SINGAPORE — Two in five workers in Singapore said they have experienced sexual harassment in their workplaces in the past five years, according to a survey by Ipsos and Aware (Association of Women for Action and Research).
The survey by the market research company and the gender-equality organisation also found that only three in 10 of those who experienced workplace sexual harassment made official reports about their experiences. Those who did not often cited a desire to forget about the incidents, a belief that what they experienced was not severe enough, or a perceived lack of evidence.
Aware said in a media release on Thursday (14 January) that the survey – the first nationally-representative survey on workplace sexual harassment in Singapore – was conducted in November last year, with 1,000 respondents comprising Singaporeans and permanent residents who had been engaged in paid work in the previous five years.
“(The survey) affirms that workplace sexual harassment is a pervasive and urgent problem; it also affirms that we cannot rely on official cases as our only measure of prevalence, due to frequent under-reporting,” said Shailey Hingorani, Aware’s head of research and advocacy.
“It underscores the importance of identifying sexual harassment with clear illustrations—seeing that generalised definitions may be inadvertently perpetuating misconceptions.”
Gap in understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment
The survey found that, when respondents were asked if they had been sexually harassed in their workplace in the past five years, one in five responded in the affirmative.
However, when specific harassment situations were described to them, two in five said that they had experience such behaviours. Aware said that this indicates there is a gap in respondents’ understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.
The harassment situations illustrated in the survey included:
Pictures, jokes, texts or gestures of a sexual or sexist nature;
Alarming or offensive remarks or questions about their appearances, bodies or sexual activities;
Crude and distressing remarks, jokes or gestures of a sexual or sexist nature;
Unwanted physical contact, attempts to initiate romantic or sexual relationships, implications that career prospects were tied to sexual favours, and more.
Harassment was most often perpetrated by the victim’s peer or senior in the office.
When reports were made against the harasser, two in five cases saw the harasser being reassigned or dismissed. However, in one in five of such cases, the harasser faced no consequences despite evidence of harassment.
Recommendations to the government from the survey
From the survey’s findings, Aware said that there are inadequacies in Singapore’s policy approach to tackling workplace sexual harassment.
For example, the Protection from Harassment Act neither informs employers of the protective and preventive measures with which they must comply, nor does it educate employees about their employment rights.
Also, the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment does not explicitly place a legal obligation on employers to prevent workplace harassment.
Aware recommends that the Singapore government introduce national legislation against workplace harassment, as well as regular anti-harassment trainings across industries and the universal adoption of grievance handling policies.
“Giving employers an explicit statutory obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment, and educating workers on the remedies available to them against their employers, would provide a firm foundation from which to eradicate this very insidious and damaging behaviour,” Hingorani said.
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