New sexual harassment bill edges closer to law in Malaysia | Women News

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – At college, three years in the past Esma* felt a persistent ache alongside her arm and went to the campus clinic.

When she lay on the examination mattress, the medic requested her to unbutton the highest of her gown. He stated {that a} lump on her chest could possibly be inflicting the ache and informed her to decrease her bra.

“I did what he requested me to do as a result of there was nothing suspicious at first. I believed he was doing his job,” she informed Al Jazeera.

She quickly found in any other case.

The medic informed her she had lovely breasts, kissing one and squeezing her nipples. It took about 30 seconds for her to totally comprehend what was taking place.

“I didn’t say something. I used to be too shocked,” Esma stated. “I simply sat up and dressed myself, and he sat again in his chair to write down me a medical prescription for my arm – it didn’t point out the lumps. Then I left.”

Stories of sexual harassment should not unusual in Malaysia, however regardless of the existence of assorted authorized mechanisms, many ladies say efficient redress continues to be missing.

They hope the long-awaited Anti-Sexual Harassment Invoice, which had its first parliamentary studying in December final yr, will quickly turn out to be regulation. A second studying will happen this month.

“This invoice would apply to any particular person, in any context,” stated Daniella Zulkifili, from the Affiliation of Ladies Legal professionals, who had a hand within the invoice’s drafting.

The laws would broaden the present, piecemeal utility of sexual harassment legal guidelines – going past the office to cowl occurrences in any setting, resembling academic establishments, clinics, public transport, sports activities golf equipment, even on-line.

Many years of debate

For ladies’s rights activists, it has been a protracted battle.

Preliminary discussions for extra complete legal guidelines on sexual harassment began within the Nineties. However attributable to a scarcity of political will, actual progress solely happened when elections in 2018 led to a change in Malaysia’s authorities for the primary time since independence.

Later political manoeuvres introduced a number of the previous guard again to energy, however the invoice continues to maneuver ahead.

A man accused of sexual assault covers his face as he is escorted by a police officer at a court in Kuala Lumpur
Taking motion on sexual harassment and assault underneath the Penal Code might be prolonged and traumatic for survivors [File: Stringer/EPA]

Now 21, Esma thinks that the mere existence of such an act would assist survivors really feel the offence is taken critically.

“I believe mentally, it could assist me quite a bit. I’ll recuperate extra quickly,” she stated. “Each time I’ve to go to the police station or to the courtroom, I begin to really feel once more what occurred. I can not transfer on.”

Esma informed her college supervisor what occurred proper after she was assaulted, however felt the official was sceptical of her story.

The subsequent day, she ignored the medic’s calls and he texted her saying she may need one thing in her breast and will examine with a specialist. Esma had a scan the next day, however discovered no trigger for concern. The identical day, she went to the police.

The medic was later charged underneath part 354 of the Malaysian Penal Code for “assault or use of legal drive to an individual with intent to outrage modesty” as a result of there isn’t a particular offence for “sexual harassment”. Esma feels that her college is equally in charge; she ought to have been protected there.

In accordance with Zulkifili, pursuing redress underneath the Penal Code might be difficult. Many circumstances could not quantity legally to a criminal offense due to the necessity for a level of severity and particular parts to be fulfilled, in addition to a typical of proof past cheap doubt.

Esma’s case continues to be pending, however the authorized course of has been bruising. She was not allowed to have somebody accompany her to courtroom regardless of her request, and felt she needed to beg her college supervisor to testify in her favour.

“She was scared to return. I don’t know why. I’m the one who wants assist. I really feel like nobody was making an attempt to assist me. I needed to do every part on my own,” Esma stated.

Extra authorized choices

Apart from looking for justice via legal courts, since 2016 survivors have been in a position to sue their sexual harassers in civil courts for financial compensation. However not everybody can afford authorized counsel, and the method can take years.

The brand new invoice expands the authorized choices for survivors by making a particular tribunal, held behind closed doorways, adjudicated by consultants in regulation and issues referring to sexual harassment.

It might have the facility to order a variety of treatments moreover financial compensation, resembling an apology or counselling, and should achieve this inside 60 days. The usual of proof required is on the steadiness of possibilities – much like civil circumstances – whereas the sexual harasser’s previous conduct or conversations the survivor had about their expertise could possibly be submitted as proof.

A sexual harassment case tried as a criminal offense might be dropped at the tribunal on the identical time.

The tribunal, nevertheless, doesn’t permit events authorized illustration, which critics say might deter a survivor from bringing their grievance for worry of going through their harasser themselves.

Nonetheless, such a tribunal could assist Jun*, 26, who feels she has been failed by the present system.

Earlier this yr, whereas Jun’s firm was having an occasion in a convention corridor, she went into the cramped sound room adjoining it to change off the tv. As she reached up to take action, she says a male colleague got here up behind her and pressed towards her, pinning her to a facet wall as he apparently reached for one thing.

“He has a giant tummy and I might really feel it sticking into my again. He even stated into my ear that he needed to ‘squeeze me flat’,” she informed Al Jazeera, partly in Mandarin.

Returning to work a number of days after the general public holidays, Jun reported the incident to her supervisor, however felt blamed for it.

“He stated it was as a result of I used to be carrying a brief skirt, that I’ve a character that’s simple to bully. He requested me why I didn’t struggle again,” she stated, her voice wavering. “I did battle, however at the moment I used to be additionally panicking. I needed to make myself relax.”

In accordance with a 2020 survey of 1,010 Malaysian girls, 62 p.c have skilled office sexual harassment.

A 2011 modification to the Employment Act directs an employer receiving such complaints to hold out an inside investigation, however the way it does so is left to the employer. “Some organisations do search for unbiased members to type the panel,” Zulkifili stated, “however there isn’t a such obligation.”

Later, Jun lodged a proper grievance. There have been no surveillance cameras within the sound room, however there was one overseeing the primary space. Nonetheless, the footage didn’t assist her. The corporate’s investigation concluded that no sexual harassment had taken place. Jun says the digital camera’s positioning exterior the sound room made it troublesome to see what truly occurred.

She says one other male colleague within the sound room witnessed the incident, however laughed it off as a joke and wouldn’t help her grievance. She additionally says that her harasser informed everybody it was she who seduced him, and that the investigation was unfair as a result of her harasser was pals with the brother of the corporate’s boss.

Finally, Jun felt underneath strain to resign from her job, however determined to not pursue motion for constructive dismissal underneath the Industrial Relations Act, which might provide financial compensation. She feared it could weaken her case.

“I don’t need the cash. I would like him to be punished and I would like him to apologise to me sincerely,” she stated.

‘Scream and push him away’

Discouraged from pursuing official channels, different girls have taken their experiences to the press and social media, but in addition discovered it troublesome to carry sexual harassers accountable.

In 2020, college scholar “Soleil Ching” held a press convention to report the professor who sexually harassed her, after failing to acquire a decision from both her college or the police. She additionally crowdfunded cash to sue him in a civil swimsuit.

Final April, Ain Husniza, then a 17-year-old scholar, took to TikTok to complain a couple of trainer at her faculty who had joked about rape in entrance of her class. She by no means named the trainer publicly, however he sued her for defamation anyway. The trainer is now being defended by legal professionals appointed by the federal government in her countersuit.

Extra not too long ago, Yihwen Chen, a journalist, made a meditative quick movie, The Boys Membership, about her expertise of sexual harassment whereas filming a characteristic documentary – by an oblique topic of the documentary – and the way she felt unsupported by her bosses when she reported it. She ultimately felt pressured to go away.

Malaysian teenager Ain Husniza, who reported her teacher for making a rape joke, speaks to the media supported by her father and supporters outside a police station
Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam (centre in pink trainers) is going through a defamation swimsuit supporter by the federal government after she criticised a trainer for making a rape joke. She didn’t identify him [File: Arif Kartono/AFP]

Regardless of some advances, even the brand new invoice is inadequate, activists say.

In latest public statements, the Joint Motion Group for Gender Equality – which incorporates the Affiliation of Ladies Legal professionals (AWL) and Ladies’s Assist Organisation (WAO) – has referred to as for amendments.

Activists have requested for the definition of sexual harassment to be expanded past interactions between two people to incorporate hostile environments that allow sexual harassment, and argued for imposing an obligation on organisations to forestall such incidences and deal rigorously with complaints.

“Numerous circumstances come right down to energy dynamics, and there might be quite a lot of blowback on survivors,” famous Abinaya Mohan, WAO head of campaigns. “So, the prohibition of additional victimisation is vital. There have to be a safety mechanism in place so complainants can converse up freely.”

Citing a 2019 YouGov survey of 1,002 Malaysians, Betty Yeoh of girls’s rights social enterprise ENGENDER Consultancy – who additionally helped draft the invoice – provides, “Sexual harassment occurs to 35 p.c of girls and 17 p.c of males in Malaysia. This invoice is not only for girls, however for each citizen on this nation.”

Till it comes into being, Jun, traumatised a number of occasions over from being disbelieved, has recommendation for girls who discover themselves being sexually harassed.

“Scream and push him away. Then you should have a greater case underneath the regulation.”

*Names have been modified to guard the identities of the survivors.

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