Columns

Where's the sexual harassment Bill?

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, December 01, 2017

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A few columns ago (October 13, 2017) I wrote about the matter of sexual harassment, which at the time had been making the headlines about a certain influential man in the American movie industry who had become a pariah as a result of allegations of sexual harassment involving young women on whom he preyed while they were working with him. That event burned like wild fire and, like most things, after a while the discussions began to simmer and the story slowly went off the burner.

Meanwhile, back here in Ja there has been no word concerning the anti-harassment Bill which, we had heard, was still lingering in the Senate after being brought to Parliament by then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. At that time, her expectation, no doubt, was for the Bill to make its way through the usual process culminating in the passage of the law which would result in the vulnerable being rescued from the scourge of being harassed.

The information gained while we were doing the necessary research spoke of the evil of sexual harassment, which, we were reminded, is not unknown here and in the wider Caribbean, where there was interest in seeking justice for those who were preyed on. A few days after the recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, it is more than time for action now, more than talk and nothing else. Some positive action on this particular matter requires attention, no matter which island we live on.

There are people, even victims, among them, who might be expressing doubts that a battle against sexual harassment is worth the time and effort. Immediate response to accusations tends to be questions about the character of the complainant more than that of the accused party, who, in the minds of many, are often unfairly seen as the wrongdoer. It could be the reason legal wheels appear to turn slowly to determine truth and justice.

Looking back to 2015, it was when the anti-harassment Bill had been taken into Parliament — with high expectations to outlaw sexual intimidation, coercion, and pestering in the workplace. There was also included a section on landlord-tenant relationships. The definitions of sexual harassment also included “sexual innuendos” among the issues which should be resolved.

Two years have passed and, at the moment, it appears that there will be a long wait for resolution. When can the dust be blown off and the documents brought back into the light, or is it just a joke? A bad one at that!

Simpson Miller is out of office and the incumbent has been announcing much to do about other things. Sexual harassment's name has not been called. We have heard no word of what has happened in the rest of the Caribbean, which had joined in demonstrating its desire also to tackle the evil of sexual harassment too. Yes, there are many pressing issues awaiting alleviation, but after that, what then?

Will any of our local human rights groups call for the anti-harassment Bill to be dusted off and brought back to Gordon House? Does anyone care?

End of a career

In the meantime, in the United States to which we look to know “whatta gwaan”, the matter of sexual harassment is not being taken lightly. Their women are taking matters into their own hands and are revealing incidents of workplace sexual harassment. They are speaking up, without fear, and more and more it is the accused who have found themselves called upon to defend their character and watch their places in 'high society' rapidly disappearing.

From one of the most famed TV networks in the USA, NBC, the news broke of the noted Matt Lauer — an iconic figure in the world of television — had been accused of sexual indiscretion at the workplace with members of his team and fired from his high-paying job. Lauer has ended up not only minus his multimillion-dollar earnings, but he can expect the end of a famed career. Surely, he should have known better; his reputation is done for. The airwaves will continue to be filled with painful revelations as the story unfolds and nothing spared.

It has been said on one of the TV stations in the US that events like these will soon prove to be the fore-runner to new measures for how professionals will have to conduct themselves from now on. The emphasis will not only be in the communications and creative arena, but in politics, which has not been exempted from harassment revelations. What really lies ahead in our part of the globe? Should we be concerned too? Are we ready to implement sensitivity training in workplaces to help those who do not understand what constitutes sexual harassment and, more so, what is to be done when it takes place?

Here at home, in our Jamaica, word is that many of today's workers, especially the younger generation, are not as vigilant about their rights as they used to be. The new directions in the way business is being handled, and in an atmosphere in which it is easy to lose jobs, young workers are especially cautious. There were times when this would be an issue for trade unions, but they too are writing a new chapter of change. What does the future hold?

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@yahoo.com.

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