Women’s group campaigns for tabling of sexual harassment bill in November

Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

The All Women’s Action Society (Awam), together with the Malaysian public, is strongly advocating for Parliament and the cabinet to take serious action to put a stop to sexual harassment in the country through our Awam for the Bill campaign.

This social media-driven campaign, targeted at Malaysians, aims to raise awareness of and advocacy for the need to pass a sexual harassment bill in Parliament this November 2020.

Working with the limitations created by Covid-19, Awam is collaborating in cyberspace with student organisations, youth groups, social media influencers, celebrities, news portals and the public to create huge amounts of awareness on such a dire and pressing issue.

As part of this campaign, Awam has started a petition to push for the tabling of the Bill, and in just three days, we obtained over 3,000 signatures. We intend to use these numbers in Parliament this November to advocate for a sexual harassment law to be enacted.

A draft sexual harassment bill has already been prepared and submitted by a coalition of NGOs and government agencies. The passing of the sexual harassment bill also has bipartisan support. In August this year, Awam lobbied 22 MPs on both sides of the divide, who all gave us public support in advocating for the passing of the bill in Parliament in November.

Awam also carried out a survey among University of Malaya students in August and September 2020 to determine the level of awareness of sexual harassment and to identify experiences of sexual harassment among university students. Exactly 156 university students responded to the survey, out of which 119 were female.

READ MORE:  An academy to train lawmakers about good manners?

The survey results showed that out of the 119 female students who responded, 58 (or 48.7%) have been sexually harassed. Out of the 37 male respondents, it was found that 15 (or 40.5%) male students have been sexually harassed, breaking the myth once more that only females are survivors of sexual harassment.

The draft bill will ensure that both women and men are protected under the new legislation.

The survey also showed that 98.3% of the perpetrators who sexually harassed the female survivors were males. Most of these male perpetrators were often strangers who would harass the female survivors in public spaces.

This piece of data alone indicates the audacity of men who are brave enough to harass random college-going females because they (the perpetrators) know they can get away with such behaviour.

Out of the 58 women who were sexually harassed, 39.6% did not make a report because they did not know what to do or how to go about it.

The draft bill will ensure that all institutions, such as the University of Malaya, will have the responsibility to ensure that all their students are aware of internal sexual harassment policies. Students, workers and employees have the right to complain to the relevant authorities if they find their institutions are not adhering to their internal policies.

In light of these University of Malaya survey findings, and of the many Malaysians speaking out about sexual harassment during the movement control order, as well as the recent exposé of the vile V2K Telegram group responsible for the dissemination of paid nudes, child pornography, hidden camera footage (CCTV), and lifetime subscriptions to pornographic material, we need and must have a standalone sexual harassment law to protect us more than ever.

READ MORE:  What happened to leaders' oath to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution?

Another day without a Sexual Harassment Act could result in yet another survivor, suffering negative consequences. The impact of sexual harassment can sometimes be fatal. Let us not forget the death of a 17-year-old girl in Penang on 3 August 2020 who committed suicide as a result of online sexual harassment by a 20-year-old man who threatened to make her pictures go viral if she did not communicate with him.

The bill would extend the definition of sexual harassment to encompass public spaces and cyberspace, as opposed to just work environments; provide more accessibility, protection and privacy for survivors; as well as look at sexual harassment cases from the perspective of victims to better handle their cases.

The collective impact of not having a proper law on sexual harassment can also adversely affect the entire country. Women who are sexually harassed at work and school, quit and/or drop out, leading to less productive people in the economy, not to mention less money in families with mouths to feed – a situation that will be further exacerbated in the current Covid-19 climate. Families and communities will be affected.

The ripple effect continues as the cost of public services for welfare will go up. Similarly for mental health services, as more and more people seek medical attention for depression, anxiety, anger management and suicidal thoughts, all of which are the effects of being sexually harassed.

The bill would work towards not just making Malaysia a safer space for Malaysians, but also a thriving one where all of us can enjoy a better quality of life.

Awam calls on all Malaysians to stand alongside us in our call to table the sexual harassment bill in November by signing the petition and joining in our social media challenge: download Awam’s own curated frame and post a caption on why we desperately need this bill to be passed. Over 3,000 Malaysians have spoken and more will speak.

READ MORE:  Sexual Harassment Bill: 20 years of fighting the good fight

As Malaysians, united, let us all humbly but loudly urge Rina Harun, the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, to table the sexual harassment bill this November 2020. We simply cannot delay this anymore; the time to act is now!

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.