Harassment Bill should no longer be delayed, says MP

Harassment Bill should no longer be delayed, says MP

Photo : Datuk Christina Liew

KOTA KINABALU: Former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew hopes the tabling of the long overdue Sexual Harassment Bill in Parliament set for December 16 is for real this time.

The Tawau MP said the many pledges on the introduction of a separate law to deal with sexual harassment issues were not honoured.

“For many decades, Malaysian women leaders have been lobbying for the enactment and enforcement of the Sexual Harassment Act for better protection of women and children.

“Given the rising incidence of this misconduct in our society, the presentation of the ‘elusive’ Bill to Parliament for first reading should not be delayed any longer.

“Over the years, women in Sabah in particular have complained or lodged reports about incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

Liew, who is also Api Api Assemblywoman, was commenting on the disclosure in Parliament that the proposed Bill may be tabled next month (December).

On Monday, the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development told the Dewan Rakyat that the Bill will be tabled by December 16, after approval is obtained from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Federal Cabinet.

The formulation of the Sexual Harassment Bill dates back to the Barisan Nasional (BN) era which ended in May 2018.

As far back as 1998, the then National Unity and Social Development Ministry set up the Sexual Harassment Working Group and a Technical Committee to facilitate the drafting of a specific law to protect women against sexual harassment in the workplace, tertiary education institutions and public places (including cases on public transport).

“During this period, there were numerous media reports about the imminent tabling of the Bill in Parliament but nothing came of it. ‘Sex harassment law soon’,  ‘Sexual harassment bill to be tabled soon’, screamed the news headlines,” recalled the Tawau MP who called for the tabling in June this year (prior to reconvening of Parliament).

The Bill was then reviewed in 2018 by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Administration, Liew said. “However, all efforts towards getting the Bill tabled in Parliament were thwarted by the sudden change of government in February 2020.”

Subsequently, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Government announced in July 2020 that the Bill would be tabled in Parliament that year but it didn’t materialise.

According to Liew, neighbouring countries like Thailand and the Philippines already have anti-sexual harassment legislation in place for many years.

She noted that women’s organisations in Sabah championing women’s rights and interests have been pushing for  the enactment of the Bill since the eighties, especially after the establishment of the Sabah Women’s Advisory Council (MPWS) in 1988.

“I understand that Soroptimist International Kota Kinabalu (SIKK, now led by women’s rights activist Hanaa Wong Abdullah) took up the challenge in recent years to form a working group to receive complaints from victims of sexual harassment and deal with the problem as far as possible. 

“To create awareness, this proactive NGO is also giving talks on preventive measures to college students, among other target groups,” the Tawau MP said.