KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — Lawmakers passed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill in the Dewan Rakyat this evening despite concerns that the proposed law has significant gaps that could deny complainants the necessary redress and lacked prevention mechanisms to protect victims.
However, its passage today remains a small victory for women who have fought for a law to curb sexual harassment for over three decades.
The law, first tabled in 2018 after thirty years in the making, was approved through bloc voting. The first reading of the Bill was held on December 15 last year.
Many of the concerns raised over the Bill centred around the tribunal that would handle sexual harassment complaints.
During the debate, former law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said questioned the rationale behind appointing the Women, Families and Community Development secretary-general as the special anti-sexual harassment administrator in the proposed law.
Azalina, the Barisan Nasional MP for Pengerang who is among the leading voices fighting to realise the Bill, said that the appointment of a single individual to the role could be challenged under administrative laws for illegality, irrationality and unreasonableness in court as it does not happen anywhere else in the world where such laws exist.
The former minister said she found it unacceptable that just one individual, the secretary-general, be appointed as the administrator.
Women, Families and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun has clarified, however, that the administrator would not handle complaints as the role was purely administrative.
Under the law, the mooted Tribunal for Anti-Sexual Harassment will be empowered, among others, to award compensation and direct respondents to issue an official apology to complainants.
Among the penalties will be compensation or damages to be paid not exceeding RM250,000 for any loss or damage suffered by the complainant. Defendants that fail to comply with the tribunal’s ruling can be fined or imprisoned.
There were also concerns about the tribunal’s gender composition., a matter that was raised by Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching of Pakatan Harapan
Previously the Women’s Aid Organisation noted the absence of crucial provisions that would prevent victimisation in the event a complaint had been filed, widening the scope of definition to include sexual harassment as more than just actions directed between two persons and organisational duties to prevent and address sexual harassment.
It is unclear if these concerns were fully addressed in the Bill that was just passed.
The minister, while winding up the debates, said granting the bill passage is “the first step for Malaysia to provide protection (for victims) against sexual harassment.”