PETALING JAYA,. Environmental conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) has launched a review in light of “troubling allegations” of sexual harassment within the organisation that was raised by a former employee.
Former WWF-Malaysia employee Rahayu Zulkifli, who had worked with the organisation for 10 years, took to social media platform Facebook to allege that sexual harassment complaints against an individual were “swept under the carpet” by people in authority.
Rahayu said that the recent sex scandals that hit film producer Harvey Weinstein, charitable organisation Oxfam, former US gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, and the former coach of Crewe Alexandra football club Barry Bennell, had spurred her to share the alleged sexual harassment that took place in WWF-Malaysia.
“Numerous complaints were lodged against an individual who took advantage of junior female staff and was sexually harassing them.
“Numerous complaints were lodged with senior management, but as far as we all knew, no action was taken against the perpetrator,” she posted on Facebook.
She said that the alleged perpetrator eventually left WWF-Malaysia of his own accord.
Rahayu told The Star that the victims had came to her with complaints of sexual harassment, and she told them to lodge complaints with the human resources department.
However, she said the victims were “quietly told to drop their cases” on the grounds that there was no evidence and that it would cause them more trauma and embarrassment if the cases were pursued.
She said that the alleged perpetrator was good at his job, and considered an “asset” to the organisation.
“Basically, the whole thing was swept under the carpet by the people in authority,” said Rahayu.
She said that she wanted to share what had transpired at WWF-Malaysia to create awareness on sexual harassment.
“I want everyone to know that we must not let these kinds of cases be swept under the carpet.
“No matter how high up in the organisation chart, no matter how valuable an asset the person is, we must not keep quiet about such things,” she said.
In a comment on Rahayu’s FB post, Linda (not her real name) said she was sexually harassed by her supervisor when she first joined WWF-Malaysia.
“There were remarks about my body, there were suggestions of room-sharing during a workshop at a neighbouring country, followed by offhand threats about my work performance when I refused to go,” she said.
Linda said she reported it to management, who allegedly warned her that everything about the case will become public and that she might be jeopardising her position and tarnishing the organisation’s name.
“They said I can proceed with my sexual harassment report if I can accept these consequences. It was my dream job and I was barely two months in, so what did you think I did?
“I did not feel there was any protection on my part as a victim so I dropped the ‘report’,” she said.
Linda alleged that she was later called to sit in a meeting with the perpetrator and a few others to listen to his “twisted version” of the incidents and his “insincere apology”.
“I felt pressured to accept it. The case was considered ‘resolved’,” she said.
“After that, one lady who was in the meeting told me that I was being over-sensitive, that my supervisor was harmless and I shouldn’t take his ‘jokes’ so seriously,” said Linda.
She said that she still had to report to her harasser for the next few years after the incident.
“It was painful, but I pretended as if I was okay,” she said. “I was not”.
Linda said she was not the only victim, and that she has spoken to women who had experienced similar encounters with the perpetrator.
“I am not seeking retribution. I loved my job, I loved my team and I loved the work. I only want my story told so that there are procedures in place to protect victims and not the perpetrator,” she said.
“I was a victim, but it is just now that I have found my voice,” she added.
The incidents are believed to have happened over an extended period ten years ago.
When contacted,WWF-Malaysia Executive Director and CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said that WWF-Malaysia treated any allegation of misconduct by any staff member “extremely seriously”.
“This includes the allegations brought forward by former staff members via Facebook. We have immediately launched a review of these troubling allegations and although the relevant staff left the organisation some time ago, we will investigate this matter and continue to reach out to those who feel victimised,” he said.
“We are committed to listen to them and reassure them that we will do our best to address the grave concerns they have raised,” added Sharma.
He said that the organisation has a “zero tolerance approach to harassment” as outlined in its global code of conduct.
“We are determined to continually strengthen our policies to safeguard the rights of those who work with us. WWF-Malaysia wishes to state that the respect, security and dignity of all our staff and the people we work with are of paramount concern,” he said.
Sharma said that the conservation group also has whistleblowing policies where staff can raise their grievances.