Employers need to heighten awareness of sexual harassment

National 2 minutes, 24 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

EMPLOYERS should heighten awareness of sexual harassment in order to combat a workplace culture which makes it permissible, said the president of the Women’s Graduates Association (PSW).

Pg Hjh Zabaidah Pg Hj Kamaluddin said employers need to clearly define the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.

“Where do you draw the line? That is something that can only be defined by the law. Creating awareness is part of the solution, educating the men and women is part of it, as well as employers,” she said.

“Some people may think that (lewd) jokes are not sexual harassment, but in some places it could be depending on the context and circumstances.”

The PSW president added that the association is currently conducting an online survey to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, which was launched on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

The study will also look at whether there are sufficient and systematic mechanisms in place to deal with complaints by victims.

“This is the first time an open survey like this on sexual harassment has been done in Brunei,” she said. “We hope by doing an open survey women are going to be comfortable relaying their experiences.”

Pg Hjh Zabaidah, who served as assistant solicitor-general before her retirement, said employers need to create official mechanisms to address sexual harassment in the workplace because many women are still reluctant to come forward.

“Many don’t want to lose their job, or they’re embarrassed, or think they’re at fault. Or they think if they complain they won’t get promoted.

“From experience as a prosecutor… It is difficult enough to call someone out when they are a complete stranger, but if you are confronted by someone you know, such as a colleague or supervisor, it is even more difficult.”

She said many people also engage in “victim-blaming”, accusing victims of encouraging harassment or inappropriate behaviour.

“We need to work towards changing that culture that makes sexual harassment permissible… Women have a right to be secure in their place of work. You may be empowered by your education, or the way you carry yourself, but if your working environment isn’t conducive then that’s just going to bring you down.”

Pg Hjh Zabaidah said the PSW decided to do research on sexual harassment issue because it was one of the recommendations for Brunei by the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In a 2014 report, the UN said Brunei must “urgently adopt comprehensive legislation to combat discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace”.

The UN report also encouraged Brunei to establish a mechanism to monitor and assess the implementation of public and media campaigns to overcome gender stereotypes, including through Internet-based surveys, discussion forums and consultation process.

Brunei ratified CEDAW in 2006.

The Brunei Times