We need to check our leaders


We need to check our leaders


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Our parliamentarians have been showing us their true colours, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment, but, unfortunately, I don't think we have been paying attention. The recent uproar regarding statements made by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is but another display of ignorance and lack of sensitivity on the matter of sexual harassment. Subsequent to clips of his remarks being broadcast, including on the nightly news, the minister quickly rushed to Twitter to basically accuse people of misinterpreting his “joviality”. See the tweet.

The justice minister has been rather consistent with his insensitivity on the matter. During the joint select committee on the Sexual Harassment Act, 2019 on June 18, 2020, we can see Minister Chuck's jovial spirit on display whilst discussing a matter of high sensitivity. In the same sitting, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns shared an anecdote from her days in legal practice, where she had to represent a man in a sexual harassment matter. She relayed that “the female and the gentleman had a very good relationship, where one party go away they come back they carry sweets...and then something happened, a misunderstanding happened...and messages which were exchanged every day — hi babe, how you doing you... — were interpreted as sexual harassment.” She then went on to explain that the man became withdrawn in the workspace, he stopped talking to the women, and stopped running jokes. She went through the story to show that the man was found guilty before any form of investigation had been done. She concluded by saying that, “We want to ensure that we protect our women, but we have to ensure that it is done in a balanced way, because sometimes perception is not reality.”

I have a challenge with this. My challenge is not with the matter of fairness, but the fact that we are willing to say to our men that their paternalistic behaviour is acceptable in the workspace. Not because a woman smiles with the man when he calls her “babe” means that she is acknowledging or welcoming the term. Workspaces should really look into sensitisation sessions, particularly for the men in our society.

Recall in 2014, in the Senate, during the debate of the Flexible Working Arrangements Bill, the Leader of Government Business made his utterance to a concern from then Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte. A J Nicholson commented from his seat, “What you want, flexi-rape?” He later apologised for his insensitive comments.

Dorothy Whyte, executive director of the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre, puts it succinctly when she commented on the flexi-rape comment, “It is not a joke and with a comment like this coming from the leaders of our country, no wonder men generally treat women with such disrespect.”

Recall, October of that same year, according to the The Gleaner, “Government Senator Lambert Brown parted company with colleague members of a joint select committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act yesterday in Gordon House, when he declared he could not support a proposal that there should be no conditions that give rise to the offence of marital rape.” The article went further, “Brown cautioned that the committee should tread carefully on this issue, noting that the institution of marriage could lead to the 'filling out of a form every night for consent'.”

What an entitled statement? Wake up, Senator Brown! A marriage licence does grant you the right to a woman's body. Senator Brown did not stop there. He reportedly said: “To now subject every sexual activity to a potential future claim of rape is not something that you will get me endorsing, and I don't care how many conventions we have signed importing from foreign things...”

Wake up, Jamaica, these are the people we have making laws on our behalf.

In the same sitting, on June 18, 2020, Horace Dalley joked about blowing kisses at women in Parliament.

As a society, we must be grateful to advocacy groups like WE-Change and the other women's rights and feminist groups that are monitoring the joint select committee meetings as its attendees debate the Sexual Harassment Act. It would be wise if more Jamaicans could tune in to the discussion to see how our parliamentarians treat with the problem.

Lorenzo Smith is an educator with interests in social justice. Send comments to the Observer or to lorenzsmitt@gmail.com.

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