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Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) will be hosting a talk on “Sexual Harassment at Work” on 7 December 2016. Executive Director of WAO, Sumitra Visvanathan will share about the challenges women face in seeking redress for sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a gross violation of women’s rights. It happens frequently both inside and outside the workplace. However, it can be hard for individuals to speak up, as they may fear backlash,” says Sumitra.
“We will discuss how we can create safer workplaces — and how we can advocate for better legal protection against sexual harassment,” adds Sumitra.
On 2 June 2016, the Federal Court introduced the “tort of harassment” when judging the landmark court case of Mohd Ridzwan Abdul Razak v Asmah Hj Mohd Nor. This means that individuals could take up civil court cases against sexual harassers.
“We arrived at a decision to undertake some judicial activism exercise and decide that it is timely to import the tort of harassment into our legal and judicial system, with sexual harassment being part of it,” said the Federal Court Judges in their verdict.
In September 2012, the High Court awarded former Tabung Haji employee Asmah Mohd Nor RM 100,000 for “general damages” and RM 20,000 for “aggravated and exemplary damages”. Mohd Ridzwan, a former general manager at Tabung Haji, had sexually harassed Asmah.
Prior to this landmark court case, survivors of sexual harassment lacked recourse under the law. Malaysia currently does not have specific laws that comprehensively address sexual harassment.
In 1999, the Ministry of Human Resources issued the Malaysian Code of Practice on the Prevention and Education of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 1999. However, the code merely contains optional guidelines for employers to address sexual harassment internally.
In 2012, the Employment Act was amended to include Part XVA, which states how employers should handle sexual harassment cases. However, the Federal Court Judges noted that Part XVA “did not address the rights and liabilities of the harasser and the victim”.
“We need a Sexual Harassment Act that comprehensively protects everyone from sexual harassment. The Sexual Harassment Act should enable the establishment of an independent tribunal to investigate sexual harassment cases. This ensures greater access to justice, especially for individuals who may not have the resources to take up a civil court case,” says Sumitra.
Sumitra’s talk will be held on 7 December, 1-2pm at “RUANG by ThinkCity” (opposite Pacific Express Hotel Central Market). For more information, visit bit.ly/waotalk4. We invite all to join the conversation.