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.

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