Twenty-six years ago, Radhica Saith published a book titled Why Not a Woman? It paid tribute to more than 100 women in Trinidad who had been making a difference in various spheres of life.
One of the women featured at the time was former government minister and mother of our current AG, Faris Al Rawi. For most of her public life, former Minister Diane Seukeran has been at the forefront of the women’s movement. She has stood solidly in defence of women’s rights, and it is unfortunate that her son is now a leader in an administration that is being accused of covering up sexual harassment.
Almost three decades later, the government has relegated sexual harassment to the status of a policy initiative and not a ‘peep’ from the women’s movement. Why are we complicit in this injustice? Our daughters and granddaughters will not forgive us. Were it not for the man Kirk Waithe, Rolph Balgobin may still be at Angostura and the current investigation into the Darryl Smith affair may have had a more muted response, with the minister of labour happily shunting off complainants to the Equal Opportunities Commission. Well, this is not good enough.
Nothing less than sexual harassment legislation will provide the women of this country with the systems and structures that are required for their safety in the workplace. I hasten to add that sexual harassment is not a gender issue but, for the moment, the women are falling short in their advocacy for this issue. Where are we? Why are we quiet on this issue? My late mother would have asked: “Cat got yuh tongue?”
Where are the more than 100 organizations who march every year for women’s rights? What is their view about sexual harassment legislation? The landscape is overflowing with commentary about Daryl Smith and who attempted to cover up what, while the substantive issue is being ignored. This sordid issue will play out as it will in the public domain, but what will happen to the persons who continue to be victims? Without legislation, this issue will recur again and again.
The only solution is the implementation of sexual harassment legislation. Governments past and present have demonstrated that whenever they wish to fast track any legislation, they can. Sexual harassment legislation in this country requires urgent and immediate attention, and women must step forward and make our voices heard. If the current prime minister wishes to recover from his analogy of women being like golf courses and, therefore, needed daily grooming, here’s an opportunity for him to get into emergency mode and pilot sexual harassment legislation in parliament. Only a foolish opposition would not support such legislation.
My optimistic interpretation of the resounding silence by women is that this is the calm before the storm. My optimistic view is that the women’s movement is at a breaking point and that this injustice will not continue. Women will rise and demand that the prime minister atones for his intemperance by making sexual harassment legislation part of the successes of the 11th Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.