Sun | May 24, 2020

Outlaw catcalls in sex harassment bill, says lobbyist

Published:Thursday | January 30, 2020 | 12:19 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

The parameters of Jamaica’s Sexual Harassment Act 2019 should be broadened to outlaw sexual harassment on the streets, including catcalls, an AIDS and gender advocate has said.

Policy and advocacy officer of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), Patrick Lalor, also recommended to a joint select committee yesterday that the proposed law also proscribe stalking as a form of sexual harassment.

Lalor said the proposed legislation, in its current form, provided protection from sexual harassment in workplaces but left women vulnerable to unwanted attention and aggression in public spaces.

“This is important as there is much evidence to show that street harassment is one of the most frequent forms of sexual harassment,” said Lalor.

“I want to suggest that it is not for us to decide that if persons are being violated because it’s culturally acceptable that we should ignore it. I think it is the duty of the legislature to find ways how we can address these concerns that have brought cultural implications.”

The JASL put forward a 13-point list of recommendations in yesterday’s presentation.

In pressing for the measures, Lalor cited data showing that approximately 68 per cent of harassment occurred on the street and called for lawmakers to protect women and girls in spaces where they were most susceptible to intimidation and attack.

“We find people having to change their route and mode of operation, going to a different supermarket each week simply because they are trying to avoid passing the garage, passing the bar where the guys hang out to avoid being harassed,” Lalor said.

Government Senator Dr Sapphire Longmore agreed with the JASL policy and advocacy officer, arguing that there was need for national consensus that women ought not to be targeted on buses and taxis. She called for a culture change rejecting unsolicited attention from the operators of public transport, including bus conductors.

ring-fencE vulnerable groups

“It is a very serious and critical issue. I heard of a scenario where a 15-year-old girl was constantly harassed on her mode of transport, that the mother was in tears trying to figure out how she would get her daughter to school safely because of what she was facing on a daily basis,” Longmore said.

Further, the JASL lobbyist has urged that sexual harassment legislation be more explicit in ring-fencing vulnerable groups.

“Sexual harassment has a power dynamic at its core that constantly reminds historically marginalised groups, such as women and members of the LGBTQ community, of their vulnerability to harassment,” Lalor said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, who chairs the committee, said that the specially created tribunal to which cases under the new law would be adjudicated would be “properly resourced”.

The secretariat, she said, would be housed in the Bureau of Gender Affairs.