Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Laws of Eve | 'Stand up, speak up and spread the word'

Published:Monday | October 17, 2016 | 10:01 AM
A woman holds a placard as she joins others during a protest against the alleged sexual harassment of women in public buses in Bangalore, India, in 2013.

For this week's article, I wish I could have set out the full text of the speech of America's First Lady - Michelle Obama at a campaign rally in support of Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female president of the United States.

Speaking in Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 13, with her usual eloquence, Michelle Obama soared high above the low and degrading utterances that dogged all discussions for the past seven days arising from the release of lewd, offensive, and sexually denigrating comments about women.

 

SPEECH'S CORE SUBJECT

 

One comment encapsulates what the core subject of the speech was: "Strong men - strong men, men who are truly role models - don't need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together ...".

This was no ordinary campaign speech. It was a battle call for women to stand up for themselves and for strong men to stand up for women. In less than 30 minutes, Michelle Obama reinforced many points of law and values that are too often forgotten or overlooked, because no one takes the time to put them in their rightful place. I will highlight some of them below:

• "[H]urtful, hateful language about women" should not be tolerated. There is law to support that position, in that, protection orders can be obtained under the Domestic Violence Act in Jamaica to prevent even verbal abuse.

• "[E]qually assaulting women" is a crime.

• When ". . . a powerful individual [is] speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behaviour" or ". . . when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin", there is provision under sexual harassment legislation (just not yet in Jamaica) to address it.

• ". . . [T]hat feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them and they've said no, but he didn't listen" may be assault, battery, or rape for which legal sanctions can attach.

• Michelle Obama reminded us that we have come a far way from ". . . back in [the] day [when] the boss could do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough." Women are entitled to speak up without fear of discrimination, because there is a Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Jamaican Constitution that (among other things) protects women against discrimination on the basis of their gender.

• When Michelle Obama said, "we as women have all the power we need to determine the outcome of ... election[s] ...", it reminds us that Jamaican women have the hard-earned right to vote. Further, it is not a right to be trifled with, because it gives women the right to choose the leaders of our country who represent and protect the values that we hold dear.

I hope that my readers will take the opportunity to read or listen to the entire speech and apply the relevant aspects of it to your own lives to strengthen and empower all women to stand up, speak up, and spread the word that there will be no tolerance for behaviour and comments that demoralise women.

• Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.