Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, says that legislation aimed at combatting sexual harassment in Jamaica is not about emasculating men or removing the ability to flirt or start new relationships.
“It won’t stop women who like to flirt from flirting, and it won’t stop women who like you, from giving you the signal so you know you can make a move. It is about the ones who don’t want it, quite simple.
“It is about knowing that if you are in a workplace or institution for a purpose or seeking quiet accommodation, enjoyment of your accommodation, you will be protected against unwanted sexual advances,” she said.
She noted that there are many people who do not fully understand sexual harassment, often equating it in their discourse with flirtation, and as such, public education is critical.
Senator Johnson Smith was opening the debate on the Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act 2021 in the Upper House on Friday (September 17).
She said that the legislation represents a significant milestone in the country’s journey of seeking to provide improved protection to women and men from sexual harassment in places of employment, institutions and in respect of accommodations, whether business or residential.
She noted that the language of the bill is gender neutral.
Senator Johnson Smith informed that the results of Jamaica’s Women’s Health Survey 2016 indicate that 24 per cent of women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime. “That’s one in four women reporting, so we know that it’s likely higher,” she contended.
She noted that while there is not a lot of data in Jamaica about the impact of harassment, where such information exists, “the evidence is clear that exposure to sexual harassment leads to physical, psychological and professional consequences for individuals. Anger, stress, feelings of powerlessness, degradation, depression, anxiety and increased alcohol use are all among the outcomes documented of sexual harassment”.
The Sexual Harassment Protection and Prevention Bill contains provisions for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, schools, correctional institutions, places of safety, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric facilities, among other places.
The legislation also requires that institutions have in place a sexual harassment policy statement within 12 months of its implementation. The Bill also provides for the widening of the categories of persons who can be sexually harassed.
In addition, an employer or a person in charge of an institution has a duty to keep and maintain a confidential register of sexual harassment cases.
Such a register will detail all information relative to a sexual harassment complaint, to include the name of the parties to the sexual harassment claim, the particulars of the sexual harassment claim, the date on which the sexual harassment claim was lodged, any action taken by the employer or person in charge of an institution in relation to the sexual harassment claim, and such other particulars relating to the sexual harassment claim as may be prescribed.
The debate in the Senate on the Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act was suspended until October 1.