On 9 April 2018, I blogged: “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 government is failing us.”
Eighteen months later and there isn’t even draft legislation. So, it means that in the next session of parliament, a strong lobby will have to be mounted to make good for this failure of the 11th Republican Parliament.
Here’s an opportunity to insist that any political party that intends to sit in the 12th Republican Parliament must first be clear about piloting sexual harassment legislation. This is not wishful thinking; it’s a key requirement if we are to achieve gender equity in this country. In 2017, the government of Barbados enacted an Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Act, so it isn’t that complicated, and quite doable if we set it as a priority.
If there was legislation in place, the Darryl Smith issue would have been dealt with in a court of law, and there would be no question as to what the real agenda is at play. In refusing the freedom of information request by Kirk Waithe, the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister wrote: “Senior Counsel has advised that these requests as formulated, do not comply with the Freedom of Information Act” and provided verse and chapter about how the request does not comply.
When this government does not wish to satisfy a citizen’s request, it usually resorts to the legal position. What is so interesting in this report that it cannot be released? Who or what is being protected? Is there a principle here that escapes me?
I am not surprised because early in this sordid episode, the reference was made to a non-disclosure agreement, which signalled to me that hedging had begun. It turned out to be just another attempt to suppress the report.
You might be tempted to say that this is a personal matter, but I beg to disagree. The minister was, and still is, a member of parliament (ie being compensated with public funds) and was allegedly engaging in sexual harassment while he was a minister of sport. The alleged victim was also employed by the government, so public funds were being utilised. Since the public continues to underwrite the MP’s existence, it’s reasonable for the report to be made public. This cannot be seen as a private matter.
So what if there are embarrassing details about the former minister? He should have used his brain to temper his actions. It’s important to send a message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated from whatever quarters it emanates. There are times when leaders must do the right thing, and in this case, the right thing to do is to release the report.
It’s even more important that action is taken to encourage victims to speak out on these and other issues. We must remove the fear of backlash, and that can only be done by building the appropriate systems and structures that will support all victims.
For our society to grow, we must nurture an environment in which people are unafraid. Once fear becomes ingrained, we will be in a very dark place and our freedoms and rights will be trampled upon.
Release the report, Mr PM.