Sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women. What constitutes sexual harassment? It is a crime and it can be defined as receiving any unwanted conduct which is sexual of nature including sexual comments, fondling, lewd gestures, jokes, emails, mobile text messages, pornographic pictures and coercion, among others.
Section 509 of the Penal Code of Malaysia states that:
“Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of women, utters words, makes any sound or gesture or exhibit any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years or with fine, or with both”.
The Ministry of Human Resource Malaysia is encouraging and influencing employers to adopt the Code of Practice against sexual harassment and an internal mechanism to curb harassment in the workplace. This Code of Practice was introduced in 1999. The Code of Practice stipulates the statement of purpose, legal definition of harassment, descriptions of behaviour that constitutes harassment, how employees shall handle harassment, how the company handles complaints, what kind of disciplinary action and the name and contact numbers to lodge a complaint. It is also the employer’s responsibility to ensure a harassment-free workplace.
What do you do if you are sexually harassed in the workplace?
• Tell the harasser that you do not like his or her actions and that you want him or her to stop. Sexual harassment may not only be targeted at women but can also affect men.
• If the harasser continues with his or her action, inform the Human Resources department or your respective union representatives.
• Record the time, date and place of incidences of harassment and keep evidence of such acts, for instance, emails, text messages, etc.
• If your company fails to act on your complaint, you may lodge a report with the Labour Department or the police.
• Share your problem with a trusted friend, colleague or family member.
• Call a women’s NGO group for help and support.
In 1994, the country was shocked to learn about the suicide of a rising female athlete, Rabia Abdul Salam. Apparently, the young lady ended her life due to sexual harassment by her coach. What drove Rabia to such a measure? It was the shame of being a victim of sexual harassment and of facing life with a stigma. However, her case failed to bring immediate remedy to this situation in the country. However, today, Malaysia is making progress in this area through the implementation of the Code of Practice and Section 509 of the Penal Code.
Do not let yourselves be victims, stand up and speak out. It is our duty to protect ourselves and stand up for our rights. Do not condone sexual harassment and never sweep it under the carpet because when left unpunished, these perpetrators only get bolder.
By Christina Thomas
Image credit: phildate / 123RF Stock Photo