THE Bureau of Gender Affairs has assisted some 200 organisations to draft their sexual harassment workplace policies as they prepare for the implementation of the law that is designed to protect people who are subject to this abuse.
Making her contribution to the 2022/2023 Sectoral Debate on Wednesday, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange noted that the landmark Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act, 2021 was passed by Parliament last year.
“This law will provide protection to women and men who endure the harmful effects of this very serious crime,” said Grange.
“We’re doing the work towards the full implementation of the legislation. The Sexual Harassment Unit — which will investigate complaints — is being put in place. We started the recruitment for the unit and will have some officers on board as of July 1, 2022.
“Additionally, we have engaged a consultant — Danny Roberts — to assist with the setting up of the Sexual Harassment Tribunal and related matters. The tribunal is the body to hear and determine complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace and other institutions, and to adjudicate on complaints by a worker of the employer’s failure to act on such complaints,” added Grange.
She said her ministry has already started to receive complaints of sexual harassment and has been helping companies to put the necessary mechanisms in place to respond to them.
“We’ve also been conducting sensitisation and awareness-raising sessions with public and private sector organisations, non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, and other groups.
“This is not a simple matter. It is a serious crime. Unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and crude sexual behaviours affect quality of life by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. No one should endure that,” declared Grange.
In closing the debate on the legislation last October, Leader of Government Business in Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said the Bill represents “a significant milestone in our very long history to provide protection to victims of sexual harassment”.
Johnson Smith, who is also minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, noted that while it is celebrated that the Bill is gender neutral, the reality is that sexual harassment is primarily experienced by women, and therefore, this Bill is likely to serve the role of providing greater protection to them, but it provides protection across the board.
“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,” she said.
She further reiterated that the Bill does not intend to remove flirtation, or prevent the starting of relationships and so on, “it just really requires people to respect the concept that someone might not want your advance.”
A sexual advance includes any form of conduct or behaviour that could be a demand or request for sex or favours of a sexual nature; the making of sexual suggestions, remarks or innuendos; the showing of pornography or display of images or objects of a sexual nature and any other physical gesture, verbal/non-verbal or visual conduct of a sexual nature.
Additionally, sexual harassment is not just an unwelcome sexual advance. It also means the making of any sexual advance towards a person by another person which is regarded as offensive or humiliating by the person towards whom it is made; or which has the effect of interfering with the work performance of the person to whom the advance is made; or creating an intimidating offensive or hostile working environment.