When there is no law against sexual harassment, those engaged in such activities are in fact fully protected to continue their wrongdoing. This is the stark reality in Trinidad and Tobago today.
There are few policies and no legislation to provide redress to the victims of sexual harassment. Harassers can go unpunished, protected and even defended with the use of State funds, our funds.
The Prime Minister is quite right when he says Angostura is a company quoted on the Stock Exchange. This, however, is a weak attempt to suggest that we are dealing with an inability to “just fire” the board chairman, when it is in fact an unwillingness.
Is it not a fact that it was our Prime Minister and our Cabinet who appointed the chairman? Whatever was the power they had and used to appoint him, surely that same power can be invoked to remove him and appoint an independent team to ventilate the matter?
To do otherwise is to choose to harbour an alleged wrongdoer in the bosom of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, our government.
It has to be said that this is not just a feminine problem; men too are often harassed and don’t find the courage to speak up. But sexual harassment is an issue that resonates with women either because of the direct, negative impact on their own well-being and mental health or because their sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts have suffered at the hands of miscreants.
And an altogether new layer is added when these miscreants are if not sanctioned at least sanitized—or appear so to be—by the establishment; popular perception, remember, is no different from reality.
How well I remember working at an oil company where the accepted but unspoken status quo was that if men wanted to improve their chances of promotion, all they needed to do was to allow their bosses unfettered access to their wives at lunch time. It especially bothered me then—and still does now—that there were women who would without objection entertain that suggestion from their husbands.
That was 30 years ago and the world has moved on; Trinidad and Tobago, however, remains stuck in a time warp. Globally, women continue to find their voice and decide who can worship at our altars. Some even call men out for a risqué suggestion.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we fire those women who dare to call out their aggressors.
A prime minister who is thinking would see this sexual harassment issue as an opportunity to possibly win the favourable consideration of women across the political divide. But when a prime minister is adamant that his government can do nothing about the problem, that, to my mind, is merely yet another example of a politician who cannot see the forest for the trees.
But can it be that I just don’t get it?
Maybe I don’t understand the nexus of the CIB bailout. Maybe I just don’t understand why some men see nothing wrong with hugging a woman with their hand on the fleshy part of her hip. Or with undisguised, salacious leers down a woman’s bosom. Or even with the explicit expression of what they can do to us. Maybe these things fly past my understanding.
What I do understand is that we need a conversation about the real expectations and the real boundaries. Not what those boundaries are in what has long been seen as a man’s world but what they should be in today’s world. We need to lay the groundwork for this by teaching our children of all genders how to behave.
In the meantime, we need the laws in place, but remember that this code of conduct must be made public; we can’t assume that all parties (male/female/whatever) will miraculously know how to behave, and know what’s involved. It’s just like getting a driver’s licence. Untrained drivers cause accidents so you can’t drive unless you have been trained.
I do understand that sexual harassment must be outlawed. I do understand that until our leaders demonstrate their willingness to have these uncomfortable conversations with the “Old Men,” then nothing in our world will change.
Let’s continue the work of change by implementing sexual harassment policies in every ministry, State enterprise and, indeed, in trade unions. Let’s pilot the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill in Parliament and have it proclaimed.
It is only then that we women will feel that we have an equal place and that we do in fact stand side by side.
Not condemning, just commenting…