Perikatan Nasional ministers should take the bull by the horns

By Hannah Yeoh

 

I AM horrified by the inaction of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) ministers in dealing with the recent period checks and rape jokes news. Ain first tweeted on April 24 and two weeks later, the situation has spiralled out of control from an alleged rape joke, threat of rape, ‘tutup aurat’, freedom to hijab to warning of suspension from school.

In the case of the period checks, Education Minister Datuk Radzi Jidin was reported as saying “…we’ve asked all divisions and the answer was no (such practices existed)”.

Inaction by those in power will send a wrong message to both perpetrators and victims.

In 2018, soon after Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) ministers and deputy ministers were sworn in, the news exposed the case of a huge sexual harassment case involving one head of department in Sungai Buloh Hospital and multiple house officers.

The Health Minister then, Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad took immediate action by forming an independent inquiry body including representatives from Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM).

As the Deputy Minister for KPWKM, I was roped in multiple subsequent meetings with Dr Dzulkefly and observed his firm commitment to stem out sexual harassment. He uttered in very strong words: “There were complaints, (but) somehow the matter was not handled comprehensively. It was only when I put my foot down and said that I was going to get to the bottom of this that many voluntarily came forward.”

After a period of suspension and with 31 meetings and 38 witnesses stepping forward, the perpetrator was finally sacked from public service. I also witnessed the former Deputy Prime Minister and Women Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah dashed off her chair to comfort the house officers when they started crying and sharing about their traumatic ordeal.

Quick actions by those in power will send the right message to both perpetrators and victims.

Stop fighting Ain, she is just a messenger. The issue is not about Ain. Stop trying to negate Ain’s opinion. Ain is not the only one who has spoken up. When we were still in KPWKM, we instructed Jabatan Pembangunan Wanita (JPW) to conduct an online poll on sexual harassment.

The poll was participated by 28,852 respondents participated with 1,339 respondents below the age of 18, just like Ain. Another 5,586 respondents ranging from 18 to 20 years of age (just slightly older than Ain) also participated.

Meanwhile, a further question on occupation showed 1,176 of the respondents were school students, 11,120 claiming to be college or university students and 7,186 were in civil service.

The poll also revealed that more than half or 64% of the 28,852 respondents claimed they have personally experienced sexual harassment.

These indicators resulted in many MPs demanding for the Sexual Harassment Bill to be urgently tabled.

If the PN ministers are serious about fixing problems, their default mode in their responses must move from denial to acknowledgement of the issues. Denying the problem is pure laziness. Accepting the status quo isn’t good enough. Keeping quiet or hoping the problem will go away isn’t what they have been paid to do.

Malaysians expect ministers and deputy ministers like Radzi Jidin, Datuk Seri Rina Harun and Datuk Siti Zailah to buck up and take the bull by the horns. If they do not know what to do, Malaysians must pave the way for the likes of Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Dr Wan Azizah and Dr Maszlee Malik to return. – May 11, 2021

 

Hannah Yeoh is the MP for Segambut.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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