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Parliament Committee Must Review Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, Say MPs, Women’s Groups

There are significant gaps in the Bill, especially in terms of proper redress and prevention mechanisms to protect victims of sexual harassment.

Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching (DAP). Picture from Facebook @TeoNieChing.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — Opposition MPs and women’s groups today urged the government to present the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 at a parliamentary committee before tabling it in the Dewan Rakyat for debate.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), Engender Consultancy, and Young Women Making Change Malaysia presented MPs at a virtual press conference today a memorandum with recommendations to amend the Bill that seeks to provide redress to sexual harassment victims through a tribunal.  

Among the recommendations is the need for organisational duties to prevent and address sexual harassment. In their statement, the women’s groups pointed out that sexual harassment does not solely occur between two individuals and can be perpetuated by organisational practices, culture and norms. 

The Bill should specify steps that employers, universities, and other organisation administrators must take to prevent and address sexual harassment in their organisations.

“We call for the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 to be urgently reviewed by the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women and Children Affairs and Social Development as well as all Members of Parliament,” JAG, Engender Consultancy, and Young Women Making Change Malaysia said in a joint statement today endorsed by 17 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  

“It is imperative that our lawmakers commit to passing a comprehensive, victim-centric legislation against sexual harassment. Otherwise, loopholes in protection and redress for victims would defeat the purpose of such legislation.” 

Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching, who attended the press conference, said she agreed with the need to impose organisational duties. 

With such a provision, Teo said: “When there is a sexist remark in Parliament, we can help the Speaker and also Parliament hold the MP involved responsible, and not just let it go by having him retract his remarks and apologise.”

The women’s groups’ memorandum also highlighted the need to extend the definition of sexual harassment in the Bill. The definition should recognise instances where the harassment is not directed at a particular individual, but creates an offensive, hostile, or intimidating environment.

Another key point in their memorandum is that provisions on victimisation should also be included in the Bill. Victimisation is a common retaliatory response to survivors of sexual harassment. It is detrimental as it can lead to under-reporting and also re-traumatises survivors, the women’s groups maintained.

“We hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel when this Bill is finally tabled”, said Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto. 

However, she agrees that the Dewan Rakyat select committee on women needs to further review the Bill “because once it’s finally tabled in Parliament, it is very, very difficult to correct the language in the Bill.”

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil also expressed his support for improvements to the Bill. “My greatest wish is to see more male MPs come and speak out, not only in support of having the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, but also a better Bill”.

“Our chairperson is very proactive when it comes to issues around rights. So, I hope to be able to see this Bill in its entirety and we can have a good discussion then,” said Fahmi, who is a member of the Dewan Rakyat special select committee on women, children and social development, referring to Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said.

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill is scheduled for second reading in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting, according to tomorrow’s Order Paper.

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