Bureau of Women’s Affairs Wants Anti-Sexual Harrassment Law


The Bureau of Women’s Affairs is lobbying for the implementation of legal recourse for persons who have been subjected to, or who could become victims of sexual harassment, and to this end, the Bureau hopes to submit an Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill to Parliament by July of this year.
Faith Webster, Acting Director of Policy and Research at the Bureau of Women’s Affairs tells JIS News that the Bureau is presently in the process of drafting a legislative Bill to address the issue of sexual harassment in the Jamaican workplace as presently “we don’t have any laws here” to deal with such incidents.
Mrs. Webster says while no research nor any wide survey had been conducted to indicate how prevalent sexual harassment is, “informal reports that have come to the Bureau and even through other women’s groups would suggest that it is of concern and sexual harassment in the workplace is increasing.”
As a means of being responsive to this worrisome trend, she notes that the Bureau of Women’s Affairs is in the process of drafting legislation that will seek to cover sexual harassment in the Jamaican workplace.
“With assistance from the Legal Reform Department,” she discloses, “what we have done is tried to look at the pros and cons to see how it is that we can get our legislation in Jamaica tailored to suit our situation here.and what we have done so far is to look at the common features of sexual harassment that we want the proposed legislation to cover.”
Speaking further, she adds: “Within the definition of sexual harassment, the legislation is going to include harassment in employment what we term quid pro and the poison work environment.”
In the case of quid pro, Mrs. Webster explains it would involve situations whereby job benefits for an individual are made conditional on the basis of an exchange of sexual favours or physical contact and if one were to refuse, they can be discharged, disciplined or prohibited from receiving a promotion.
Discussing the poison work environment, she points out that “it is a form of sexual harassment which becomes unpleasant or unbearable because of a pattern of insults and sexual innuendos.” She tells JIS News that in light of the proposed legislation, the Bureau has hosted a consultation session with representatives of stakeholder organizations such as trade unions, the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, other women’s groups as well as financial institutions, after which an interim policy statement was drafted and revised. Other consultation sessions, she says, are being planned with the wider public to receive their views on the matter.
Notwithstanding the fact that women predominantly fall prey to instances of sexual harassment, both sexes are being covered under the anti-sexual harassment bill. Mrs. Webster stresses that “it is going to be a gender neutral piece of legislation because we recognize that even though we are the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, we utilize a balanced gendered perspective in analyzing and carrying out our work and we have to understand that sexual harassment occurs to men as well.”
Sexual harassment happens irrespective of a person’s gender, she tells JIS, as in many instances it was “all about power.”
“It involves the abuse of power by someone in a position of authority and so we recognize the fact that women can be in a position of power and authority and can also sexually harass a man,” Mrs. Webster concludes.
Sexual harassment, though wide ranging and sometimes difficult to define, is loosely categorized as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
The proposed Anti-Sexual Harassment legislation that is being drafted by the Bureau of Women’s Affairs is based on a CARICOM model, which was fashioned as a guide for countries within the region looking to formulate their own legislation.
Though intended for the workplace, Mrs. Webster says the legislation could also target educational and health institutions.
She says if the proposed Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill is passed, persons would be able to “get redress under this Act”.
The Acting Director of Policy and Research adds that another matter being discussed is making employers liable when their employees’ claims of sexual harassment go unchecked. Not yet finalized, she explains: “employers [would] have a duty and responsibility that if their employees report to them that they are being harassed and nothing is being done about it, they can be held responsible.”
Mrs. Webster tells JIS that currently, the only avenue through which victims of sexual harassment may be able to seek redress is under the Offences Against Persons Act under assault, battery or indecent assault.

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