How many times have Malaysian women been harassed while walking down the street? It may surprise you, but there is no current law to cover sexual harassment outside of a work space.
According to The Guardian, “sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” In Malaysia, the topic of sexual harassment has always been viewed as a taboo, or something not even worth bringing up in the public, resulting in many Malaysians taking it as a joke and never seriously.
Sexual harassment is also classified in many ways which include indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography. These lewd acts could happen anywhere but in Malaysia, the law of sexual harassment only applies in the Employment Act which only covers work environments and disregards whatever happens outside.
Calling for a change, AWAM Malaysia, an independent feminist non-profit organisation established in 1985, has created a petition on Change.org to urge the Malaysian Parliament and the Cabinet of Malaysia to take serious action to end gender-based violence and sexual harassment – through the tabling of the long-awaited and much needed Sexual Harassment Bill during the Parliament sitting in November.
The organisation has received over 38 reports of sexual harassment within the last 5 months alone through their Telenita Hotline and the numbers have been higher for the statistic recorded from the last two years combined.
Following the petition, a draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill has prepared and submitted by a coalition of NGO’s and government agencies, and the passing of the Sexual Harassment Bill has bipartisan support.
This bill will also be looking into changing and adding new aspects when it comes to sexual harassment such as:
- Improving the definition of sexual harassment to encompass public spaces and not just work environments
- Widening coverage so more people are protected from sexual harassment
- Getting public and private sectors to take proactive measures to combat sexual harassment through having and disclosing their own sexual harassment policies
- The existence of a Tribunal to handle sexual harassment cases
- Employees/Employers/individuals within any public or private organisation can hold their companies accountable to the Tribunal should they not have sexual harassment policies or prevent and redress sexual harassment cases
- Enhancing protection and access to justice
According to the Malay Mail, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun, has also confirmed that the Sexual Harassment Bill is expected to be tabled for the first reading in the Parliament at the end of this year after being postponed in March due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Former minister Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has also urged the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) to prioritise the tabling of an Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill.
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Nur Dinie, Strategic and Communication Lead of @gap.my is no stranger to activism work as she has always been involved with causes that advocate for upholding the rights of women and the youth. @diniefadil plans on reaching out to vulnerable communities and understanding the plights they face especially in issues relating to Sexual Harassment. She noted that once the SH bill is passed, @gap.my will do their part in ensuring that these communities are aware of their rights and where they can get help. Be like Dinie and show your support for the tabling of the SH Bill too!#AWAMxMindtheGap #bebasgangguanseksual
At the time of writing this article, the petition has gained 10,142 signatures. The goal is to get it to 15,000.
Signing this petition and making amendments to the original law will definitely make Malaysia a safer place for women.
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During this CMCO, our helplines will be open. If you or someone you know is having a hard time or have experienced any form of gender based violence, get in touch with us. Our counselling and legal information services are free #AWAMTelenita Call/WhatsApp us at 016 237 4221
If you know someone who is having a hard time or would like some advice or help, feel free to contact AWAM for free counselling on their Telenita hotline, especially during this CMCO. The line is opened from 9.30am – 4.30pm at this number 016 237 4221 on Whatsapp.