Religion, morality being used to justify sexual harassment, forum told

Some perpetrators of sexual harassment tend to use religion and the idea of morality to justify their actions, an activist said, adding that more awareness and dialogue were needed to address the issue.

Syar S. Alia of Young Women Making Change (YWMC) Malaysia said the use of religion cut across all religions, and people were unable to look at the underlying problem.

"There are cases where perpetrators used religion, for the very reason to say that religion or God’s word is on their side.

"And that is also another way of them having power over their victims, because (if you say) God is on your side, you will feel more powerful than the person you are trying to shame,"

"It is being used (and) interpreted to suit them,” she told The Malaysian Insider after speaking at a forum on sexual harassment, "Gila Seks, Gila Kuasa, Siapa Jadi Mangsa" by Projek Dialog in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

She said the perpetrators usually thought that their interpretation of religion was more accurate than others, and were judgmental towards people, especially their victims, and how they practised their beliefs.

"Religion is being used as a political tool and a social tool to exert control to say that what I do is correct. And this goes back to the idea of right and wrong."

This, Syar said, was based on YWMC's works on the issue, its cooperation with other NGOs, and research and anecdotes she received from feedback.

Earlier, Syar gave an example of how people on social media dehumanised the whole issue of sexual harassment when YWMC released a series of posters about sexual harassment on Facebook.

“There was one day that we focus on sexual harassment experienced by transgender people and our message is that sexual harassment is not okay and everybody deserves to be respected and feels safe.

“But some commenters say they (victims) are transgender people and it is wrong according to religion and morals, so they deserve to be sexually harassed.

"There is one woman who said sexual harassment is one of the many ways to tell people that they are doing something wrong or dressing the wrong way,” she said.

She added that people still found it hard to believe that anyone would be sexually harassed regardless of how they dressed.

She said the group advocated for more dialogues on the matter, but people shouldn’t equate reprimand with sexual harassment.

“If you want to rebuke someone, why do you have to relate it with sexual harassment?” she asked.

Formed in August 2014, YWMC aims to raise awareness and increase dialogue on the sexual harassment issue experienced by young women at all levels of society in the country.

The group also seeks to break the culture of silence when it comes to sexual harassment as well as empower and educate the public on the issue.

Another speaker, Vee Izhar (pic, right) from Justice for Sisters, spoke of how transgender people would be sexually harassed as many people viewed them as sex objects.

“When we reject them, of course we will receive backlash and they will use religion (to counter).”

Also present as speakers were clinical psychologist Vizla Kumaresan and Dr Lai Suat Yan from Gender Studies Programme of Universiti Malaya, who concluded that the fear of being ashamed and blamed were among reasons that led victims of sexual harassment to keep mum on the matter.

Organised by Projek Dialog, the forum also discussed on how to deal with sexual harassment and the psychological impact on victims. – November 23, 2015.