The Labour Law Reform Coalition is shocked by the sexist remark made by Pakatan Harapan senator Mohd Imran Abd Hamid in the Senate on 31 July 2019.
We urge the Malaysian government to immediately ratify the new International Labour Organization (ILO) convention concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work (C190) as a measure to eliminate the potential threat of violence and harassment against women.
Violence against women is a crime under Malaysian laws under whatever circumstances; dressing should not be an excuse for perpetrator to use violence on another dignified person, let alone calling for the protection of men from committing a crime.
The justification of such severe criminal offences not only insults men and women, but also tacitly encourages violence with impunity.
We are saddened by the fact that the disrespectful words were uttered by the honourable MP, who had declared he would defend the Federal Constitution and the rule of law during the swearing-in ceremony.
Mohd Imran’s sexist language, as well as previous sexist remarks by Barisan Nasional MPs Bung Mokhtar and Tajuddin Abdul Rahman in the past and a Perak state executive council member Paul Yong, who was accused of raping his domestic workers, shows that there is an urgent need for the government to ratify the newly adopted ILO Convention on violence and harassment in June 2019.
This is because we don’t know how these elected representatives are going to deal with workers who work in Parliament, political parties, the civil service such as the navy or government ministries, or at home. Will this sexist attitude escalate to sexual harassment or violence in the workplace?
The threat of gender-based violence is real.
In 2018, the Inter-Parliamentary Union conducted a survey and found 67.9% of female MPs in the European Parliament had received a comment relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes and 24.7% had suffered sexual violence.
Besides, 40.5% of European Parliament staff said they had suffered acts of sexual harassment in their work; 69.2% of the cases involved male MPs.
Sexual harassment and violence in Malaysia is on the rise. According to the Women’s Aid Organisation, the police received less than 100 reports of sexual harassment in 2001, but the number has significantly increased to more than 338 in 2016. In addition, there were 1,682 cases of rape in 2017.
We call upon the Malaysian government to review its “abstain” position while voting to adopt the Convention on Violence and Harassment in the International Labour Conference.
It is an embarrassment that the ruling coalition did not support an international convention which is perfectly coherent with the criminal justice system in Malaysia, let alone the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, which had promised to advance labour rights by putting our labour standards on par with ILO standards.
Earlier, the Labour Law Reform Coalition had proposed the inclusion of an enforceable code of conduct on sexual harassment to ensure workplace safety.
The coalition also supports the enactment of a Sexual Harassment Act to eliminate harassment against men and women, but we do not share the same opinion as Mohd Imran.
N Gopal Kishnam and Irene Xavier are the co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition.