Malaysia still lacks a law against sexual harassment and there is at most one section regulated in the 1955 Employment Act.
However, a few days ago, Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun announced that the long-awaited sexual harassment bill is expected to be ready in March and will be submitted at the next Dewan Rakyat session, according to Malay Mail.
The proposal of this law alone took 20 years to get where it is today, as it was led in 2000 by a coalition of NGOs through the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) with AWAM.
So a group of Sabahan women took matters into their own hands to gain a foothold in Sabah, particularly in Sabah’s colleges, and established Safe Campus.
A huge number of unreported Sexual harassment cases
Safe Campus was started by a group of 4 people but is now run by only 2 remaining executives, Christyne Surindai and Amanda William.
They are volunteers in SAWO, the Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group, which campaigns for domestic violence survivors and women’s rights and provides leadership training for young women known as SAWOrriors.
“Sabah campuses are known to be unsafe for female students, especially in the metropolitan area. There have been numerous incidents of sexual harassment,” Christyne and Amanda told the Vulcan Post.
“To name a few, a 22-year-old student was abducted and raped some distance from her dorm in 2008, and a foundation student was sexually assaulted by campus security officers in 2019,” they said.
As such, her focus was on raising awareness of sexual harassment in colleges in Sabah as more and more cases emerged on campus, many of which were not reported.
“It is also time for colleges to have the right mechanisms and support in place to help sexual harassment survivors.”
The lack of awareness of sexual harassment measures, well-lit sidewalks, and trustworthy security guards that universities should provide primarily led to these incidents, they said.
Amanda and Christyne with the survivors who shared their story / Image Credit: Safe Campus
Teamwork makes the dream come true
While Safe Campus is currently a two-person team, they have no lack of support from other organizations in this mission.
Even before the organization began, in September 2020 they joined the Bootcamp Young Southeast Asian Leaders (YSEALI) as a team of four, an initiative of the Biji-Biji initiative Me.reka and the US Embassy.
The bootcamp will honor 5 groups of winners who will each receive start-up capital of 6,000 RM to start their project, receive technical assistance and receive three-month support. Safe Campus was one of the projects that won the competition.
“For three weeks we attended various webinars and virtual classrooms, and were given access to instructional videos and articles provided by the bootcamp to ensure attendees were given the right opportunities to learn what to do. And in the last week all teams will present their final video and presentation, ”shared the duo.
They also shared that they had the opportunity to interact with and learn from well-known Malaysian activists such as Ivy Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) and Dato ‘Ambiga during the week.
After the 4-week boot camp was over, Safe Campus started the campaign in mid-October 2020.
How do you advertise?
On their social media pages, they post bite-sized sexual harassment education such as some legal resources in Malaysia, forms of sexual harassment, myths and misunderstandings, etc.
Examples of their content / picture credits: Safe Campus
Recently they produced a video with 5 anonymous Sabahan survivors sharing their experiences and hosting an online workshop on sexual harassment via Zoom.
“Our main goal in this campaign was to enable students to understand sexual harassment and what can be done to prevent it at Malaysia Sabah University (UMS).”
“We hope for additional funding that will enable us to work with other locations in Sabah to put in place a sexual harassment response mechanism and guidelines,” they said.
As of now, the YSEALI funding has already ended for them, and all of the promised activities that are supposed to go along with this funding have also already been completed.
However, you will find other ways to raise funds and continue to work with SAWO to keep this campaign going.
overcoming MCO-related obstacles
Part of her awareness of anti-sexual harassment measures on campus is to work with student leaders from different clubs to help them better understand the problem and what can be done to address it.
“By training student group leaders, we hope that they will return to their clubs and create a ripple effect through activities that raise awareness among their members about sexual harassment,” they said.
When the second MCO was announced, Christyne and Amanda had to reconstruct their activities and put them online.
How they conduct their workshop / Image Credit: Safe Campus
“It was difficult for us to reach students who were studying off campus. We were also unable to run the campaign on campus and better connect with key people in the campus student body, ”they said.
The first online workshop on sexual harassment went well despite the hiccups and they are already planning a second round for these executives.
In the long run, Christyne and Amanda would like to welcome more activists interested in joining this cause.
- You can find out more about Safe Campus here.
- More NGOs we have written about can be found here.
Featured image source: Christyne Surindai and Amanda William, Founders of Safe Campus