A recent study shows that approximately one-fifth of all workers in Barbados have fallen prey to sexual harassment on the job.
The study was conducted six years ago by researchers Marsha Hinds-Layne and Dr Dwayne Devonish of the University of the West Indies.
However, its findings are only now being made public, amid widespread national debate over the proposed Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, 2017, which was piloted by Government in the Senate nearly two weeks ago with a view to stamping out harassment of all kinds in the workplace.
Under the Bill, which has already been approved by the Upper House, but is still under active discussion in the Lower Chamber, the “use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person” may be considered sexual harassment, so too “the initiation of uninvited physical contact with a person; the initiation of unwelcome sexual advances or the requests of sexual favours from a person; asking a person intrusive questions that are of a sexual nature that pertain to that person’s private life; transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind; making sexually offensive telephone calls to a person; or any other sexually suggestive conduct of an offensive nature”.
In the recommendations that followed their 2011 study, Devonish and Hinds-Layne had called for implementation of “comprehensive and balanced” sexual harassment legislation “as a means of curbing this growing problem and offering protection for those most vulnerable in the organizational context”.
In all 502 employees in the private and public sectors completed questionnaires, with 37 per cent of respondents reporting that they had witnessed sexual harassment in one form or another at work.
In the majority of cases – 28 per cent – the perpetrators were males and the victims females.
However, while a quarter of respondents said they were subjected to sexual remarks and pet names, a fifth of them said they had actually fallen victim to “touching and fondling” and were subjected to “unnecessary sexual gestures” on one or two occasions.
In terms of age, the study found that persons between 46-55 years were significantly more likely to fall prey to sexual harassment on the job than to those in the younger age categories. However, sexual harassment was said to occur regardless of sex, job level, employment status, sector of employment, educational level, or nationality.
Participants in the study were drawn from the retail/wholesale (20%), tourism and hospitality (5%), financial and banking services (10%), business and professional services (6%), community, personal, and social services (5%), educational and cultural services (8%) and manufacturing (3%).
The majority of the respondents were female (65%), between the ages of 26 and 35 years (35%), with tertiary level education (65%) and permanent employment (54%).
In terms of reporting intentions, about 54 per cent of respondents indicated that they would report sexual harassment at work to the authorities, but more than a third of them were unsure.
However, women (62%) were more likely than men (39 %) to report sexual harassment in the workplace, so soo respondents in the 36-45 age group, compared to those in the 21-25 age group.