Our First #MeToo?

Congratulations to Minister of Labour, Senator Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on being the first “Trinbagonian” woman to say #MeToo in the Sexual Harassment epidemic!
The  admirable Minister announced in a Sunday Express article that she too, was a victim of sexual harassment. It took courage and I applaud you, but why have you and your cabinet colleagues allowed a governmentappointed chairman to preside over sexual harassment accusations against himself, and then use $3.5m dollars of taxpayer money to defend himself against these charges?  Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 07.56.34

Have I missed the newspaper interview where you objected to the duplicity of his subsequently presiding over the disciplining of a supervisor who lunged at the CEO?  Have I missed the report that your government has initiated an independent, transparent investigation over the three incomplete investigations into sexual harassment charges?  Did I miss your presence at the International Women’s Day March?

Madam Minister, have you ever asked yourself why there has been a muted response to the Sexual Harassment campaign? In the recent Sunday Express article, you are quoted as saying: “I have attended over the years to many such complaints of women suffering from harassment on the job. It affects the performance of that worker. If you are working in such an environment you cannot produce at the level you are accustomed because you are on edge … Women have to assert themselves by being very firm. So you know the extent of the problem and understand its traumatic impact and hence the urgency for it to be dealt with. The last time I checked the legislative agenda, I did not see Legislation about Sexual Harassment. Maybe I should be thankful that you chose your Mother’s Day interview as the opportunity to bring light to this murky issue.

You and your government are going through a round of stakeholder consultations and the bureaucratic mulberry bush, but this time around, for all Ministries, State Corporations and the Protective Services under your government’s control, I would like to see the implementation of sexual harassment policy.

In the interview you stated that: “Women have to assert themselves by being very firm” and that statement tells me about your lack of understanding of the issue. The predators seldom approach strong women, who are likely to give them a kick in the testicles or else direct some public shaming at them for their conduct.  Many strong women have been cowed into silence because of the consequences which include being fired and/or public shaming that it is somehow their fault.  In the absence of legislation and policy, the predators will reign.

At the heart of this issue is a need for T&T to engage in meaningful discussion about sex and sexuality so our children develop an enlightened view.  Instead we continue to speak sotto voce about sex and still cannot even bring ourselves to use the appropriate names for penis and vagina. This is an issue which needs to be openly discussed. It is not a female issue but a people issue. It will not go away without an open conversation and the government is in the position to lead such a conversation. We owe it to ourselves to have that conversation.


Wanted – Male Voices Against Sexual Harassment

Men! You have a mother, wife, woman, daughter, sister, aunt… there’s a woman in your life who is being sexually harassed. What are you doing to protect her? She is relying on you to at least speak up for her. The majority of sexual harassment accusations are made against men so it will not lessen without the help of men. Here are some things men can do to confront this scourge.Sexual Harassment - 5th May 2018 - 1

Ask any of the women in your life to share with you any experiences she has had with sexual harassment and share with you how she felt. Before asking the question, assure her that you will not become emotional and want to lash out because of her honest response. Sex and sexual harassment is still a taboo topic in our country.

Call out your “pardner” the next time he talks about women as things and not as human beings capable of being hurt. For example, stop him when he calls a woman; “it”, “de ting”, “reds”, “gyal”, “bitch”, “whore”, or “slut”. These descriptors add a layer of separation between men and the person they are degrading, which blinds them to the fact if they are allowed to do this to a woman, the same dehumanization can happen to their mother, daughter, wife etc. The more we dehumanize anyone, the easier it is to abuse them.

Don’t share vulgar jokes or anecdotes with your co-workers. Let’s get something straight; the office is no place for the sharing of vulgar jokes or anecdotes, unless you are in a seminar on sexual harassment, and giving examples of what is not acceptable. Regardless of whether it is spoken aloud, whispered, or shared on social media or email, explicit references or comments about sex should be confined to your friends or intimate partner.

Don’t block a person from passing. Blocking a corridor so that a person must brush up against you is aggressive and intimidating. Allow your co-workers the freedom to pass without invading their personal space. This includes behaviour like sitting on someone’s desk or just getting too close.

A definition of sexual harassment taken from the Australian  Human Rights Commission is: “an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances”.   Sexual Harassment is not constrained by sexual orientation and can happen to women, men, transgender, and non-gender-conforming people.

In my own lifetime, I have seen women move from accommodating sexual harassment to finding their voice to say, “Stop!” In a patriarchal society like ours there are men who have explained to me that don’t understand what is the problem? They ask innocently, “Can I not even make a joke?” Of course you can, but you must first establish boundaries with people; have a conversation about what you think is allowable to say and how you think it can be said. We need to talk about what sexual harassment is and is not. We need to have grown-up, explicit conversations about sex and sexuality that do not try to hide or mystify it. We need to pass legislation about Sexual Harassment and implement sexual harassment policies in Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military. Come on guys, #Let’s do this!


Workplace safety includes from Sexual Harassment!

An employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of employees includes keeping them safe from sexual harassment.  This is achieved by having a clearly defined, transparent policy and procedures which all employees can access whenever they feel violated.  It is the only way to protect both the accused and the accuser. The United Nations recently had to respond to a Sexual Harassment accusation made against a former UNAids Executive Director.  I say “former” because he chose not to apply for an extension of his contract after he was publicly accused of sexual harassment and the matter was widely reported in the UK Guardian.  Almost as soon as the matter was brought into the open, an investigation was launched and the UNAids Executive Director recused himself from the final decision-making role in the case in order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. Instead, the UNAids Executive Director delegated authority over the case to the Deputy Executive Director for Management.”

This is what a transparent, open and independent process looks like.  Why is it so difficult for us to operate at this level? It simply means if you have been accused, you cannot continue to remain at the pinnacle of the organization and preside over the investigation.  

Mirror Clipping 2 2007MIrrow clipping 2007

In the case of the UNAids, “Luiz Loures, a UN assistant secretary general and the subject of a recent sexual assault allegation stood down from his position.  In a media release UNAids said, “Loures would not seek renewal of his contract, which expired at the end of March, adding that the decision had no connection to the allegations against him.” #speakwithforkedtongues.

An internal inquiry cleared Loures of wrongdoing following complaints from a female employee that he assaulted her in a lift. While investigators found the allegations to be unsubstantiated, campaigners said the investigation process was flawed and should have been handled externally.

Sexual Harassment is a complex issue which requires transparency both in the process and the method of selecting the artibers.  If either is tainted, the result will be compromised. So in this UNAids case a interest group called  Code Blue, wrote to Secretary Guterres, alleging that the investigation was undermined by a conflict of interest, with the executive director of UNAids, Michel Sidibé, who reported to Loures acted  both as a witness and as the “final decision-maker” in the case. The group called for Guterres to review the allegations and hand the investigation over to an “external, neutral and independent body”.

Here we go again; a flawed process, despite its transparency, allowed the harasser to escape the brunt of the law.  But this issue also attracted the attention of Britain’s secretary of state for international development who: was urged “to call for an independent inquiry into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct within the agency. In the letter, the Labour MP Gareth Thomas warned of “inadequate processes” for dealing with complaints at UNAids. There has been ‘a decade’s concern about a declining culture in the organisation, described to me as misogynistic and patriarchal,’ ” wrote Thomas, a former minister at the Department for International Development.

Trinidad and Tobago has had two recent cases of Sexual Harassment with fingers pointing to prominent men and in both cases, State Funds has, in my opinion, been used to thwart the investigations.  Where is the high level support or interest in the issue? It was the late President ANR Robinson who spoke of “streams into rivers and rivers into seas” and I heard current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley say “it begins with raindrops”.  The raindrop here is a transparent process to investigate Sexual Harassment complaints. If our workplaces are to be safe, there must also be the implementation of sexual harassment policy in all Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military.  Come on guys, #Let’s do this!

Sexual Harassment Saga continues!

(Originally published in Wired 868)

Merely promising legislation will not stop sexual predators in their tracks.  The promise of sexual harassment legislation is welcome news but it is insufficient to impact behaviour change. We know only too well that legislation alone has not solved our problems; we know only too well that effective law in Trinidad & Tobago is about what you can get away with, especially if you have deep pockets.

So, unless the goal is merely to pave another piece of the road to Hell, the government must move beyond the promise of legislation and in short order implement sexual harassment policy throughout all ministries, State enterprises and businesses where the people are significant shareholders.

Between now and when the government delivers on its promise of legislation—if it ever delivers on that promise—several women will be sexually harassed by men who are confident that nothing will be done; in the public and the private sectors, the indiscipline, the exploitation, the abuse will continue.

Those who are in the Public Service and are senior enough will now be comforted by the precedent that their victim can be paid off—with public funds, taxpayers’ money—and maybe even bullied into signing a non-disclosure agreement. Precedent is a powerful thing in a country where the effective law is what you can get away with.

Those whose victim(s) work(s) in a State enterprise or at a company where the GoRTT is a major shareholder will be comforted by the precedent that the company might spend more than TT$3.5m to defend the harasser, especially if (s)he is Chairman. And there is always the additional possibility that someone will orchestrate the firing of the victim, who dared to become a complainant.

All of that notwithstanding, if there is legislation and a clear policy, that will create the opening for a free and frank national conversation that can clarify expectations and define expected behaviours. It will also provide many of us women with the psychological security and the peace of mind that come from knowing that, even if we can’t avoid future face-to-face encounters with the worse kind of predator, someone in authority has our back.

Finally, it will help men and women refine the language needed to compliment without offending.

But the recent announcement by Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy simply does not inspire confidence that either satisfactory legislation or satisfactory policy will emerge soon. What I have seen of the document out of which, I assume, the announced policy is to come simply does not pass muster.

Here is a sampling of the gobbledegook that is currently floating around:

  1. “Various support services such as the Employee Assistance Programme are available for victims or complainants.”
  2. “National Policy on Gender and Development has been laid in the Parliament as a Green Paper for further comment.”
  3. ‘The policy document clearly highlighted the importance of the development of a Gender Just Society to attaining our Vision 2030 goals.”
  4. “Sexual harassment could lead to a hostile work environment and can make the victim feel humiliated or intimidated. Therefore, all employees must conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.”

Really, Madam Minister? Do you really think that stuff will cut it? I say that it won’t. I say generously that we would need all the refining capability of Petrotrin, Petrobras and PDVSA combined—and then some!—to be able to begin to transform that anodyne stuff into anything with the kind of oomph we shall need if we are to slow the advance of this sexual harassment juggernaut.

So if the Minister wishes us to take her announcement about action on sexual harassment seriously, her first step has to be advising her Cabinet colleagues to remove the Chairman of Angostura. She can do that tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be too soon to move against the former minister of sport and youth affairs, who must still benefit from the presumption of innocence. But once the all-female committee has reported and the facts are in the public domain, if the ex-minister’s name is not cleared, the Minister of Gender Affairs must throw the book at him. Publicly.

That is how we shall know that she means business, not merely because she announces that legislation is coming; talk, particularly in politics, remains cheap.

I also invite the Minister to keep both the former minister of sport and youth affairs and the Government-appointed chairman firmly in her sights and ask herself the following questions: What protection do alleged victims currently enjoy? What is likely to happen if an alleged victim goes to the Equal Opportunities Commission for redress? What are the resources an alleged victim must have at his/her disposal in order to be able to put up any kind of fight against the GoRTT, which has such a vast quantity of resources?

But the real question that the Minister must answer to give context to any talk about legislation is this: Are there any laws that will help if Government is going to use taxpayers’ money to fight taxpaying citizens and/or pay off victims?







Ending Sexual Harrasment!

How would things have been different for the Minister of Sports had the GOTT implemented a Sexual Harassment Policy throughout all State Enterprises and Ministries and piloted relevant Legislation? Women’s rights are human rights and once again this Rowley led government is failing us.

dennise demming

Our institutions are weak and failing daily. Sexual harassment policies are the exception rather than the norm. In developed countries the converse is true. Once again, the state has an opportunity to change this game by implementing sexual harassment policies throughout the Ministries and at all State Enterprises.

This administration led by Dr. Rowley can begin at Angostura Holdings Limited where he and his Cabinet appointed Dr. Rolf Balgobin as Chairman. However, before implementing the policy, Dr. Balgobin must be removed. Such action will signal to women that we can sit at the table as equals without fear of predators lurking and if they do lurk there is a system and process through which the matter can be determined.

This cry for action is not new. Recall “Die With My Dignity” by Singing Sandra. She was singing about sexual harassment in its worst form

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Not Condemning: Whoops, whaps, clap, clap clap, management by voops and vaps

Last week, on 20 March to be precise, the Chairman of the Tobago Festivals Commission which is responsible for Organising Tobago Jazz Experience 2018 (TJE) made the announcement of the headline acts. That gives patrons less than six weeks’ notice that international artistes Ne-Yo, Taurus Riley and Anthony Hamilton and Jamaica’s Tanya Stephens will top the billing for the event, carded to come off from Friday 27 April to Sunday 29 April.

And Chairman, Mr. George Leacock had the gall to tell us, with a straight face, that “negotiations are still ongoing” for “Another major act (which) will be announced soon.”
You can call it ‘lazy’ or you can call it ‘slipshod’ or you can call it ‘doh care’ or you can call it whatever you like; I call it plain ‘insulting.’ Period.
And I want further to address these three questions to Chairman Leacock: Why do you insult your patrons in this way? Are you and your organising committee so self-assured, so certain that Trinis, your declared targets, will jump through hoops to get to Tobago at any cost?  Or is it that, in these hard times, there is a big chunk of taxpayers’ money just waiting to be spent, no matter the outcome?
And the really important question that I have for Mr Leacock is this fourth one: If this was your money, Mr Leacock, would you behave exactly as you have behaved here?
This announcement and this vie-ky-vie approach is indicative of the deep level of fiscal irresponsibility which has been practised by the THA over many years. We’ve almost grown accustomed to the late announcements. However, when you consider the continuing unreliability of the air and sea bridges and the concomitant insecurity surrounding it, this year’s late announcement tells me that TJE 2018 is on the crest of a dangerous wave which is heading for a crash landing on the Pigeon Point shore.
In fact, even the additional funding which has traditionally been squeezed from State enterprises may now be at risk.
As recently as May 11 last year, there was a discussion in Parliament about TJE it was noted then that: “For 11 years, this Tobago Jazz Festival has been taking place with no revenue being generated. So every year the THA, and, by extension, the Central Government of Trinidad and Tobago, would spend $10 to $20 million in hosting this event. I think this year (2017,) it was $12 million, last year (2016) it was $16 million, and monies have been spent like this over the past 11 years to host this festival with no profits at the end of the day. No profits.
And it was recommended by the JSC that we probably should have the private sector be part of this initiative and take over the Tobago Jazz Festival and make it into a profit-making venture”.  (Refer to page 120 of the unrevised Hansard of 2017.05.11.)
Success at any undertaking of this magnitude is predicated on proper planning and discipline. The Minister of Tourism has identified the successful St Lucia Jazz as a comparator for the Tobago Jazz Experience.  Well, let’s see what qualifies as “proper project planning” in St Lucia’s case. This year’s St Lucia Jazz is carded for May. They launched their 2018 edition over four months ago in November 2017 and then announced the performers for their festival on March 10.
By comparison, what we have here in Tobago is, clearly, mere management by voops and vaps.
The Keith Nurse Task Force submitted its report since December 2017. It recommended, among other things, the enhancement of the “selection and procurement process” for engaging performers for TJE. The Tobago House of Assembly accepted those recommendations and agreed to establish a committee to ensure that TJE 2018 was staged in keeping with what the Task Force had recommended.
The fact that, full three months later in March, performers are just being announced is, in my considered view, nothing short of a dereliction of duty.
I point no fingers; responsible people within the relevant organisations will know where the buck stops and where the blame must lie. They simply have to take proper pause and begin to do things merely because it is the right thing to do.
Responsible people outside of the relevant organisations cannot in all conscience support continuing irresponsibility.
Sorry, Tobago, there’ll be no jazz for this Trini this year.
Not condemning, just commenting.


Not Condemning: Of sirens, blue lights, uniforms and abuse …

Monday 19 March, 3:54pm.  Charlotte Street. The shrill screech of a siren assails shoppers, motorists and pedestrians as a lone Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force vehicle bores a hole through the two-way traffic, forcing drivers to hastily squeeze to the far edges of the road, making room where there is none.

I have experience of questionable use of the siren by politicians, both newbies and veterans alike. I have experience of police drivers going for doubles, siren on full blast. I have experience of Fire Service officers with civilians in their vehicles clearing a path with their sirens.

But this is my first experience of a vehicle with a TTDF license plate being driven in this manner. I had always thought that the TTDF did not engage in such shenanigans. The scales have finally fallen away from my eyes.

Is this chaos desirable, I wonder, inevitable? How are drivers supposed to respond, especially in standstill traffic where there is really no room for them to make way?

How does a citizen know that the use of a siren is legitimate, justified? Where can (s)he find a listing of the conditions under which sirens are to be used? Does one exist? Is it merely at the discretion of the proud politician in the back seat or the peewat policeman, fireman or soldier who happens to be behind the wheel, uniformed or not?

If no such listing exists, are we not allowing—not to say encouraging—the blatant abuse now almost routinely visited on the road-using public?

I remain unconvinced that Monday’s Charlotte Street episode was necessary, legitimate or above suspicion. Well aware of the systemic necessity for what was happening across town at NAPA, as I viewed the tangle left in the wake of the siren-blaring TTDF vehicle, I found myself focused instead on the widespread systemic collapse we in T&T are experiencing.

Most—if not all—of our problems, have their roots, I heard myself thinking, either in the absence of appropriate systems, processes and procedures or in the shocking uncensored disregard for the ones that do in fact exist.

In general, citizens will follow where their leaders lead, will pattern their behaviour after the behaviour of their leaders. In Trinidad and Tobago, it appears, those in charge are blissfully unaware of the concept of leadership by example; they seem completely incapable of providing the good examples that our citizens desperately need.

It must be clear to all and sundry that, if the people you lead see you taking advantage of your position to enjoy some benefits, it becomes easier for the (wo)man-in-the-street to rationalise his own indiscretions, to decide that, in comparison to what the big boys are getting away with, what (s)he does is small potatoes, “small t’ing” and, therefore, okay.

And so we have the upward spiral, which sees the once minor indiscretions working their way consistently towards the top. And the instances of inappropriate behaviour are exacerbated by the absence of consequences; people are so convinced that nothing will come of any of their indiscretions that bandits no longer feel the need to conceal their features by wearing masks.

Even if we can’t arrest the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes we see ritually reported in the media, we might at least attempt to arrest the negative trends. The bandits, after all, are in the minority—still!—and the majority of the population is as hungry for positive change as we are for honest, decent governance in all spheres.

The dissemination of vital information is a good place to start and our leaders would do well to level the playing field and let us all know the rules of the game.

So, I think I can safely say on behalf of the road-using public, we will all welcome some clear guidelines about the use of sirens, whether they be on black official SUVs or TTDF vehicles or Fire Service appliances or police cars, marked or unmarked.

Not condemning, just commenting.