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Push to give women majority sway on sexual harassment tribunal

Published:Friday | November 27, 2020 | 12:29 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Natalie Campbell-Rodriques
Natalie Campbell-Rodriques

A female lawmaker is strongly recommending that women comprise the majority of personnel on a tribunal under the proposed sexual harassment legislation now being reviewed by a joint select committee of Parliament.

Acknowledging that her view might be controversial, government senator Natalie Campbell-Rodriques took issue with feedback from the Bureau of Gender Affairs that the tribunal be equally divided between the sexes, arguing that women were disproportionately the victims of such abuse.

Sharon Coburn Robinson, a senior director of the bureau, made the revelation, culled from sensitisation sessions among 370 people, during a presentation to the committee on Thursday.

“While both genders are affected, we know as a fact, globally and within Jamaica, that women are affected more so, and, as such, I am wondering why are we going for a 50-50 balance, if that is not playing into the stereotype,” Campbell-Rodriques, a first-term senator, said.

“Fifty-fifty doesn’t mean balance, it means equal. For me, balance would be where more women are appointed to deal with an issue where women are disproportionately more affected by that issue.”

Coburn Robinson, however, maintained that the 50-50 balance was merely a suggestion that was in line with the proposed legislation that stated that at least half of the sexual harassment tribunal’s membership be female.

“I think the idea of trying to have a balance is that, if you look at the composition of the tribunal, it appears that it could be very largely male dominated,” Coburn Robinson said.

The tribunal would have a three-year tenure.

It also emerged that stigma surrounding same-sex harassment contributed to little, if any, reporting of abuse.

Opposition Senator Donna Scott-Mottley prompted the discussion, saying that many Jamaicans mistakenly believed that sexual harassment only occurred between men and women in the workplace.

“We did find that men were experiencing same-sex harassment, but, in some cases, they were reluctant to report because of the stereotypes and this cultural thing that men do not report abuse. They think they are going to be ridiculed and it is going to be trivialised,” Coburn Robinson said.

The Holness administration hopes to pass the legislation before the end of the parliamentary year.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com