Malaysiakini Letter

Proposed anti-sexual harassment law has been around for nearly 20 years

Muzaffar Syah Mallow  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER |Any recent proposal to introduce anti-sexual harassment legislation in the country is not new as it been proposed for nearly 20 years by the non - governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) - which comprises various NGOs group in the country - has been campaigning for specific legislation against sexual harassment. Way back in 2001, JAG submitted a draft of a sexual harassment law in the hope that the government will take concrete action towards this serious offence at the workplace.

From the Human Resources Ministry to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, consultations, meetings and discussions on the legislation to fight sexual harassment were held with NGOs and employers’ federations.

But all these have come to nought until today. As such, it is very important for the government to take the issue more seriously and push forward with the law in order to protect the victims from such a hideous crime.

Crucial for us to note is that sexual harassment is a hazard which can happen not only in Malaysia but in all countries all over the world. The effect of it is very serious as it reduces the quality of working life, jeopardises the well-being of both hard-working men and women who try to make an honest living, and as well as heavily affect the reputation of the firms and organisations where the offence takes place.

It is very difficult for us to locate the true meaning of the word sexual harassment. Up to today, there is no single acceptable universal agreement on the definition of sexual harassment itself.

However, based on many discussions as well as references being made to rules and regulations from many jurisdictions including in Malaysia pertaining to the matter, sexual harassment can be understood and defined as any sexual in nature statement or act which is unwanted or unwelcome committed by the perpetrator towards the victim.

In absence of specific legislation on the matter, the issue relating to sexual harassment in the country has be considered under various types of legislation which include the criminal legislation like the Malaysian Penal Code (Act 574), the country's labour laws like the Employment Act 1955 (Act 265), the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177) and the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1994 (Act 514).

It also includes administrative laws like the Code of Conduct of the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993 and the government Circular Guidelines for Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace among the public services department, No. 22 (2005).

However, all the above-mentioned avenues above has their own weaknesses and limitations and as such, it cannot properly address the highly complex and sensitive issue of sexual harassment effectively and efficiently.

As such, to need to have a standalone law to deal exclusively and conclusively with this matter.

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

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