Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) collaboratively organised a roundtable discussion on “Sexual Harassment: Our Obligations” on 22 March 2022, as part of YSD’s month-long International Women’s Day celebration.

The panel discussion was led by WAO Executive Director, Sumitra Visvanathan, and featured Michelle Ann Iking, Chief People Officer at Sime Darby Property Berhad; Rashyid Redza, Head of Group Sustainability at Sime Darby Plantation Berhad; Sharmila Ravindran, Partner Ravindran and Azmi Chambers; Salika Suksuwan, Clients and Markets Director at PwC Malaysia; and Dato’ Low Beng Choo, Secretary-General at World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) as speakers.

In his welcoming speech, YSD Chairman Y.A.M. Tunku Tan Sri Imran Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Ja’afar said, “All of us can make a difference by stepping up our actions now to ensure a safe, inclusive, and productive work environment. We look forward to the government enacting laws such as the anti-stalking law, as well as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace in pursuit of the gender equality agenda.”

The esteemed panellists drew on their breadth of experiences and expertise in their respective industries in bringing attention to crucial points around the management of sexual harassment in institutional and organisational spaces.

Human Resource practitioner, Salika Suksuwan reflected on her experiences and affirmed that fear of retaliation remains a primary reason why sexual harassment is underreported in workplaces, which is further exacerbated by workplace power dynamics.

Rashyid Redza echoed this and highlighted the importance of a cultural change to empower employees to tackle sexual harassment. He affirmed that Sime Darby Plantation has adopted proactive practices and capacity building for Gender Representative roles across its operations nationwide. Michelle Ann Iking concurred that it is critical to equip and train managers, and provide a safe space for individuals to discuss issues relating to harassment. She added that organisations can start by taking steps to dismantle the misconception that victims ask for harassment to be perpetrated against them.

Sharmila Ravindran focused on recent institutional reform in the legal industry, emphasising the need for organisational obligations and duties. She noted that despite rampant incidents of workplace harassment, sexual harassment was only recognised as a form of misconduct by the Bar Council in 2021. Similarly, Dato’ Low Beng Choo stated that it is disappointing that mandated organisational obligations in mitigating harassment — a key element in building safer workplaces and holding harassers accountable, is excluded from the Anti-Sexual Harassment bill. While it is encouraging to see that organisational obligations are essential in the sports industry, she believes that the law must mandate these obligations so other industries will follow suit — “if you want to govern, you [must] govern properly”.

Panellists’ accounts starkly highlight the urgency for there to be a comprehensive and victim-centric Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, and the need for the government to #ReviewtheBill to include mandated organisational duties, a comprehensive definition of harassment, and provisions on victimisation. This would function to ensure employee wellbeing at work, and strengthen women’s safety in public spaces.

YSD has funded WAO with a total of RM6.3 million for more than a decade in their efforts to promote legal reform, eliminate violence against women and promote gender equality in Malaysia, which includes support for WAO’s campaigning for a comprehensive Anti-Sexual Harassment bill. Their support for WAO’s work began in 2010 when YSD supplemented the operational costs for social workers, and the WAO Refuge Centre for women and children survivors of violence. Additionally, YSD’s funding assists WAO with advancing policy reform through long-term research work, increasing advocacy campaigns, and building the capacity of policymakers and key stakeholders nationwide.
YSD’s sponsorship for WAO under the Community & Health pillar is intended to benefit the country through building an agenda for gender equality. This support is in line with YSD’s long-term goals of protecting basic rights and improving the quality of life of vulnerable communities, and the goals of donors at Sime Darby Berhad, Sime Darby Plantation Berhad and Sime Darby Property Berhad.

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Last Updated:
12 Apr 2022
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