Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) is saddened but not surprised that more rapes on vulnerable Penan women have been reported.
Since this hit the headlines back in 2008, SWWS has been conducting its Empowering Rural Girls (ERG) Project in Baram to raise awareness and to develop systems of help.
The recommendations from this project were submitted to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the funding source of the project. We also note that the Ministry has liaised with the state government to form an inter-agency committee for Penan women’s development.
It is now high time for all these parties to come together and formulate comprehensive and integrated strategies, and plan to tackle what is happening in the interior.
Three of the eight recommendations are particularly pertinent to the latest case of rape. These are:
- The government ought to state clearly to all major companies in the interior that they are expected to comply with the sexual harassment code for employees in the work place and surrounding communities.
As part of their corporate social responsibility, the companies must regularly provide staff cultural-sensitivity training and HIV/AIDs awareness. For new corporates involved with the construction of dams, oil-palm or forest plantations, this requirement ought to be made legally binding at the point the contract is awarded.
- The government ought to provide telecommunication links so that all of the villagers can have access to people they trust, and the authorities, when the villagers are faced with a problem. Not all villagers will be able to afford handphones, but these days it is likely there is someone in the village who can.
- That processes to report rape must be made more accessible and user-friendly. The girl at the centre of the present case has had the courage and opportunity to go to the Marudi police to report the rape, but the other girls in her village have not been able to use such a system.
SWWS has recommended that the rural health clinics are made the first point of call and that the police are provided with their own/government transportation to go to the victims. Currently the usual practice is for them to go on transport provided by logging companies, as smaller police stations are not supplied with four-wheel drives.
Dependency on companies for transportation, poverty and the influx of new workers, be they foreigners or locals, into the area must inform any strategy to make young girls in the interior safe.
SWWS has been working closely with the state education department, health department and local communities to raise awareness about sexual abuse amongst youths, and provide assistance.
We recognise that there is a range of sexually-exploitative situations that involve not only foreigners but also locals working away from home.
The particular recent case outlined in Star, however, is clearly rape, and we hope that the focus will remain on this crime and the rapist. In the past there has been a tendency for the girl or victim to be put on trial, or be blamed, and not the criminal.
Following the recent remarks about children born out of wedlock fathered by foreigners, SWWS notes registering these children should not be a problem, as their mothers are Sarawakian, and so the child is too.
The problem is a long-standing one of many Sarawakians in the interior; in this case Penan women, not having ICs or birth certificates themselves. This situation is improving but still needs more consistent and concerted action by National Registration Department.
The full report which also highlights the need for more action on the very worrying aspect of HIV/AIDS transmission can be accessed through our SWWS website.