Sexual harassment is a hot topic these days, what with Jamaican cricketer Chris Gayle under fire internationally for asking a female reporter out during a live television interview. The subject is fraught with controversy worldwide, and in Jamaica, it is no different. Women and girls are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment, everything from unwanted catcalls to physical intimidation. It is seen by many as ‘part of our culture,’ nothing more harmless than a man ‘looking a woman,’ with the implication that this attention should be welcomed. In fact, in some cases, resistance of these calls and innuendos in the streets can lead to a sound telling-off.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is also a serious concern, and for years, Jamaican lawmakers had promised to take legislation to Parliament to address the controversial issue. The first big step to having an anti-sexual harassment law on the books was taken in March 2014 when it was announced that a draft bill would soon be in the hands of Cabinet for its perusal. Last December, the Sexual Harassment Bill was finally tabled in Parliament.
The proposed legislation prohibits unwelcome physical contact or advances of a sexual nature, such as a demand or request for sex or sexual favours, and provides a framework for offenders to pay civil damages in court to persons whose feelings have been injured or who have suffered humiliation as a result of sexual harassment. It defines sexual harassment as “the making of any sexual advance towards a person, by another person, which is reasonably regarded as unwelcome, offensive or humiliating by the person towards whom the advancement is made.”
Here are some more notes from the Bill:
- A sexual advance is defined as “any one or more of the following acts, form of conduct or behaviour: physical contact of a sexual nature; a demand or request for sex or sexual favours; the making of sexually coloured remarks or sexual innuendos, sexual suggestions or sexual advances; the showing of pornography or the display of images or objects of a sexual nature; and any other physical, gestural, verbal, non-verbal or visual conduct of a sexual nature.”
- Conduct of a sexual nature in relation to a person “includes a reference to the making to, or in the presence of, a person, of a statement of a sexual nature concerning that person, whether the statement is made orally or in writing.”
- The Bill seeks to place the obligation on employers and persons in charge of institutions. Those targeted groups will have a duty to ensure an environment free of sexual harassment:
- Section 3(1) provides that an employer shall make every reasonable effort to ensure that his workers are not sexually harassed in the course of their employment.
- Section 3(2) provides that a person who is in charge of an institution shall make every reasonable effort to ensure that students, residents, ward, inmates, patients or members, as the case may be, of that institution, are not sexually harassed. A duty is also imposed on these targeted persons to issue policy statements in writing concerning the prevention of sexual harassment, and for the protection of the vulnerable class of persons specified in the bill.
- The Bill also states that “a prospective employer shall not make it appear to a person seeking employment that (a) the offer of employment to that person or (b) the terms on which employment is offered, are contingent on that person’s acceptance or submission to sexual advances from the prospective employer.”
- A person who is aggrieved by the failure of an employer to act may make a complaint to the tribunal.
- Complaints are to be heard by a Sexual Harassment Division of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), to be established under the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA). Cases of sexual harassment may also be brought in the civil division of the Resident Magistrate’s Court.
- Sexual harassment as it relates to landlords and tennants is also covered. Claims in respect of sexual harassment at institutions or within the landlord and tenant relationship are to be brought in the civil division of the Resident Magistrate’s Court.