[Documents menu] Documents menu

'Sex' Laws

By Terrel Yearwood and Dawn Morgan, in the Barbados Daily Nation,
Sunday 27 August 2000

LEGISLATION AIMED at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace will soon be on the statute books of Barbados.

Minister of Labour Rudolph Greenidge, acknowledging that Barbados was far behind other countries in this regard, promised strong legislation to protect Barbadian workers.

He was at the time addressing yesterday's opening of the 59th Annual Delegates"Conference of the Barbados Workers' Union at Solidarity House.

The sexual harassment legislation was among a number of areas being looked at in the new draft legislation.

And over at the Grand Barbados Hotel, attorney-at- law Jacqueline Cornelius told a gathering of magistrates, lawyers and researchers that"rough and commonplace talk, or picong, sexual innuendoes and sexual touching"which constituted sexual harrassment were not necessary, or desirable aspects of Caribbean life and they were certainly not acceptable in the workplace.

"That is a myth,"said Cornelius, who was speaking at the UNIFEM/UWI Sub-regional Roundtable on Gender and Human Rights.

Cornelius said:"Sexual harassment is a question of discrimination. It is not about the tender sensitivities or lack of humour on the part of the victim."

One of the most common forms is the"quid pro quo"situation of"work for work"or"something for something'. In this type of"sexual blackmail"the victim has to agree to sex in order to get or keep a job, or receive a promotion.

"More insidious"and difficult to provide evidence of, is when"a hostile work environment"is created in which the worker, usually female, feels threatened.

This scenario can include: insults, remarks, jokes, insinuations, unnecessary physical contact, inappropriate comments on body and dress, questions about sexual activities, and unwelcomed and persistent invitations for sex.

Because of fear of economic hardship, anecdotes are whispered among women, but victims seldom seek justice from unions or employers. In cases where they do report it, women often end up demoted or dismissed, while the perpetrator keeps his job.

Last night Corneilus said she was happy to hear of the proposed legislation to deal with sexual harassment.

However, she said there should also be a public education programme which would sensitise the public to what harassment is.

She also urged employers and employees to view the legislation with an open mind."It isn't Government wanting to interfere in a person's private relations, but the state has a duty to protect citizens against discrimination,"she said.