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EDITORIAL: Perils of sexual harassment


EDITORIAL: Perils of sexual harassment

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UNWELCOMED TOUCHING, telling dirty jokes, sexting, displaying sexually oriented posters on notice boards and propositioning subordinates are the stock in trade of supervisors who sexually harass colleagues.

That centuries-old pattern of odious behaviour often elicits the unacceptable excuse “Boys will be boys”, meaning it’s okay for men to make advances to women in exchange for a romp in bed.

Such inappropriate conduct should have been outlawed decades ago in Barbados. Now, relief and sanctions may be around the corner. 

Dr Velma Newton, a highly respected University of the West Indies law professor who is the regional director of IMPACT Justice, explained in a recent guest column in this paper that Barbados was preparing legislation designed to provide both women and men with protection against sexual harassment. We can’t wait for it to be enacted into law.

Courts in and out of the Caribbean have defined sexual harassment as unwelcome verbal requests and or physical conduct that link hiring, promotion or compensation to sex.

It’s an insipid quid pro quo masterminded by people in authority, such as the teacher who gives students excellent grades or a pastor who promises to make a worshipper the superintendent of the Sunday school in exchange for sexual favours.

The nightmare harms its victims. Many, especially women, quit jobs, feel humiliated, suffer a loss of professional reputation and are cheated out of higher wages, all because they refused to sleep with the boss. Domestics in private homes have been prime sufferers.

Barbados’ National Organisation of Women has demonstrated against it. Companies and non-governmental organisations are also hard hit. High absenteeism, declines in morale or the imposition of civil penalties by the court are penalties that hurt employers.

That’s why everyone must be proactive and shouldn’t ignore complaints from employees and others. They shouldn’t wait for enactment of the bill in Barbados to take action. Guidelines must be developed and made known to everyone about improper behaviour.

Does that mean office romances are completely out of the question? Not at all. For one thing, courts have recognised they are common in contemporary life on the job. For another, openness and care can ease tensions and confusion in the workforce. 

What’s clear, though, is that male or female bosses shouldn’t be a jerk.