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Some of the things our parliamentarians say and do often makes me wonder about the calibre of not a few members of the august house. They’ve got to be among the most narrow-minded, unthinking, misogynistic, uncouth and vulgar bunch as ever there was.   To say they are disgrace is an understatement.

Take, for example, the recent debate on the sexual harassment bill – something that women’s rights groups have been fighting for decades. In other countries such bills are generally about protecting women from the predatory behaviour of men. Here, some male MPs are trying to turn it on its head by making it about protecting men from provocatively dressed women!

Answering a question in parliament during the debate on the bill, Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Rina Mohd Harun said that wearing provocative attire can be sexual harassment if it meets the definition in the bill. “If the purpose of wearing provocative or inappropriate clothing is targeted at an individual and meets the definition of the bill, then it is an offence…,” she said.[1]

If this is true, it suggests that the bill is so vaguely crafted that it can be easily abused, even weaponised against women. It could lead to further measures to impose religiously-inspired dress codes on women and blame and shame the victim rather than target the miscreants who sexually harass women.

It is not something that should be taken lightly given Malaysia’s deeply rooted misogynistic culture. Controversial lecturer Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, for example, has said that women who dress “inappropriately” should not complain if they are sexually harassed for their attire.” He went on to say that seeing “women parts” exposed in such a manner makes him want to vomit![2] A state mufti had this to say: non-Muslims should dress more “appropriately” in public places out of “respect” for Muslims who will sin upon seeing people, including non-Muslims, who do not cover their “aurat.[3]

During an earlier discussion on the bill, one lawmaker even went so far as to suggest that women are to blame for sexual crimes because of the way they dress and behave. “I propose a sexual harassment act to protect men from the actions, words and clothing of women, which can cause men to be seduced to the point they can commit acts such as incest, rape, molestation, [watching] pornography and likewise… [men] need to be protected… I ask that the minister consider this so that the men in this country are safe, and the country is peaceful,” he added.[4]

Another member of parliament once suggested that rapists be allowed to marry their victims so that the victim “would have the opportunity to lead a healthy and good life.” According to him, children reach “puberty at the age of nine or 12 and at that time, the physical state of their body is already akin to those 18 years of age.”[5] Right-thinking Malaysians were absolutely horrified that such a distasteful idea would come from a member of parliament no less. 

And it’s not just the men who subscribe to such inanities. The deputy minister for women, family and community development appeared to endorse violence against women when she said in one of her Facebook video posts that “Husbands are allowed to use a “gentle but firm physical touch” that is “educational” on recalcitrant wives.[6]

Sisters in Islam, an NGO fighting for women’s rights, said it was deplorable that a deputy minister charged with protecting women would promote the idea that women are somehow inferior and need to be violently disciplined. It also noted that there is no such thing as a husband hitting his wife gently.[7]

Faced with strong public reaction, they all quickly apologised. Nevertheless, it does reveal a certain troubling mindset, one that is unfortunately not that uncommon. How does one even begin to have a sensible discussion on sexual harassment with such narrow-minded misogynistic people? 

It seems to matters little to them that studies have consistently shown that crimes like rape and sexual assault have nothing to do with the way women dress. As Fuziah Salleh, the Kuantan MP, noted in parliament, “Victims of sex crimes included a 74-year-old grandmother, a five-year-old child and a goat… Are we saying they were dressed sexily? For me, these are irrational arguments…,” she added.[8]

Given the appalling misogyny, it is of critical importance that the law be unambiguous and unequivocal in protecting women from all forms of sexual harassment. The law should also hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable for their actions instead of shaming and blaming the victims of sexual harassment. To those men who have difficulty controlling their urges, my granddaughter has this suggestion taken from a book she likes to read: if you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out! 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 27th July 2022]

[1] Provocative attire can be sexual harassment if targeted – minister | Malaysiakini |20 July 2022

[2] Why cry harassment when you dress sexily? Ridhuan Tee asks women | Malay Mail | 29 June, 2015

[3] Cover up to ‘respect’ Muslims, Mufti tells non-Muslims in dress code rows | Malay Mail | 28 June 2015

[4] PKR senator wants law to ‘protect’ men from being ‘seduced’ into rape, incest | Malay Mail | 31 July, 2019

[5] Rape victims can have a good life if they marry their rapists: Tasek Gelugor MP | NST | April 4 2017

[6] Malaysian Minister under Fire for Apparently Endorsing Domestic Violence | Benar News | 14 February 2022

[7] ibid

[8] MP cites goat and grandma to decouple attire-sexual harassment link | Malaysiakini | 20 July 2022