Govt cannot backtrack on the proposed reforms
Published on: Sunday, March 22, 2020
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While there has been steady progress to improve women’s rights, we are disappointed that women continue to be under-represented — only 15.6 per cent of ministers are women — in the new cabinet.

The rakyat voted for change and in the past two years, various reforms were developed and were close to being tabled in Parliament.

The new cabinet must now tell us how it intends to continue these efforts.

Many of these reforms would have improved the lives of millions of women in Malaysia. These are five examples:

1. Sexual harassment

The Act was slated to be tabled in Parliament this month, which would have addressed a pressing and prevalent problem.

About 28 per cent of Malaysians surveyed have experienced sexual harassment, according to a 2019 YouGov survey. Many victims, however, cannot get redress as existing laws are simply inadequate.

One key feature of the Sexual Harassment Act is that it will introduce a specialised Sexual Harassment Tribunal.

This tribunal will allow victims to seek redress without going through a lengthy, costly process.

According to the survey, the top places where sexual harassment happens are public places, followed by offices, public transportation, and schools or universities.

2. Anti-stalking laws

Anti-stalking laws were also scheduled to be tabled in Parliament this month. Stalking is not a crime in Malaysia, which means that if someone were to repeatedly follow you, contact you, or show up at places that you typically frequent — classic forms of stalking — there is little that the authorities can do. 

Stalking also often escalates to more violent crimes including murder. In Canada and the United States, 90 per cent of women who were murdered by their partners had been stalked.

This is why we must nip stalking in the bud by enacting anti-stalking laws. This will protect victims and potentially save thousands of lives.

3. Paternity leave

Studies show that children with involved fathers have better social, emotional and cognitive development. Yet fathers in the private sector are not legally entitled to any paternity leave — unlike fathers in the public sector, who currently receive seven days of paid paternity leave.

Last year, the former human resources minister committed to bringing a proposal for seven days of paternity leave to cabinet for discussion.

Provisions on paternity leave were expected to be tabled in Parliament this year.

The introduction of paternity leave sends the message that parenting is a shared responsibility. Such changes in social norms will help women to stay in the workforce.

4. Protection against discrimination in the workplace

Private-sector employees are not protected from gender discrimination in the workplace.

A WAO survey, for example, shows that over 40 per cent of pregnant women surveyed faced discrimination in the workplace, were made redundant, denied promotions, placed on prolonged probations, demoted and terminated.

Additionally, there have been cases where hotels had banned frontline staff from wearing the tudung.

One of the proposed Employment Act amendments, which was scheduled to be tabled this year, was the introduction of anti-discrimination provisions.

These landmark provisions would have provided victims of discrimination an avenue for redress.

5. Gender equality act

The Gender Equality Act was also in the process of being drafted by the government.

The Act would comprehensively protect women from discrimination, not just in the workplace but in various sectors.

It would also mandate the government to take proactive steps to accelerate gender equality. The slated reforms above were the fruit of years of activism. These reforms now hang in the balance.

We must ensure that they are not derailed if we are to create a Malaysia where women can thrive and flourish.

Women’s Aid Organisation

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