Sexual Harassment Bill — still some ways to go

Editorial

Sexual Harassment Bill — still some ways to go

Thursday, December 05, 2019

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We in this space are among those who impatiently await the passage into law of the Act to Make Provision for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and for Connected Matters, or more popularly the Sexual Harassment Bill, which has been too long in coming.

First charted by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during her stint as minister of labour, the Bill is currently being reviewed and amended by the Government under the supervision of Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

In brief, the Bill seeks to protect women and men from unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and crude sexual behaviours that affect quality of life by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

Yet, while we believe it is well past time now for the Bill to become law, because of the multitude of helpless women who are feeling it at the hands of unscrupulous men, we are not unaware that it is a long road to the required destination.

As we have seen in the United States, a thriving movement called “Me Too” has empowered women to fight back against the tumult of sexual harassment that they face at the workplace, in a myriad of institutions including church, and in the landlord and tenant relationship.

Let there be no illusions about what is to come, if Jamaican women rise up like their American sisters and take a stand against this pernicious abuse they have suffered from time immemorial.

Expect big names, people whose reputations hitherto appeared unsoiled, moneyed men, and women to a lesser extent, principals, pastors and politicians to be fingered among the culprits.

In this regard, the Bill must be crystal clear in outlining the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment and in how certain related conduct will be prosecuted. Even the most guilty will cry innocence.

Indeed, there will be those who don't believe that they were guilty of harassment for the wayward touch or seemingly innocent remarks they routinely aim at women. Some will genuinely think that women crave such attention.

We would advise the Government to heed the warning of Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) President David Wan who argues that that the Bill could come back to bite the Government when it becomes law.

“The Bill is welcomed by JEF, and we've been doing sensitisation even before the actual signing of this Bill. We think it's the right thing to do, but I believe the Government could be surprised at the amount of cases it has in its own shop,” Mr Wan told Jamaica Observer editors and reporters on Monday

Mr Wan correctly pointed out that globally, sexual harassment has proven to be uncontrolled in public sector organisations such as the military, the police and the correctional services. And while women are the victims by far, more and more men are claiming to be attacked. Taxpayers' money should not have to be spent this way.

The Bill makes provisions for a Sexual Harassment Tribunal to receive complaints from persons who feel aggrieved by sexual harassment. We hope the Tribunal will be adequately equipped for the potential avalanche.


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