[PRESS STATEMENT] The Rakyat Needs A Survivor-Centric Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill

Illustration from World Pulse

The Anti-Sexual Harassment (SH) Bill was tabled in Parliament for its first reading today, with its second reading expected to take place anytime soon.

The Rakyat has already waited for more than 20 years for the Bill. In light of current legislative gaps and widespread prevalence of sexual harassment online, in public spaces and organizations (including educational institutions), the Rakyat needs well thought through, comprehensive survivor-centric legislation. The Bill that has been currently proposed fails to meet these standards and simply provides for the setting up of a Tribunal to deal with sexual harassment.

For the Bill to be survivor-centric, three components have to be included.

A comprehensive sexual harassment definition covers sexual harassment in all of its forms and contexts. This includes online sexual harassment. The definition that is suggested by the Special Project Task Force of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill (made up of women’s groups, government agencies, academicians, and other civil society actors) is as thus:
“sexual harassment” means any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, in any form, including verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural, or physical, against another person, which reasonably causes offense, humiliation, threat to the person’s well-being, or creates an intimidating, offensive or hostile environment.”

A tribunal to receive and investigate sexual harassment complaints in a manner that not only is fast and affordable but also protects survivors’ privacy, provides protection against victimization, and addresses survivors’ needs via the provision of a range of remedies (including compensation, rehabilitation for and apology from perpetrators)
Explicitly-mandated commitment by organizations (including educational institutions) in the public and private sector to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment, as well as create organizational awareness about sexual harassment via anti-sexual harassment policies, training, and effective redress mechanisms.
Women’s groups first proposed a draft bill in 2001. Since that time there have been numerous meetings with various Ministries, government agencies and the Attorney General’s Chambers to educate, inform and negotiate the creation of SH legislation that puts the needs of the survivor first.

Key concerns are not reflected in the Bill as it stands. Most glaringly, the Bill does not include organizational duties to address sexual harassment.

When the Bill comes up for debate in the second reading, we urge MPs to look out for the above components and raise questions as to the utility, effectiveness, and workability of the provisions in the draft legislation as it stands. Such inclusions are needed for Sexual Harassment laws to be robust and effective in our country, thus the above are non-negotiable. Without the aforementioned components in the draft legislation, the Bill should not be passed and instead should be amended accordingly.

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