In the proverbial chicken or egg situation, we don't know which came first — the passage of the Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act, 2021 or the decision of some of our top female artistes to speak out against sexual abuse in their industry.
But it is both refreshing and frightening at the same time to see the women emerging, one after the other, to expose the sordid experiences they have been suffering at the hands of men who clearly believe themselves to be God's gift to women and, therefore, entitled to their bodies.
The Senate passed the Bill on October 1, 2021, as did the House of Representatives earlier in July, and what a coincidence it has been. When the governor general gives his assent, which is any time soon, Jamaica will be among the enlightened nations.
The Bill contains provisions for dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace, schools, correctional institutions, places of safety, nursing homes, medical, psychiatric facilities, and, importantly, rented properties, among other places.
“This is a truly positive day for Jamaica and our development of an equitable society, a balanced society where we don't normalise the stress, the depression, the anxiety, the negative impact that sexual harassment has had and does continue to have on victims,” said Leader of Government Business in the Senate Mrs Kamina Johnson Smith. We couldn't agree more.
She stressed the obvious, that a cultural shift, bolstered by public education sensitisation, is needed within organisations to bring about behavioural change, hopefully beginning with the Sexual Harassment Bill.
Nowhere is this more needed than in the ego-driven entertainment industry, if we believe Misses Tanya Stephens, Queen Ifrica, Etana, Diana King and the others who are using their voices against sexual harassment, Me-Too Movement Jamaica style.
The rape allegations against Mr Richard Stephenson, known more as the crooner Richie Stephens, might have been the catalyst spurring the women to speak up. For the record, he denies the claims by Ms Elaine Lim against him while on a 2019 tour in Australia, and we leave it to the law to take its course.
But as Deputy Leader of Opposition Business Senator Donna Scott Mottley said, Jamaican men now have to rethink how they make advances to women in a context where their remarks might be deemed unwelcomed.
Speaking out against sexual abuse is always going to be the challenge for women. Ms Tanya Stephens was quoted by Dancehall Magazine as saying that accusations of lying, public victim blaming and shaming of rape victims who go public, are among reasons she would “never reveal the name of the reggae artist who sexually assaulted her some 30 years ago”, when she was 17.
“Contending that there is a 'rape culture' in Jamaica, Ms Stephens said that the island is projected as the 'last bastion of morality' which is not the case, as what the country's nationals have is 'false pride' with cover-ups and hush-hushes for rape being the order of the day,” the magazine's Ms Claudia Gardner wrote.
Reggae songstress Ms Shauna McKenzie, stage name Itana; singer Ms Diana King; and Ms Ventrice Morgan, who uses the moniker Queen Ifrica, all recently disclosed sexual attacks on them by men in their industry. They made it clear this was pervasive.
We commend them for their courage.