NUJ slammed over remedy to ‘predatory politicians’

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Source: Written by Michael Murty for Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: A women’s empowerment group has taken the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to task for saying that female journalists’ dress preference is one of the reasons they become victims of sexual harassment from politicians.

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said NUJ’s response was disappointing as it blamed the victim instead of condemning the crime of sexual harassment.

“NUJ should respect what their women members are saying and recognise that it is both endemic and dangerous.

“What is needed is a strong response to protect and support survivors of harassment, otherwise it will continue to be tolerated and regularised in the field,” said WAO executive director Sumitra Visvanathan.

Yesterday, NUJ president Mohd Taufek Razak was quoted as saying that female media practitioners should mind their appearance while on duty, including by not dressing sexily, in order to avoid sexual harassment.

Taufek also said it was natural for men to be drawn to women, and for women to attract the attention of men.

His comments came after a news portal reported the accounts of women journalists who said they had experienced sexual advances from male politicians they were assigned to interview.

Two of the eight journalists featured by the Asian Correspondent were Malaysians.

One said a politician had sent lewd text messages and stroked her thigh during an interview. The other said an MP had persistently messaged her to ask about her personal life, and had invited her to dinner despite being married.

Sumitra praised the women who had come forward to expose the “predatory politicians”.

“Harassment is intended to humiliate, control and victimise,” she said.

Another spokesperson for WAO, Tan Heang Lee, said the problem lies in how men perceived women.

“Men are not entitled to women’s bodies. Instead of telling women to dress ‘modestly’, we must tell men to respect women,” she said.

Tan said sexual harassment was made easier by power imbalance, in which perpetrators have more authority than their victims.

“That’s why we must hold those who abuse their power accountable and not blame the victim,” she told FMT.

She also urged political parties to ensure their representatives were held accountable for sexual harassment.

Tan said the current protection for sexual harassment victims under the Employment Act was inadequate and limited in its role as a guideline for employers in handling such complaints.

“This law may not help journalists out in the field, who are harassed by male politicians.

“What we need is a comprehensive Sexual Harassment Act that protects everyone from all forms of sexual harassment, both inside and outside the workplace,” said Tan.