Sexual harassment in politics (commentary)

Sexual harassment in politics (commentary)
Gender Rights Advocate, Felicia Browne
Gender Rights Advocate, Felicia Browne
Gender Rights Advocate, Felicia Browne

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Unwelcome behaviour does not mean “involuntary.”

A victim may consent or agree to certain conduct and actively participate in it even though it is offensive and objectionable. Therefore, sexual conduct is unwelcome whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome. Sexual harassment is a gender-neutral offence, such that men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men. However, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims and charges are brought by women claiming that they were sexually harassed by men.

Gender Rights Advocate, Felicia Browne has weighed in on the recent debate , adding that the recent allegations of sexual harassment of a female politician warrant concern for women and men within the politics. Women are said to become targets for unwanted sexual degradation by their opponents and in many cases these are disregarded by the electorate due to biased gender stereotypes.

Though sexual harassment laws have not been implemented in many Caribbean societies, it is critically important to enact such legislation that will protect the rights of all citizens. The nature of sexual harassment can take various forms including but not limited to physical and verbal abuse.

Additionally, sexual harassment can affect both males and female – however women are at a higher risk of becoming victims. Notwithstanding, in cases where the perpetrators are in positions of authority or leadership, effective legistations and interventions like resignation or impeachment should be enacted without prejudice to protect the rights of victims and their families – and to eliminate any further forms of victimization and harassment

In 2011, Don Mitchell JA (Ag) in The Case of Sexual Harassment, referenced Justice Desiree Bernard who stated that, “Sexual harassment in the workplace is a not too unfamiliar scenario in our region. While victims of sexual harassment can be male or female, women suffer disproportionately. Many young women are exploited and forced into sexual liaisons with their male employers to obtain or retain employment. Sexual favours are the “quid pro quo” for permanent job security or advancement. Overall, the key ingredient in sexual harassment is the authority which the harasser wields over the victim who is usually at a disadvantage owing to her fragile economic position, the current employment being in most cases her only means of livelihood. With this foremost in her mind a victim may be reluctant to confront her harasser or report any unwelcome advances.”

Browne adds that dealing with sexual harassment in the political environment should be given priority as both male and women candidates have the right to engage in political discourse without any form of sexism or gender discrimination, or indeed any other threats to their well-being. In the case of Mrs. Jeannine Compton and Mr. Ezekiel Joseph, it is important to note that neither candidate has used this opportunity to highlight sexual harassment as a serious form of gender discrimination in St. Lucia.

It is known that males and females are subjects of such violations and such an opportunity should be used to ensure sexual legislation that will protect both males and females. Though women have in the recent past received public support , very little has been done to educate and protect males from allegations that may harm their lives and reputations. To this date, male politicians have not seen the need to speak out on such matters that affect them or their professions. It is equally important to note that when sexual violation concerns are raised within the public space, our society including political parties must ensure that there are effective mechanisms/ intervention processes in place to address such gender rights matters.

We cannot assume that sexual harassment will simply disappear – this growing epidemic must be given immediate consideration. It is time that sexual harassment laws be enacted within our State laws – and not only by private sectors provide employees with limited in legal redresss when such violations occur.

At this stage, this troubling incident should not be used as political mileage as neither parties have updated the public on any pertinent laws to address sexual harassment. As a result, victims (males and females) are left to defend themselves through whatever medium that are available to them. Sadly, some are silenced by the
fears of the repercussions and consequences that are waged by unfounded gendered beliefs and cultural sexism.


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