The Perikatan Nasional government must confirm that it is committed in tabling the Sexual Harassment Bill when Parliament convenes as the messages coming from the Women, Family and Community Minister pertaining to this are far from convincing.
In a statement reported by the NST on 15.2.2021, Rina Harun said that the said bill will be tabled in the next Dewan Rakyat session and that a draft of it was now being scrutinised by the Attorney General’s Chambers for minor amendments.
Rina, however, some seven months earlier in a Parliamentary written reply to Batu Kawan Member of Parliament Kasthuriraani Patto on 22.7.2020, said that the said bill was ready to be tabled by the end of last year.
No explanation was forthcoming from the ministry as to why the said bill was not tabled at the end of last year despite Rina’s assurance that it would.
This brings to question if the PN government is serious in tabling the said bill, which the previous Pakatan Harapan government undoubtedly was.
It is to be noted that former Women, Family and Community Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh had confirmed that the PH government was going to table the said bill in Parliament in 2020 but this was overtaken by events due to the change of government in March last year.
Statistics have consistently shown that the menace of sexual harassment is very real with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) reporting in November 2020 that 62% of the 1,010 women that it surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace and the World Health Organisation estimating that 1 in 3 women worldwide had experienced violence in their lifetime.
Other studies have shown that many cases of abuse against women go unreported due to the stigma attached to it and the potential difficulties in succeeding in court against their perpetrators due to a higher burden of proof in such cases.
It is also apparent that Penal provisions relating to sexual harassment in this country are inadequate in that they do not specifically define ‘sexual harassment’, unlike legislation introduced in other jurisdictions such as Singapore’s Prevention of Harassment Act (POHA) 2014 which specifically address the problems of harassment and stalking.
A wide range of acts can constitute sexual harassment, from physical harassment to stalking. As such, it is necessary for specific legislation to be enacted to address the problem.
Moreover, sexual harassment is not only confined to the workplace and has been reported in cases involving the police and is common in households in the form of domestic violence.
The procrastination on the part of the PN government in the tabling of the said bill is a major disappointment, particularly when it is likely to be supported by both sides of the divide.
In the circumstances, I call on the PN government to confirm that the said bill will be tabled at the next sitting of Parliament without any further excuses or delay, which would be a fitting message this International Women’s Day.
Dated this 8th of March, 2021.
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
CHAIRMAN NATIONAL LEGAL BUREAU
DEMOCRATIC ACTION PARTY