The long-awaited Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill has reached the Dewan Rakyat for the first reading this morning.
Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Datuk Siti Zailah Yusoff tabled the bill in Parliament, saying in a press conference later that the law is an important manifestation of how sexual harassment is a violation of human rights in the form of gender-based violence.
To draft this bill, the ministry had established a special projects team comprising government agencies, academicians, and non-government organisations that have the expertise, knowledge and experience concerning issues involving sexual harassment.
The bill provides the tribunal with the jurisdiction to hear and determine the sexual harassment complaints made by any individual.
The tribunal also has the authority to order the respondent to issue a statement of apology to the complainant in whatever way as stated in the order.
In addition, the tribunal can issue an order for the respondent to pay for whatever compensation or damages, not exceeding RM250,000, for any loss or damage suffered by the victim of sexual harassment.
“Additionally, the ministry also held consultation sessions with stakeholders such as the Malaysian Employers’ Federation, student leadership in higher learning institutions, and other ministries to assist with drafting the bill,” Siti Zailah said to the press.
She further pointed out five elements that will be introduced via the bill, namely:
- A comprehensive definition of sexual harassment that will apply to all.
- Wide application of the law regardless of where the offence occurs.
- Upgrading available legal systems that handle sexual harassment complaints through the establishment of a tribunal.
- Basing burden of proof for sexual harassment conduct in the tribunal on a balance of probabilities.
- Redress for victims through suitable remedies beyond punitive measures.
Siti Zailah also expressed hope that the bill would increase awareness of sexual harassment so that such issues would no longer be normalised.
Adding further, the PAS women’s chief projected that the passing of the bill would result in the existence of safe spaces for society, particularly women.
“The ministry will continue consultations with stakeholders including MPs to put forth a clear message regarding structural reforms through the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, which would fill in the existing legal lacunas,” Siti Zailah said.