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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