Demming: T&T women need sexual harassment legislation not policy! #Metoo passed us by

In 2017, Barbados passed legislation which will provide for the protection of employees in both the public sector and private sector from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Bill further provides a framework for the reporting of sexual harassment cases by employees and a method of resolving such cases. In addition, it establishes a procedure for the hearing and determination of matters related to sexual harassment.

Photo: Sexual harassment in the workplace.

In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago has chosen to deal with issues of sexual harassment under the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). I am thankful that there is some redress for persons who continue to be victims, but this is just not good enough.

In a country where we hardly obey the law, I hold very little hope that women—far less men—will take their cases to the EOC.

I have followed this issue and continue to be baffled by the low incidence of reporting and the low level of traction which the #metoo movement got in this country. I was even more confused when the current Minister of Labour revealed that she was a victim of sexual harassment and that it took her more than 20 years to bring this to light.

If the powerhouse that is Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus chose such an extended silence then no wonder victims have not been forthright in calling out the several men who continue to be accused in hushed whispers.

We have developed a culture of silence which undermines every fabric of our society.  Some have suggested that the silence is part of the survival strategy which victims employ. Others prefer to suffer in silence rather than expose themselves to the victim-shaming which is prevalent.

The privileged have taken their cases to the Industrial Court and financial settlements have been arrived at with accompanying non-disclosure agreements. Several have had to be comforted by Singing Sandra’s refrain ‘Die with my dignity’.

Photo: Former Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith.

The fact this this administration has not brought Sexual Harassment legislation in Parliament is an indication of their lack of prioritising of gender issues.

After 42 months in power, the Minister has chosen to lay a Policy in Parliament. What is needed is strong laws with clear consequences. Policy statements can always be ignored.

So another International Women’s Day has come and gone and the women of this country meekly accept the slap in the face by this administration and sit in our corners.

The Irish Political theorist Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is time for our women to do something.

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One comment

  1. Not for the first time, I have to repeat myself that Ms Demming is barking up the wrong tree. No amount of legislation will help. She has partly identified why in her writing:

    * “we hardly obey the law”
    * “low incidence of reporting”
    * “victims have not been forthright in calling out”
    * “prefer to suffer in silence rather than expose themselves to the victim-shaming”

    Trinidad and Tobago suffers from a culture of apathy. Like a poisonous gas, it permeates into every crease and crevice. Laws are just words on paper. They have no effect, absolutely none, unless they are enforced. And the culture of apathy has proven many times in the past that enforcement is practically non-existent. A good example is to look at the tools of the police in serious crime fighting – perhaps the most effective is a roadblock. The 2nd most effective area of “investigations” lies in violent domestic crimes where the perpetrator is known.

    Passing laws without changing the culture is the norm and has proven to be quite ineffective in the past. I draw your attention to the Dangerous Dogs Act, and how many people have been killed – by dogs owned by policemen ironically – since it has been passed.

    Harassment victims are reluctant to complaint because harassment is usually, like rape, an imbalance of power; whether in the workplace or not, the harasser is usually the person with the greater power, and the victim the person with the lesser. So complaining can have detrimental results beyond the actual act.

    Picture too, a complainant going to the police. Given the collective lack of intelligence within the police force, lack of training, lack of compassion – generally lack of everything – one can only marvel that they receive complaints at all! How many times have people reported persons missing, only to be told, “She ran away with a man!”, And then find the person murdered, sometimes not too far from home even.

    It is the culture within the police service and wider society… Think bad of the person, the victim, before acting. A culture of apathy and gossiping.

    Coming back to my point about laws being ineffective – laws are merely tools. And like any tools, they must be used to produce results. Of course, I understand that in order to begin the job you must have the tools, the right tools even. But there are already laws that could be quite effective if they are enforced. The problem is not so much lack of laws, but lack of enforcement… I repeat, ad nauseam.

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