Intensify fight against sexual harassment of females
Kaietuer News – June 23, 2006
Sexual harassment of females by males is one of Guyana ‘s most enduring and endemic social problems; it is imperative that right-thinking citizens intensify the fight against this shameful affliction.
Every day, in every sphere of social interaction, females of all ages — young girls, teenagers, wives, mothers and grandmothers — are the targets of unwanted, offensive, sexually-laced comments and conduct. In many cases, this harassment escalates into outright abuse if the victims rebuff or rebuke the perpetrators.
While it is unusual for female victims of sexual harassment to complain publicly, there is absolutely no doubt that such abuse is not limited to isolated incidents. In fact, females in Guyana are forced to endure so much of this type of harassment that it has become a full-fledged national issue. It deserves meticulous national scrutiny and a dynamic, socially sensitive response.
Sexual harassment of females persists in Guyana because many persons mistakenly regard it as something that is sometimes distressing and distasteful, but essentially harmless. It is not. It is a deadly serious form of abuse spawned by the worst aspects of gender inequality. It can leave deep, long-lasting psychological scars in victims’ minds, and it can engender a bigoted, abusive mindset in perpetrators.
One of the problems with sexual harassment in Guyana is that it is hard to define. The issue is steeped in subjectivity and controversy, because many persons do not have a clear idea what remarks and conduct make up sexual harassment. Therefore Guyana needs to establish a clear definition of sexual harassment that is widely known, understood and accepted by citizens.
Deciding what types of behaviour amount to sexual harassment usually depends on the context. For example, if a man tells a female colleague at work how good she looks it may be just a harmless compliment, but not if it is done by the man in a context in which the female could reasonably find the remark distressing.
Conduct that can be reasonably interpreted as sexual harassment typically includes unwanted touching of someone’s body, lewd comments, sexual jokes, and persistent flirting. It is sexual harassment if such conduct continues after it becomes clear that the person on the receiving end does not like it
There is considerable variety in what different women consider offensive. Some women are extremely tolerant of sexual comments and conduct directed at them, while others read sexual harassment in the most innocent words or actions. Therefore, it is necessary for Guyana to specify what sexual harassment is, within the boundaries of fairness and rationality.
Legislation to define and penalise sexual harassment should be explored with full consideration of Guyana ‘s unique ethnic, social and cultural conventions. It should incorporate appropriate mechanisms for public education about what constitutes sexual harassment as well as grievance resolution measures.
Sexual harassment of females is a serious problem and many women in Guyana are tortured by it daily. It is clear that many do not understand their rights, much less how to deal with this problem. Women’s organisations and other stakeholders must take action now to intensify the fight against sexual harassment in all its ugly forms.