Universiti Malaya can do more to fight sexual harassment, says student group

K. Kabilan

UM Feminism Club’s president Chin Jes Weng (centre), club members, and the UM representative (in green). - The Malaysian Insight pic, April 13, 2024.

A STUDENT body is hoping that the management of University Malaya (UM) will be proactive and act decisively in making the campus a safer place for students, especially in light of their recent survey which showed that almost one in five students faced sexual harassment.

UM Feminism Club’s founder and president Chin Jes Weng said the survey conducted by her club in January showed a very perturbing trend.

“The outcome is quite worrying. Our survey showed that one out of five students faced sexual harassment. Yet, many of them didn’t take action and didn’t know what to do if they face sexual harassment. 

“Plus, 83% of students were not aware of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Code in UM,” she told The Malaysian Insight in an interview.

She added that when the club submitted their findings and a memorandum to UM on March 29, the university representative from the students affairs department gave them an assurance that the matter would be referred to the Integrity Unit (IU), which is in charge of addressing sexual harassment on campus.

“He said he will meet us again after getting a report from the IU.

“I am hopeful that we will get positive feedback from them and the representative gave us hope that things will be different this time. I must also add that all memorandums sent by student bodies in the past few years had no results, but I remain hopeful,” she said. 

The survey was conducted online among UM students from January 4 to January 17 this year, and found, among others, that 22.5% of UM students have experienced sexual harassment. 

Only 11.5% of victims took action while only 17% of students were aware of the existence of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Code.

Some 76% of students did not know how to respond to sexual harassment, while half of the students had heard sexual harassment cases, including 13% of students who heard of more than five cases.

The types of sexual harassment encountered included verbal, non-verbal, physical and visual.

About 200 students had participated in the survey although the overall UM student population is about 30,000. According to the club, the survey’s margin of error was about 6%.

Positive changes needed

Chin, who is a third-year undergraduate majoring in Chinese studies and minoring in gender studies, said this was the first time such a survey had been conducted in UM.

“We think that this survey is important, especially in sexual harassment cases, because there is always new hearsay of cases but the data is confidential. 

The memorandum submitted by UM Feminism Club to university management. - The Malaysian Insight pic, April 13, 2024.

“We believe that through survey, we can at least have a clearer view on the sexual harassment situation in UM. The outcome is quite worrying.

“But with this survey alone, we couldn’t judge if the sexual harassment cases are increasing, since there had not been any related studies before. 

“We plan to do another more detailed survey in future, if possible with the participation of the UM management, to monitor the situation. What is clear is that students are having low awareness towards the sexual harassment issue,” she said. 

“The biggest complaint from victims is that the investigation process is too long. Some even wait for up to six months without any results. And when the outcome is out, it is deemed to be unfair to the victims.

“This is why we have suggested that the process be shortened and to provide a framework for punishment according to severity and number of offences,” added Chin. 

In its memorandum, the UM Feminism Club had made recommendations for UM to establish an Anti-Sexual Misconduct Committee (ASMC) under the University Malaya Student Union (UMSU) and to amend the existing anti-sexual harassment guidelines.

Under the proposed amendments, the club wants UM to make positive changes to disciplinary actions on sexual harassment cases by including a clearer guideline and better represented by involving experts and student representatives, and to ensure victims are afforded proper justice.

It also wants punishments to be revised, especially in cases of repeat offenders.

The club said the amendments should also include a clearer outline of what UM has done to ensure students and staff are not exposed to sexual exploitation and/or harassment, and at the same time ensure that confidentiality is granted.

A long journey

The UM Feminism Club also wants UM to promote gender awareness among students and faculty. 

“In the memorandum, we have raised three demands. The formation of the ASMC and the proposed amendments to the code is for the UM to be proactive rather than trying to be preventive.

“We also ask UM to bring back slots during orientation weeks to educate students on how to deal with sexual harassment issues. 

“We also believe that there must be programmes for all UM students and staff that educate them on these issues. 

“Fighting against sexual harassment is a long journey and education is the key point,” Chin said. 

Chin also urged students at UM to stay updated on gender issues and to support each other.

“The best thing we can do is to care about this issue and spread awareness on what can be done to educate our friends and make them aware.”

Chin said she started the UM Feminism Club just last year and it was still in the registration process.

“Typical UM efficiency,” she remarked, adding that she started the club because in her experience, women’s rights were not the main focus in many of the student groups in UM.

“Plus, I didn’t see any active youth feminist organisations in any university. To fill this gap, I founded this club,” she said. – April 13, 2024.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.