How will the sexual harassment law impact male-female dynamics?Thursday, July 22, 2021
At best, the Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Bill, passed by the Lower House, is a work in progress to which the Senate might add refinement, but which Jamaicans will need to keep under review.
Those who have concerns about the letter of the proposed law may still be constrained to support its final objective — to bring justice and afford dignity to people who are being sexually victimised, especially women who are feeling it, with little to no legal redress.
The very act of promulgating a sexual harassment law is bold, and we would add audacious. That is why it has taken so long to reach this point, and we remain conscious that the journey to come is yet fraught with misgivings.
The key difficulty is how to accurately and practically define what constitutes sexual harassment, as much of it may be subtle or subjective depending on the perpetrator's intentions and the interpretation by the presumed victim.
The extreme cases are more easily identified; for example, a boss openly makes unwanted sexual advances on an employee and then forces the employee to quit the job because after being rebuffed.
It is not as easy when a man is complimenting a woman on her good looks and she interprets that, for whatever reason, as harassment. No sexual harassment legislation is going to bring an end to the sexual dynamics between a man and a woman.
It is worth reading the piece by attorneys Gavin Goffe, a partner at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon, and Matthew Royal, an associate at the firm, entitled 'Fear that Industrial Disputes Tribunal will neuter the Sexual Harassment Act', in yesterday's edition of this newspaper.
They say, inter alia, that: “The employer, whether a large corporation or a household, is required to take appropriate disciplinary measures against perpetrators of sexual harassment and see to it that 'due process shall be exercised'. But there is no clear guide to employers on what constitutes due process in the context of a sexual harassment complaint.
“The Labour Relations Code, which was meant to be a guide to employers and employees on due process, has not been revised since it was passed in 1975. It was created largely with unionised workplaces in mind and is notoriously inept at dealing with small businesses and sole traders.
“The Bill, on the other hand, recognises that sexual harassment can occur anywhere and affect anyone. So, for example, if you hire anyone at all, whether a domestic helper or gardener, you are required to have a written sexual harassment policy statement within 12 months of the Bill becoming law.”
We agree. Yet the freedom with which men, in particular, have been able to harass women and get away with it cannot be allowed to continue without challenge, hence the need for such legislation, even if imperfect at first. No law is ever perfect and must be reviewed over time.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, which started in the United States and became global, and the lesser known #HimToo movement, which specifically supports male victims of sexual harassment and against false allegations of rape, it is to be expected that more complaints will be made as people feel more empowered to come forward.
We hope that the proposed law will alert the culprits among us to begin to respect our women, or face the consequences.
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