BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Government and private sectors need to do more to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, a Legislative Council (LegCo) member told parliament on Wednesday.

Addressing the chamber, YB Khairunnisa Hj Ash’ari read out text messages she had received from women who had been sexually harassed but had no place to turn to for help.

“I’m afraid to report because the perpetrator is one of our supervisors,” read one message she received. “He held and pinched my thigh, and almost grabbed my body,” read another.

“More and more victims have been sharing their stories with me,” YB Khairunnisa said. “They come to me in tears and afraid that nobody will believe them because they don’t have evidence.”

The youth representative said despite more victims coming forward — and previous calls for workplace harassment to be addressed in a meaningful manner — no action has been taken.

She said victims are often discouraged to report incidents because of the lengthy process to file complaints, or they are afraid the offender will retaliate. Even if they do report the harassment, this does not remove the trauma they have experienced, she added.

The member called on the Prime Minister’s Office to lead the change and introduce a code of conduct for both the public and private sectors that would help prevent workplace harassment, as well as provide victims with a safe mechanism to report incidents.

YB Khairunnisa cited examples from the corporate world, specifically the Brunei Shell joint venture companies, which she said practise a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of intimidation and harassment in the workplace, including inappropriate comments and jokes.

She added that schools should teach children about the “limits of physical and verbal behavior”, so that they learn how to set boundaries from a young age.

The LegCo member said, if necessary, businesses can also provide female-only services, such as driving classes where both the teacher and student are of the same gender.

In response, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Awg Abdul Mokti Hj Mohd Daud, acknowledged the prevalence of sexual harassment and said the matter was of “great concern” to PMO.

He welcomed YB Khairunnisa’s suggestions and invited her to “sit down together in open-minded consultation” to discuss how to best address the issue.

According to a 2016 study conducted by the Women’s Graduate Association, 55 percent of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Eighty-four percent of respondents said current legal protections were insufficient.

This story was updated on March 18, 2021 at 10.23pm to include data on sexual harassment in Brunei.