Sexual Harassment Devalues and Undermines Women, Says WROC

The controversy over Jamaican cricketer Christopher Gayle’s remarks (and ongoing concerns in Jamaica) have reminded us of the Sexual Harassment Bill, which was tabled in Parliament last month. This press release from the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), a member of the 51% Coalition, offers some deeper issues related to sexual harassment for us to consider. I do hope the Bill doesn’t stay too long in Parliament. Here is WROC’s press release, following recent remarks by Police Commissioner Carl Williams.

Women's Resource & Outreach Centre logo

The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) notes with interest the article “Cops harassed: Commish warns sleazy senior officers about sexual advances” on the Gleaner’s front page on Monday, January 11, 2016. Firstly, WROC would like to commend Commissioner of Police Dr. Carl Williams for exercising leadership on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This comes at a very opportune time in two respects: the long awaited Sexual Harassment Bill was tabled in the Lower House in December 2015 by the Prime Minister; and the opportunity presented by the recent outrage and continuing furor surrounding Chris Gayle’s actions and comments that has caused serious debates in many spaces in our society, including homes, educational institutions, workplaces and on social media.

“Sexual Harassment is a form of gender-based violence (GBV) that women in Jamaica and globally have campaigned against. For Jamaican women, this is not a joke. Nor do we see this as a compliment! Contrary to the unenlightened beliefs held by some, in the vast majority of cases this is about how a man misuses and abuses his power over a woman, usually in the context of the workplace. It is an unwanted advance with many implications and consequences,” said Mrs. Linnette Vassell, member of WROC.

Both the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations have produced studies to identify the most likely ‘victims’ and the impact on them, the impact on productivity, businesses/enterprises and the cost to nations. Their research shows that sexual harassment has many negative outcomes.

“Within the Caribbean the work done by UN Women and CARICOM suggests that one in three Caribbean women has faced gender based violence. In particular, many young women and domestic/household workers complain bitterly of the toll it takes on their lives,“ added Mrs. Vassell.

“Sexual harassment creates a toxic environment in the workplace. The ILO research shows that it is usually young women and single women (including divorced women) who are the primary targets, as well as gay young men. Further the ILO notes that sexual harassment directly undermines the ability especially of young workers, particularly women, to enjoy their chosen workplace and careers; it reduces their ability to make a living and achieve their true potential,” she continued.

“Women describe sexual harassment as being demeaning, abusive, intimidating, humiliating, and devaluing who they are. The fact that significant numbers of women end up leaving the toxic work atmosphere and actually abandoning their careers, exposes both the lack of validity and veracity in statements made to the effect that Jamaican women do not see this as a serious issue. Instead such statements unmask the lack of integrity of proponents and perpetrators alike.” said Nikki Sewell. Ms. Sewell is the young Coordinator of a UN Women-funded project by 51% Coalition on building a women’s political constituency. “Sexual harassment often blurs the lines between performance appraisal and severe punishment for not submitting to the harasser. Furthermore, the perpetuation of sexual harassment further increases the power imbalance between men and women, which should be of concern to all well-thinking Jamaicans,” she continued. “It simultaneously violates the economic as well as the social rights of the woman.”

Police Commissioner Dr. Carl Williams.
Police Commissioner Dr. Carl Williams has warned police officers that criminal charges or dismissal will result if they are found guilty of sexual harassment. He noted recently that some senior officers in the Jamaica Constabulary Force have been sexually harassing their subordinates.

WROC believes that this revelation by the Police Commissioner highlights the fact that there is a great deal of work left to ensure gender equality in all sectors and spheres of the lives of women and men. WROC further points out that the issue of sexual harassment is of particular concern when we consider women in gender-segregated jobs.

In her paper “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Let the Conversation Begin,” Dr. Tracy Johnson explains that women who work in strongly gender-segregated workplaces such as the police force and housekeeping “tend to experience higher levels of sexual harassment because sexual harassment is a form of gender hostility that is often used to keep women in their place”. Males in many of these workplaces use the opportunity to exert “power and control over the lower-ranked female employees”.

Furthermore, labour market researchers in Jamaica and the region have long pointed out that a significant number of women leave the workforce without giving a reason. Based on interviews with some women, they suggest that this reason is unreported sexual harassment in the workplace and point out that further research is needed.

WROC is calling for discussion and debate on the Sexual Harassment Bill across the nation, in both the public and private sectors as well as in educational institutions, faith-based organizations, women’s groups, and civil society in general. WROC notes on preliminary examination that the Bill promotes a more narrow definition and circumstances that constitute sexual harassment, when compared to the United Nations and the International Labour Organization. “A review of the current bill is as we lack a legal framework that makes us accountable. In order to create change we must be consistent and persistent in the enforcement of legislation. We must also insist on a public education campaign on sexual harassment issues, spearheaded by public and private sector leaders,” said Joan Grant Cummings, member of WROC.

WROC believes that sexual harassment is not just a personal issue, it is a matter of national concern. No one wins when sexual harassment is allowed in our environment. The proliferation of this disease creates increased costs to the health sector in the form of treatment of psychological and emotional disorders and increased drug and alcohol abuse. The costs to employers include: reduction of productivity, demotivation of staff, increased absenteeism, lack of team spirit and lower rates of employee retention. The overall costs to the nation include: reduced productivity, loss of trained individuals in the workforce and increased legal and criminal justice costs.

If we do not take steps to eradicate sexual harassment, we will continue to undermine women’s status in society. There is no benefit to an affirmation of the unequal status of women. This continues to validate our “unfinished democracy” by further diminishing, in particular, women’s unequal role with men in our society. “The ‘status quo’ with regard to sexual harassment sabotages the National Vision, Vision 2030.

For further information please contact Nikeisha Sewell, Communications Officer at 445-7731 or nikeisha.sewell@gmail.com


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