Sabahan campaign against sexual harassment in universities


Today, Malaysia still lacks the Sexual Harassment Act, and most of all has a section covered by the Employment Act of 1955.

A few days ago, however, Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun announced that the long-awaited Sexual Harassment Act is expected to be ready by March and will be submitted at the next session of Dewan Rakyat, according to Malay Post Office.

However, only the proposal of this law it took 20 years to get to where it is today, as it was led in 2000 by a coalition of NGOs through the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality (JAG) with AWAM.

So a group of Sabahan women took matters into their own hands to cover something in Sabah, especially in the higher institutions of Sabah, and founded Safe campus.

Huge number of unregistered Sexual harassment Cases

The Safe Campus was started by a group of 4 people, but is now run by only 2 remaining leaders, Christyne Surindai and Amanda William.

They are volunteers at SAWO, the Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group, which works to advocate for survivors of domestic violence, women’s rights, and provides leadership training for young women known as SAWOrriors.

“It is a known fact that campuses in Sabah, especially around the urban area, are not safe for female students, there have been many cases of sexual harassment,” Christyne and Amanda shared for the Vulcan Post.

“Just to name a few, a 22-year-old female student was abducted and raped at a distance from her home in 2008, and in 2019 a campus security guard sexually assaulted a student from the foundation,” they shared.

Therefore, their focus on sexual harassment awareness has been focused on more institutions in Sabah due to the increase in cases occurring on campuses, many of which are not reported.

“It is also time for higher-level institutions to have appropriate mechanisms and support to help survivors of sexual harassment.”

Lack of awareness of anti-sexual harassment policies, well-lit walking paths and reliable security staff that universities should provide are exactly what led to these incidents, they explained.

Amanda and Christyne with survivors who shared their story / Image credited for: Safe Campus

Teamwork makes a dream work

Although Safe Campus is currently a team of two people, they do not lack the support of other organizations in this mission.

Before the organization even started, they joined Bootcamp of young leaders of Southeast Asia (YSEALI), an initiative launched by the Biji-Biji Initiative, Me.reka, and the U.S. Embassy, ​​in September 2020 for a period of 4 weeks initially as a four-member team.

Bootcamp is intended to reward 5 winning groups who will receive an initial funding of RM6,000 each to launch their project, technical assistance and quarterly mentoring. Safe Campus was one of the projects that won the competition.

“For three weeks, we attended various webinars, virtual classrooms, gained access to educational videos and articles provided by bootcamp to ensure that participants were given appropriate pathways to learn what they needed to do. And in the last week, all the teams will present their last video and presentation, ”the duo shared.

They also shared that they had to connect and learn from prominent Malaysian activists such as Ivy Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) and Dato ‘Ambiga during the week.

Therefore, after the completion of the four-week bootcamp, Safe Campus started the campaign in mid-October 2020.

How do they run the campaign?

On their social media pages, they publish education about sexual harassment the size of a bite, such as some legal sources in Malaysia, forms of sexual harassment, myths and misconceptions, etc.

Examples of their content / Picture of merit: Safe Campus

They recently produced a video featuring 5 anonymous Sabahan survivors who shared their experiences and hosted an online sexual harassment workshop via Zoom.

“Our main goal with this campaign was to empower students to understand sexual harassment and what can be done to prevent it from happening at the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS).”

“We hope to receive other funds that will allow us to work with other campuses in Sabah to establish a response mechanism and policy for sexual harassment,” they explained.

As of now, YSEALI’s funding for them has already been completed, and all the activities promised to come with that funding have also already been completed.

However, they will find other ways to raise funds and continue working with SAWO to keep this campaign going.

Overcoming Barriers associated with MCO

Part of their awareness-raising on anti-sexual harassment policies on campus is working with student leaders from different clubs, helping them better understand the problem and what can be done to address them.

“By educating student body leaders, we hope that they will return to their clubs and create a wave effect, such as leading activities that will increase the awareness of their members about sexual harassment,” they explained.

However, when the second MCO was released, Christyne and Amanda had to reconstruct their activities and move them online.

How they run their workshop / Credits for paintings: Safe Campus

“It was difficult for us to reach the students while they were studying off campus. We were also not able to run the campus campaign and communicate better with key students of the campus student bodies, ”they shared.

However, the first online workshop on sexual harassment went well despite the hiccups and they are already planning a second round for these leaders.

In the long run, Christyne and Amanda would like to receive more activists interested in joining this goal.

  • You can learn more about the Safe Campus here.
  • You can read more of the NGOs we wrote about here.

Pictures shown: Christyne Surindai and Amanda William, founders of Safe Campus

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