused by irresponsible parties to curtail human rights.

Their concerns also came in the wake of Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman's outburst in the Dewan Rakyat during the debate on the Bill on Wednesday (July 20).

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), ENGENDER, and Young Women Making Change said victim blaming, moral policing, violating bodily autonomy and curbing freedom of expression should no longer occur.

“The whole intention of the legislation is to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all persons regardless of gender, race, religion or background," they said in a statement on Thursday (July 21).

ALSO READ: Dewan Rakyat passes Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill

The Bill also provides for the setting up of a 12-member Anti-Sexual Harassment Tribunal to hear claims of sexual harassment.

“Hence, intersectional and diverse representation of tribunal members is critical to ensure the effective protection of all persons who come before it.

“This battle was certainly hard-won, but our fight is far from over. With the passing of the Bill, we still have a long journey ahead of us to ensure that it is effectively implemented,” the group added.

It also said that victims can look forward to expeditious, affordable and accessible redress via the tribunal.

As such, it called for the enforcement of organisational duties to address and prevent sexual harassment; protection against harassing behaviour including a hostile, offensive or intimidating environment; and protection against victimisation.

The group also called on the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to ensure that the legislation achieves its intended outcome.

ALSO READ: Hot and bothered: Shouting match in Dewan Rakyat during Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill debate

It said the ministry should also ensure that a multi-sectoral monitoring committee is set up comprising members of diverse backgrounds; expand the tribunal's operations to all states, and issue guidelines on implementing the provisions of the Act.

“To this end, we hope that the drafting of an action plan for the implementation of the legislation is already under way.

"The ministry will also work together with the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women and Children Affairs and Social Development (PSSC) to further clarify the powers of the Administrator of Anti-Sexual Harassment,” the group said.

It added that the legislation should be improved upon as necessary through monitoring and evaluation.

Under the law, those found to have committed sexual harassment may end up paying their victims a sum of up to RM250,000 in compensation or in default, serve a two-year jail term.

ALSO READ: Tajuddin slammed as women's rights groups say his remarks have no place in august House

The group also commended elected representatives for calling out sexist behaviour and the use of profanities in Parliament during the debate, upholding their stance against harassment and violence in line with the spirit of the Bill.

"We are heartened by their solidarity, particularly during the rigorous Parliamentary debate on the Bill, where many of them raised issues which were constructive and critical for its effective implementation," it said.

Tajuddin created a scene and was said to have used profanities during Wednesday's debate.

He reportedly went off on a rant against female Opposition lawmakers and even went as far as to call them indecent.

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