Malaysiakini Letter

Enact standalone law to deal with sexual harassment cases

Muzaffar Syah Mallow  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Sexual harassment is a hazard which can happen not only in Malaysia, but in all countries in all over the world. Its effect is very serious as it reduces the quality of working life, jeopardizes the wellbeing of both hard-working men and women who try to make an honest living, and also affects the reputation of the firms and organizations where the offenses take place.

It is difficult for us to pinpoint the true meaning of the term sexual harassment. To date, there is no single acceptable universal agreement on the definition of sexual harassment. However, based on many discussions and references made on rules and regulations from many jurisdictions, including in Malaysia, sexual harassment can be defined as any statement or act which is sexual in nature, and is unwarranted by the perpetrator and unwelcomed by the receiver. 

In Malaysia, any detailed reference on the definition of sexual harassment at
the workplace can be referred to the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (hereinafter referred to as “the Code”). The state - drafted code was introduced by the Malaysian
Ministry of Human Resources on August 17, 1999. The aim of the code is to ensure sexual harassment at workplaces do not occur and, if it does, adequate procedures are available to deal with the problem and prevent its recurrence.

The introduction of the code has shown the seriousness the government's seriousness in dealing with sexual harassment issues, particularly at workplaces. 

With the coming of new technologies, harassment at the workplace may also take place through phone, text messages (SMS), Multimedia
Messaging Service (MMS), email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram or other mediums. 

The existing legislation, currently used to handle harassment cases, have their own weaknesses and limitations, and as such, cannot address harassment issues effectively and efficiently. 

Therefore, it is pertinent to have a standalone law to address sexual harassment cases. 

The Sexual Harassment Bill 2001 mooted by several NGOs adequately addressed work-related sexual harassment, by covering occurrences of sexual
harassment in the workplace and in circumstances where at least one party is working.

Section 2 of the proposed bill defined workplace as “means any place where a person attends for the purpose of carrying out any functions in
relation to his or her employment, occupation, business, trade or profession and need not be a person’s principal place of business or employment including a ship, aircraft, vehicle, and virtual or cyberspaces and any other context that results from employment responsibilities or employment relationships”. It also covers harassment at sporting activities, educational institutions, and legislative bodies.

If passed, the proposed bill will bring about significant changes as among others, it will require employers to prevent sexual harassment by creating in-house mechanisms to deal with the issue. It will also provide victims of sexual harassment with timely and meaningful access to legal redress.

The proposed bill also focuses on the creations of a special tribunal, procedure, remedies, counseling, and protection against retaliation and victimization for both victims and witness in sexual harassment cases.

The time has come for the government to take sexual harassment cases seriously and strongly consider the enactment of a standalone bill
to address such problems.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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