KUCHING: The passing of the Sexual Harassment Bill is crucial and long overdue, said Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah.
The Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister said that the Bill would help non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the public to address as well as prevent sexual harassment.
She pointed out that the Bill would also provide the necessary protection for victims of sexual harassment.
“When there is a sexual harassment law that stands on its own, the NGOs can create awareness programmes to educate the public and how the offences are punishable by law.
“We need the government, NGOs and the public to create an ecosystem which understands the meaning of sexual harassment. From this understanding, we hope an ecosystem which is friendlier towards sexual harassment victims can exist.
“We know there are now sexual harassment victims who are suffering in silence. This is because they are afraid to come forward as there is a big possibility that they will not get the necessary protection. If the ecosystem is not friendly, those affected will continue to be victims,” she said.
Fatimah added that the passing of the Bill would reduce the number of sexual harassment offences and give courage to the victims.
“It is not easy to come forward and say that someone has sexually harassed you. If there is something at stake like a job, the victim will not come forward but instead rather suffer in silence and keep the job.
“Similar to rape victims, they will often question who will believe, protect and fight for them. The ecosystem needs to be supportive of the victims so that it will be easy for them to lodge reports and receive justice.
“The government, NGOs and public must provide that supportive ecosystem to the victims. Awareness of sexual harassment is important but it must not be targeted at women alone,” she said.
Fatimah added that there was also a need for speedy actions to be taken by the enforcement agencies particularly the Malaysian Royal Police (PDRM) when the victims lodge their reports.
“It will give confidence to the victims. When punishment is meted out on the offenders, we hope that it can be a deterrent as well,” she said.
Kota Samarahan MP, Rubiah Wang also agreed that the passing of the Sexual Harassment Bill was necessary.
“Although there are existing laws such as the Section 376 of the Penal Code for the crime of rape and Section 509 of the Penal Code for the crime of disgrace, it is necessary for us to have a specific law to address the issue of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment incidents have made women members of parliament, particularly in the Select Committee, discuss ways to overcome such issues,” she said.