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 which are really 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 justification for his inability to “just fire” the Chairman, when it is a fact that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet themselves who appointed the Chairman. By whatever power they appointed him, they should be able to evoke that same power and remove the Chairman and appoint an independent team to ventilate the matter. To do otherwise is to harbour an alleged wrongdoer in the bosom of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
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 and aunts have suffered at the hands of miscreants who have been sanitized by the establishment.
How well I remember working at an oil company where the unspoken status quo was that if men wanted to be promoted, all they had to do was to allow their bosses unfettered access to their wives at lunch time and the promotion had a greater chance of happening. What bothered me at the time was the psyche of the women who would entertain that suggestion from their husbands.
It is 30 years later and the world has moved on but Trinidad and Tobago remains stuck in a time warp. Globally, women continue to find their voice and decide who can worship at our altars. Some will even call men out for a risqué suggestion. In Trinidad and Tobago, we fire those women who dare to call out their aggressors.
Worse case scenario is that if the Prime Minister is thinking, he would see this Sexual Harassment issue as an opportunity to win the favourable consideration of women across the political divide. But he is adamant that his government cannot do anything about this, and to my mind, it is yet another example of a politician who cannot see the forest for the trees. Or is it that I just don’t get it? Maybe I don’t understand the nexus to the CIB bailout. Maybe I just don’t understand that some men feel entitled to hug a woman with their hand on the fleshy part of her hip, or the salacious steers down a woman’s bosom or even the explicit expression of what he can do to you. Maybe these things fly past my understanding. What I do understand is that we need a conversation about the boundaries and expectations. We need to teach children (both/all) genders how to behave, and lay the groundwork there. In the meantime, we need the laws in place, and published codes of conduct addressing Sexual Harassment; we can’t assume that both/all parties (male/female/whatever) will miraculously know how to behave, and know what’s involved. It’s just like getting a drivers’ licence. Can’t drive unless you have been trained. Untrained drivers cause accidents. Sexual Harassment is now a necessity.
Here’s what I do understand: that Sexual Harassment must be outlawed and that until our leaders demonstrate their willingness to have these uncomfortable conversations, then nothing will change.
Let’s begin by implementing sexual harassment policies in every Ministry, State Enterprises and indeed in all Trade Unions. Let’s pilot the Sexual Harassment Bill and have it proclaimed in Parliament. It is only then that women will feel that they have an equal place and that we do in fact stand side by side. I hasten to add that this is not just a feminine problem because men are often harassed and can’t find the courage to speak up.