WAO\'s Message on International Women\'s Day

Posted on 04 March 2002

WAO's Message on International Women's Day 

March 8 is International Women's Day. On this day, women all across the world gather their voices in a united celebratory shout in recognition of the struggles and victories of the women's movement. It is also a day to plan for future strategies in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. In 1945, the United Nations formally recognised gender equality as a fundamental human right, and in 1981 the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) came into force, which Malaysia has ratified to in 1995.

Historically, International Women's Day was celebrated in commemoration of one of the first organised actions by working women in New York in 1909, where 20,000 women immigrant workers and women activists gathered together to fight for better working conditions, the universal right to vote, as well as an end to child labour. In Malaysia, the women's movement has observed International Women's Day through advocating and lobbying for law and policy reform on issues of violence against women.

Freedom from violence and equal treatment are two fundamental human rights of women.

This year, Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) would like to extend this call by addressing violence against women in the workplace; focusing on sexual harassment and foreign domestic worker abuse.

Sexual harassment is a prevalent problem that many women face in the workplace. In a survey conducted by The Women's Development Collective and All Women's Action Society, 92.8 percent women have been victims of some form of sexual harassment on the job. It has been largely dismissed as a trivial problem that has no serious repercussions, but studies have shown that it has real implications on productivity, efficiency and employee turnover, and can also result in stress related physical injuries in the victims. More importantly, by not addressing the issue, it is tantamount to endorsing abuse of power in the workplace. Sexual harassment is not about mutual attraction, it is about abuse of power. Due to the hierarchical nature of a workplace, a superior with power over position and wages can abuse this power by making sexual advances or exerting pressure to compliance with the threat of dismissal. Sexual harassment can have severe consequences to the victim's sense of safety, self-worth and confidence, and can pose a serious threat to the space that women everywhere have fought hard to claim in the working environment.

We urge the Malaysian government to legislate on sexual harassment to provide meaningful recourse to victims of sexual harassment, and to prevent further discrimination of women in the workplace.

Foreign domestic workers are an especially vulnerable section in the working society. This is because they face multiple discrimination as women and as foreigners in the country. The issue of foreign domestic worker abuse is becoming one of the growing concerns in Malaysia as more cases are being brought to the public attention by the media. Yet xenophobic responses to the violence impedes the protection of their rights as employees. Foreign domestic workers are perceived to be culturally inferior with negative values and the propensity to harm our families. Surely one race is not superior to another. Foreign domestic workers are seen as economic entities with no human rights, thus not requiring any form of protection mechanisms. The lack of legal safeguard encourages severe physical, psychological and economical abuse, and when a foreign domestic worker is beaten, raped or cheated, she will find that she has very little recourse to justice.

We urge that the Malaysian public extend their compassion and respect for human rights to foreign domestic workers. We also urge the Malaysian government to formulate and implement a standard employment contract between employers and foreign domestic workers to ensure that their rights as employees are protected.

This year, WAO recognises the value of working women in our country, and we call upon every single Malaysian to join the efforts of the women's movement to eliminate discrimination and to end violence against women.

As stated by the United Nation's Secretary General, Kofi Annan in his message for this year's International Women's Day, "… as we prepare for the vital challenges before us, let us all be mindful that the achievement of women's rights is not the responsibility of women alone -- it is the responsibility of us all."

Jaclyn Kee
Communications Officer
Women's Aid Organisation
6 March 2002

International Women's Day is a day of celebration for women everywhere - in recognition of their struggles, their victories and their future.
Join us in this event, and do your bit for the empowerment of women!

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