Sexual harassment, violence against women continues across the globe

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Photograph: Lye Tuck-Po/Aliran

Countries that in any way condone, tolerate and participate in the persecution of women cannot in any way consider themselves civilised nations, says Benedict Lopez.

Of late, courageous women have come forward to articulate personal traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed and the violence inflicted on them.

In the past, most had considered it taboo or were just too reluctant to relate such harrowing encounters and consequently suffered in silence.

Nevertheless, a startling change took place in October 2017, in the aftermath of the revelations of sexual harassment and violence by film mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Before that, actor Bill Cosby made the headlines for such nefarious transgressions.

As a result of these agonising episodes, the ball started rolling for more women to come forward to narrate their excruciating pains.

Sexual harassment is not only confined to the entertainment industry, but it can also be found in all walks of life, including among politicians. Recently, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was forced to resign amidst such allegations. Fallon remarked that his behaviour towards women in the past had “fallen short”. And now, US Senator Al Franken has announced he will also resign for similar misconduct.

Harvey Weinstein’s ignominy prompted the #MeToo campaign to spread virally all over the world, requesting victims of sexual harassment and violence to highlight their painful experiences. Social activist Tarana Burke coined this adage and it was publicised by actress Alyssa Milano, popularly known for her role in the TV series “Who’s the Boss”.

Against this backdrop of unprecedented publicity and in recognition of these valiant women, Time magazine has named “The Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year for 2017, and the brave women featured on its cover story are Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual.

READ MORE:  Group welcomes announcement of sexual harassment tribunal

Even in a country like Sweden which prides itself on gender equality, sexual harassment continues to plague society, particularly in places of employment. A recent expose has sent shock waves throughout the country and dented its reputation as a passionate advocate on women’s rights. Sexual harassment has vibrated in all spheres of Swedish life, including the legal profession, military, tech-sector, insurance and academia.

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter recently published a petition signed by 2,192 women from all segments of society including superstar Tara Larsson, citing various accounts of sexual harassment.

Persecution, violence and stalking of women spans across the globe in developed and developing countries. In many countries throughout the world, women face many forms of maltreatment and oppression without any avenue for recourse. Patriarchal societies in many developing countries enable men to continue their sadistic control over women through their viciousness.

Malicious violence carried out against women include honour killings, custodial rape, rape during wars, female genital mutilation, sexual trafficking, acid attacks, stoning and many other forms of persecution. Some of these acts are committed at the hands of private citizens, apparently condoned by government, while others are sanctioned by local authorities and villages headmen through their hoodlums.

Even the marginalisation of women, discriminatory employment conditions and sub-standard labour practices, denial of education and unwilling nuptials constitute fundamental breaches under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and its ancillary agreemtents and accords.

Women in strife-torn countries are among the most brutal victims of sexual violence and ethnic cleansing. Many who were subjected to rape and violence have highlighted their sufferings to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the global media. We have recently witnessed these acts perpetrated in Rakhine State in Myanmar and in the 1990s, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda.

READ MORE:  Women's group campaigns for tabling of sexual harassment bill in November

Disappointingly, the UN failed to prevent these atrocious crimes and the ensuing genocide that took place in many parts of the world. It is time for the UN to act immediately and halt such despicable crimes.

Countries that turn a blind eye to or in any way condone, tolerate and participate in the persecution of women cannot in any way consider themselves civilised nations. Evident blots of ruthless violence are tantamount to crimes against humanity, and the countries concerned should be spurned by the international community for their reprehensible conduct.

Despite cases of domestic violence here, Malaysia has progressed and enacted legislation to protect women against domestic violence and sexual harassment. The Domestic Violence Act 1994 provides legal protection against domestic violence.

The rising participation of women in workplaces has resulted in the revision of the Employment Act 1955 to include special provisions for employers to comply with issues pertaining to the welfare of women. From 1 April, 2012, provisions against sexual harassment are included to protect the dignity of women at work.

This article is dedicated to women who are victims of sexual harassment and violence.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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