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More reason to debate sexual harassment Bill

Thursday, August 15, 2019

T he allegations of sexual harassment made by junior doctors against their seniors and reported in this newspaper on Monday should give the joint select committee appointed to review the sexual harassment Bill a lot of food for thought when it starts sitting.

Indeed, Ms Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, has told this newspaper that she is itching to start the deliberations “as soon as Parliament returns from its summer recess” and will be meeting with the members to set the stage for the debate.

As we have reported, the Bill outlines the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment, which is employment-related, occurring in institutions, or arising in landlord and tenant relationships. It will also allow for complaints from other people who consider themselves victims of sexual harassment.

It is intended that the complaints be heard by a tribunal to be set up under the gender affairs section of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.

That is a departure from the original Bill, which had been tabled by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and which had required that a division of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) be set up to deal with the complaints.

However, Minister Grange told us that a panel of the IDT would have limited the complaints to employed individuals, and as such would have been restricted to labour issues.

That change, therefore, makes sense, as incidents of sexual harassment are not confined to workplaces.

How the tribunal is structured, and its operational procedures, will therefore be important, especially in a small society like Jamaica where individuals who have complaints are hesitant about formalising them.

That type of fear was evident among the junior doctors who spoke to this newspaper.

“I have colleagues, both male and female, who have been sexually harassed by male consultants, but they are not going to say anything because being in the consultants' good grace is very important. It's [pivotal] to advancing your career, so a lot of people will just keep it to themselves,” one male junior doctor is quoted in our story on Monday.

A female colleague of his, who told us that she faces unwanted advances daily, said she has never reported them to a higher body — whether the medical council or the Human Resource Department.

“I believe that if I do go forward my career will end. I honestly believe that my career will be hindered,” she said. “They will do everything in their power to ensure that you don't achieve what you should.”

She also said several consultants use their powers to stymie efforts by their subordinates to bring awareness to the matter, which could have exposed hospitals and the lack of policies in place to protect junior doctors.

These are frightening allegations which require examination and, if found to be true, need some form of action to send a message that no one has the authority to foist themselves on other people.

We suspect that the joint select committee may want to hold in-camera sessions during which they could hear from these junior doctors and other individuals who feel aggrieved.

May the deliberations be thorough and help format strong legislation to protect people from sexual predators.