Sexual harassment remain prevalent, says LegCo member

Hakim Hayat

Cases of sexual harassment remain prevalent as no concrete action has been taken, said Legislative Council (LegCo) member Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash’ari during the ongoing 17th LegCo Session yesterday.

Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa recounted some of the harrowing experiences shared by women who had came to her, ‘terrified and crying’ fearing nobody would believe them.

“‘I am afraid to report this because the perpetrator is one of our bosses.’” She said one of the victims had told her.

“‘The person touched and pinched my thighs and nearly touched my body,’ said another”, according to the LegCo member.

“‘The person often purposely brushes himself against my body.’”

She stressed that awareness on this matter is very important as a preventive measure.

“After these unwanted advances, victims will have to go through a very long complaint process and it will not remove the traumatising experience, especially those victims who are afraid of vengeful perpetrators.”

In ensuring the prevention of such incidents, the LegCo member said that the government and the private sector should have a Code of Conduct to enhance public awareness.

Legislative Council Member Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash’ari. PHOTO: INFOFOTO

“For instance, Brunei Shell Petroleum Sdn Bhd (BSP) and Brunei Shell Joint Ventures (BSJV) has no tolerance on any harassment issues or conduct that is humiliating and intimidating or is violent in nature such as physical or verbal intimidation and insult or inappropriate comments or jokes as well as any display of objects that is offensive and insulting.”

She also said that early exposure on the issue should also be given to students, especially on the physical and verbal conduct limitations. “This is one of the ways to handle harassment cases because a lot of the cases also involve those underaged.”

She also said that some services should also have isolations of gender to prevent any opportunities of harassment. “For instance driving classes should have the same gender for instructors and students.”

In his response, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Mokti bin Haji Mohd Daud acknowledged that this is a significant matter and has often happened as given full attention by the PMO as a number of such incidents have already been investigated.

“It is right to say that some victims are afraid of speaking up because they are fearful of any revenge or they are traumatised by it.” He welcomed the suggestion made by the LegCo member and urged them to sit together to discuss further on the issue and bring forward more ideas to overcome it.

Meanwhile, LegCo member Yang Berhormat Iswandy bin Ahmad during the session yesterday raised the issue of the support of working mothers. He said that about 55 per cent of public servants are women, and despite the changes in maternity leave in 2011 and also the discussions on paternity leave that he hopes will be implemented, challenges still arise.

He shared statistics which indicated in 2013 that exclusive breastfeeding has significantly dropped after six months of giving birth. He also shared that the total fertility rate has gone down to 1.7 per cent for each women in 2018 compared to 1.8 per cent in 2017, 2016 and 2015, which means that more women are involved in active jobs which reduces number of babies.

The country’s population pyramid, he said is also changing to become top heavy, where it is forecasted to have an ageing population, with a reducing working age population and senior citizens who are not working, all that might impede economic development.

“What are the actions in ensuring that working mothers are given full support, so that we can give opportunity and encourage women to have careers but not neglect childcare? Some mothers also have stopped working because they need to take care of their children”.

The LegCo Member suggested the provision of childcare centres in all workplaces, beginning with government ministries, where he said it will help increase work productivity. “A case study report from a few countries said that it has reduced absenteeism and increased their output. Women are more productive knowing that their children are in safe hands and they can also continue exclusive breastfeeding after maternity leave.”