The Anti-Sexual Harassment Advocacy Group, comprising the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, ENGENDER and Young Women Making Change, welcomes the passage of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021.
We thank and congratulate the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) on this significant milestone.
Women’s groups across Malaysia have lobbied for 30 years for this legislation. We could not have made it a reality without the support of our Members of Parliament, some of whom have journeyed consistently with us over the years for a comprehensive and survivor-centric law.
We are heartened by their solidarity, particularly during the rigorous Parliamentary debate on the Bill, where many of them raised issues which were constructive and critical for its effective implementation.
We also commend our elected representatives for calling out sexist behaviour and the use of profanities in Parliament during the debate, upholding their stance against harassment and violence in line with the spirit of the Bill.
With the passage of the Bill, victims can look forward to expeditious, affordable and accessible redress via the Tribunal for Anti-Sexual Harassment.
We would like to reiterate three key areas which must be looked into to ensure that victims are fully protected:
- First, the enforcement of organisational duties to address and prevent sexual harassment;
- Secondly, protections for harassing behaviour that may not be directed at a person per se, but creates a generally hostile, offensive or intimidating environment; and
- Thirdly, protections against victimisation for those who choose to report and seek redress.
As these critical areas have not been included in the Bill which was passed yesterday, we urge the MWFCD to incorporate them into subsequent and enforceable regulations, supplemented by thorough guidelines, to ensure that the legislation achieves its intended outcome.
To this end, we are encouraged to note the commitments made by the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development during the second reading of the Bill in Parliament, including the following:
- That the drafting of an action plan for the implementation of the legislation is already under way;
- That a multi-sectoral monitoring committee will be set up, consisting of non-governmental organisations, academicians and government representatives, to oversee the execution of the action plan;
- That the MWFCD will work together with the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women and Children Affairs and Social Development (PSSC) to further clarify the powers of the Administrator of Anti-Sexual Harassment;
- That the MWFCD will be issuing guidelines on operationalising the Act (which should incorporate organisational duties to address and prevent sexual harassment and institutionalise monitoring processes to ensure effective implementation of the regulations);
- That the MWFCD intends to expand the Tribunal’s operations to all states; and
- That the legislation will be improved upon as necessary upon monitoring and evaluation.
We stand prepared to work closely with the minister and the MWFCD to see each of these commitments through.
Last but not least, our advocacy has been fuelled by generations of survivors of sexual harassment from all walks of life.
Some have spoken up; many have yet to do so. We dedicate the passage of this law to all of them, honouring their struggle, courage, and resilience.
As such, we hope that this legislation would not be misused by irresponsible parties to curtail the human rights of marginalised groups, to perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming and moral policing, or to violate the bodily autonomy and freedom of expression of others.
The whole intention of the legislation has always been to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all persons regardless of gender, race, religion, or background. Hence, inter-sectional and diverse representation within the Tribunal is critical to ensure effective protection of all persons who come before it.
This battle was certainly hard-won, but our fight is far from over. With the passage of the Bill, we still have a long journey ahead of us to ensure that it is effectively implemented.
Endorsed by the following member organisations of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Group:
1. Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG):
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
- Justice for Sisters
- Family Frontiers
- KRYSS Network
- Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
- Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
2. Young Women Making Change
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.