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LETTER | Women’s experiences show urgent need for Sexual Harassment Act

LETTER | New research conducted by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and research company Vase.ai demonstrates an urgent need for the enactment of sexual harassment legislation. The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urges the government to follow through on its commitment to table the bill at the next Parliament session and to help make Malaysia a safer place for women.

Last week, Vase.ai and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) launched the results of a survey collaboration, “Voices of Malaysian Women on Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace.” The survey, based on the opinions of 1,010 Malaysian women, sought to understand the prevalence of and women’s experiences with workplace harassment and discrimination. In addition to supporting the need for policy change to bring about a more gender-equal workplace, the survey results demonstrate the need for a Sexual Harassment Act that provides redress for sexual harassment in any context.

Overall, 62% of women surveyed said they have experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, suggesting that the majority of Malaysian women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Of these, 39% have experienced offensive sexual jokes or innuendos, 24% have experienced unwelcome touching or grabbing, 22% have experienced sexual gestures, body movements, or looks, 18% have experienced stalking behaviour, and 16% have experienced verbal sexual abuse.

Despite the fact that when presented with specific types of behaviours constituting sexual harassment, 62% of women indicated that they have experienced one or more of those behaviours, when asked the question of whether they had encountered sexual harassment before, only 21% of women answered affirmatively.

Additionally, when given examples of certain behaviours constituting sexual harassment, women often categorised the behaviour as “unprofessional,” but did not identify it as sexual harassment. Specifically:

  • 52% of women do not consider the act of suggesting a coworker to make advances towards a client/potential client, to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behaviour.

  • 42% of women do not consider the act of stalking, to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 50% of women do not consider repeatedly making advances towards a person who has already declined them to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 12% of women do not consider making sexual gestures, body movements, or looks to someone, to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 11% of women do not consider the act of sending or composing sexual emails, bulletins, or photos to someone, to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 9% of women do not consider the act of making sexual advances towards unwilling recipients to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 16% of women do not consider the act of directing sexual statements towards unwilling recipients to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 33% of women do not consider a person making sexual jokes or innuendos to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

  • 15% of women do not consider unwelcome touching or grabbing to be a form of sexual harassment but classify it as unprofessional behavior.

These statistics suggest a discrepancy between women’s experiences of sexual harassment and their perception of what constitutes sexual harassment and goes directly to the need for a Sexual Harassment Act not only to define sexual harassment and provide redress mechanisms for it but to enhance public awareness of the issue and send a clear message to society that it is wrong.

A Sexual Harassment Act will not only raise awareness among survivors of sexual harassment about what they are experiencing but also among perpetrators, who may have normalised harassing behaviours.

The “Malaysia Temperature Check,” an earlier survey collaboration by Vase.ai, WAO, Undi18, and Architects of Diversity found that 89% of Malaysians agree that more policies are needed to ensure that women are not subjected to sexual harassment in any context.

JAG urges the government to act swiftly on the survey results which underscore the experiences of many Malaysian women by tabling the sexual harassment bill during this Parliament session

The “Voices of Malaysian Women on Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace” survey was administered to Vase.ai’s online panel using an active quota sampling-method, where only people contacted were allowed to participate. 

Respondents aged between 24 - 55 years old were quota sampled according to census statistics on race and region by gender. Additionally, these respondents had to also have been active in the workforce within the last five years to participate in the survey.

The complete survey results are available here.

The above is endorsed by the following Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) member organisations:

All Women’s Action Society (Awam)

Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)

Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)

Justice for Sisters

Kryss Network

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)

Perak Women for Women (PWW)

Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)

Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)

Sisters in Islam (SIS)

Tenaganita

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang


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

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