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Dear Editor: The unfinished business of sexual harassment

The following Letter to the Editor calling for stand-alone sexual harassment legislation was submitted to Wired868 by the Alliance for Sexual Harassment Law.

The Alliance includes organisations: CAISO, Coalition against Domestic Violence (CADV), Hindu Women’s Association, (ILSCA), Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, WOMANTRA, Fire Circle and individuals include: Denise Demming, Lara Quentrall Thomas and Rhoda Reddock.

Photo: law books

Civil society organisations are calling on the government of Trinidad and Tobago to fast track the enactment of stand-alone legislation on sexual harassment, in line with international best practice and based on meaningful consultation. Notwithstanding different policy statements prepared by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Labour, there is no legal framework that would guarantee an accessible and fair investigative process where sexual harassment is alleged in the workplace, educational institutions, in the delivery of good and services, and in accommodation.

A comprehensive sexual harassment regime will fill the gaps that currently exist and ensure that sexual harassment is recognised as an expression of sex discrimination. It will also satisfy the recommendation by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the adoption of ‘legislation that provides for effective remedies in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace; collect statistical data on the extent of the problem of sex discrimination in the workplace, including cases of sexual harassment, and conduct regular labour inspections aimed at enforcing compliance with labour laws’.

This relationship between sexual harassment and discrimination is recognised in the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190: Violence and Harassment in the Workplace, which calls on states to enact laws ensuring the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment for women workers, as well as for other persons in situations of vulnerability that are disproportionately affected by violence and harassment in the world of work.

The law should be informed by the CARICOM Model Legislation on Sexual Harassment and by examples from other Caribbean countries such as Barbados. The stand-alone legislation should give remedies for sexual harassment wherever, and between whomever, it occurs.

Additionally, it is necessary to fix the Equal Opportunity Act in two ways: (1) expand the definition of sex and gender discrimination to include expressions of sexual harassment; and (2) expand the categories of prohibited bases of discrimination to include gender, LGBTI, age and health conditions.

The group is committed to ensuring that legislation is proclaimed during the 11th Republican Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.

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  1. Excellent initiative. “(2) expand the categories of prohibited bases of discrimination to include gender, LGBTI, age and health conditions.” May I suggest to the alliance that ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ be added to the list of categories, in addition to what is already listed? There are working distinctions to these that set them aside from gender or gender assigned at birth.