Call for framework to address sexual harassment issues

Lyna Mohamad

A framework to prevent and address sexual harassment issues needs to be introduced to the public and private sectors, to educate and spread awareness on what constitutes as sexual harassment and how to report them.

This was shared by Legislative Council (LegCo) member Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash’ari as the guest of honour at a forum themed ‘No More Silence: Combatting Sexual Harassment in Private & Public Spaces’ at the Health Promotion Centre (HPC) recently.

Fifty participants from 13 ministries and four higher educational institutions attended.

Aimed at establishing awareness and educating the public to overcome and eliminate the culture of victim-blaming, the forum also provided information on available reporting mechanisms and protection measures for sexual harassment issues.

Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa pointed out that while discussing the topic can be uncomfortable, “things progressed differently in recent weeks, with a Friday sermon openly highlighting the issue of sexual harassment.

“We are moving from victim-blaming to discussing how sexual harassment can impact a victim. This is a transition of mindset that needs to be cascaded down further. I believe the panellists will share their insights and information on the current legislation and support”.

Legislative Council (LegCo) member Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash’ari with the panellists at the forum

She shared the story of a woman working in the private sector, whose boss had been making her feel uncomfortable with his remarks and gestures. “This woman felt helpless, as she feared that she would lose her job if she reported her boss to the CEO. It was a small company and the two were friends. She also did not have any evidence to take this issue to court.

“Thinking that she would not be able to find another job, she kept quiet. She also heard of other cases in the government sector where people were transferred to other departments if they reported about harassment.

“But not all incidents go unreported. Last year, the media reported the case of a uniformed personnel who reported her senior officer for sexual harassment. While there is legislation in place to punish perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence, what is more important is prevention.

“In terms of education, are students informed well enough and aware of inappropriate words and touching? What should a woman do when she is being harassed, especially by her superior, and are there standard protocols – training and awareness of these protocols – in the public and private sectors?”

Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa noted that there is a need to strengthen collaboration between government and non-governmental organisations.

“In a survey conducted, individuals may feel more comfortable sharing their experience with non-governmental agencies. These agencies, however, lack the infrastructure and resources to operate. Thus, there is a need to improve reporting mechanisms,” she said.

“Increasing awareness and understanding to prevent sexual harassment, as well as establishing guidelines to coordinate efforts between public and private sectors also need to be taken. To execute this, stakeholders must work together in ensuring the guidelines will
be comprehensive.”

Psychologist at the HPC Nor Syahmun binti Haji Matassan, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hajah Rozaimah binti Haji Abdul Rahman from the Attorney General’s Chambers; ASP Hajah Nur Amni Alyani binti Haji Abdul Rahman from the Women and Children Abuse Investigation Unit of the Royal Brunei Police Force and counsellor from the Counselling Unit of the Public Service Department Norsuzilawati binti Abdul Rahman were the panellists and moderated by Core Member at Youth Professionals Network/Global Shapers BSB Muhammad Fadli bin Haji Zaini.

The panellists touched on aspects of sexual harassment from the perspectives of health, security and law.

The forum was organised by the Youth Outreach Team, consisting of Universiti Brunei Darussalam Discovery Year students and interns under the supervision of Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa.