High Court Judge Madam Justice Jacqueline Cornelius is lamenting the lack of progress in passing legislation against sexual harassment in Barbados.
Delivering a lecture in observance of International Women’s Day last Friday, Cornelius complained that after 15 years of discussions, drafting and consultations, legislators had yet to enact the law.
“The proposed legislation is confined to sexual harassment in employment, and the draft policy defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature negatively affecting the dignity of persons at work, or makes an unfavourable impact to their work opportunities or their wellbeing at the workplace,” she explained.
“It includes quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. The quid pro quo harassment is often called sexual blackmail because compliance is demanded in return for economic advantages or the avoidance of employment detriment,” she noted.
The lecture entitled, What do women want? Recent Legal Developments and Women’s Lives in Barbados, was held at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and was organized by First Caribbean International Bank in collaboration with the UWI and Institute for Gender and Development Studies.
According to the judge, the draft bill describes a hostile work environment as “occurring where a fellow employee makes unwelcome sexual advances or an unwelcome request for sexual favours from other employees, or engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and these advances unreasonably interfere with the person’s work performance or creates an intimidatingly hostile or offensive work environment”.
She noted that while both men and women could be subjected to such harassment, it was likely that women were most affected.
“Experience has shown that overwhelmingly it is the abuse of male economic and sexual power [that] undermine overwhelmingly female economic security, personal integrity and safety. Women are particularly vulnerable because of their lower earning capacity and poverty,” she observed.
The judge pointed to the example of the National Union of Public Workers, which called for sexual harassment legislation two years ago following several complaints from public sector workers.
“The general secretary then claimed to have been surprised that he was getting complaints from both sexes and that we don’t highlight or talk much about them, male victims of sexual violence harassment. But we need to look at this and at the whole question of violence in the workplace.
“The minister assured the union that sexual harassment legislation was at the top of her ministry’s agenda, where it has indeed been for the last 15 years.”
At least five other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries – Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago – have laws against sexual harassment.
“There is strong disappointment that Barbados has yet to join other territories in the Caribbean as recognizing this as a form of gender-based violence,” Cornelius said.