The Women’s Centre for Change defines sexual harassment as any unwanted sexual behaviour that results in verbal, non-verbal, visual, psychological, or physical harassment. Although women are the most common victims, men can also be sexually harassed – anyone might be the victims or perpetrators. According to a recent survey conducted by the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS) in partnership with the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), more than half of the womenfolk have personally encountered sexual harassment.
Although sexual harassment complaints in Malaysia are relatively high, a measure to protect women from sexual harassment has yet to be introduced in Parliament, and existing laws are simply insufficient to address sexual harassment or provide victims with meaningful redress.
Sexual harassment should be prioritised as it violates an individual’s rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 embodies a person’s spiritual and material dignity. Spiritual dignity refers to how a person should be treated, whereas material dignity refers to a certain standard of living. Sexual harassment will be classified as an act that diminishes a person’s dignity and honour.
Immanuel Kant made the dignity of humanity central in his moral philosophy. Kant thought that everyone had intrinsic worth or dignity, regardless of rank or social station. Our intrinsic worth or standing as human beings cannot be taken away. Kant further emphasised that human dignity is based on the assumption that “the moral law,” a universal command of reason, has absolute dignity and authority that must be respected. When someone is sexually harassed in the workplace, it can undermine their sense of personal dignity. As we all know, Quid pro quo harassment is one form of harassment that happens when a supervisor or other person with apparent ability to grant or deny employment benefits, requests sexual favours from an employee in exchange for employment.
When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, some may speculate about the concept of consent. When it comes to sexual harassment, consent should not be used as a defense because of the power dynamics that frequently exist between the victim and the harasser, a victim may not resist or may even consent to sexual conduct out of fear of losing his or her job or other consequence if he or she objects. Acknowledging this reality, sexual harassment can occur even if the victim consents.
This issue goes to the heart of our debate, which is about the dignity of employees who work for an employer. One should respect others regardless of their status or position in the workplace and should not abuse their apparent power. Being an employee does not give
the employer the right to exploit them physically, emotionally, or mentally. As a human being, the employee’s dignity and worth must be respected. Employees, particularly women, should not be treated as objects of sexual desire and should work in a harassment-free environment. This is because women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in all environments, not just the workforce.
To summarise, Kant’s concept of dignity appears to recognise an inner and absolute value to the human being as a result of his humanity. This recognition appears to imply a duty of respect that individuals must uphold in their interactions with themselves and others. As a result, while desire can be extremely intense, it is significant to balance it with a genuine sense of honour and respect for the dignity and rights of employees.
**The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of the editorial board