Democracy Dialogue held by the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, Port of Spain, 3 August 2018

Participants: 14 (13 female, 1 male) plus three media practitioners, two reporters and a cameraman

BACKGROUND

On Friday 3 August 2018, at the Professional Center, Fitzblackman Drive South, the Network of NGOs convened a Democracy Dialogue as part of the process of developing the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report 2018, on the theme of Reimagining Democracy.

The Network of NGOs’ Women’s manifesto of 2015 contained a demand for a constitutional reform embracing the principle of true democracy, including enforcement of laws against sexual harassment (SH) in the workplace, as essential in the thrust for the devolution of power and the insistence on a just society for all. SH is considered a matter of power relations to be addressed in the context of democratic rights and freedoms. That is why it was chosen as the topic for discussion at this Democracy Diaogue.

VISIONS AND CONCEPTS OF DEMOCRACY (What democracy means to you)

  • Everyone having a voice and it should not matter how large or small the group, everyone matters
  • Women having a real voice, equal rights especially for women in job placement and promotions
  • Democracy is a wasteful word and must be put in context as civil society must understand what their rights are and not have it imposed on them
  • Putting things in place so that people are able to “come to the table”, for example wheelchair access; braille for persons who are visually impaired and the inclusion of people from rural areas
  • Not achieved yet in T&T; we vote but do not have representation
  • Democracy is a loaded concept because of the different facets of democracy; the question was asked whether people understood their democratic and constitutional rights; are we practicing what we want to receive; and we should define for ourselves what is equity versus equality.
  • Democracy is an important word and we should explore what it is. We do not see the full scope of what democracy is. Every citizen should understand and we should value everyone’s contribution. No one entity should “own” what it means to us. “Every creed and race find an equal place” should be taken seriously. We should actionise/model what we say – “one man one vote” until we get there we are not democratic.

One word to define democracy:

Equality                Principles
Inclusion               Value
Rights                   Equity
Freedom                Power
People                   Voice
Representation      Respect

CURRENT ISSUES AND DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGES

  • Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) -The fact that there is no specific legislation speaks volumes with respect to democracy as it relates to SH. There is legislation already in place to deal with SH and amendments have been proposed. There are mechanisms via the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA), which mirrors the CARICOM Model Bill that speaks specifically to SH. There is no need for standalone legislation as this would be costly and inefficient. There are avenues to deal with the issue of SH effectively and efficiently, but this is not happening, it just needs to be formalised via the amendments to the EOA.
  • Repetition of behaviour because there are no consequences – we hide behind the closet but it has been happening for years, behaviour pattern of men is to protect themselves
  • SH seen as part of the culture, in that men approach women in ways in which women are left feeling indecent but the men act and believe it is normal not realising how the women feel.
  • It is also believed that the way some people are dressed is used as a reason for them to be harassed.
  • The MeToo movement definition of SH - Sexual harassment is any kind of unwelcome, uninvited verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature; it also extends to making offensive comments about gender in general—for example, saying offensive things about women as a group .– society is numb (Novocain numb). “In T&T we don’t appreciate the problem and don’t look for a solution – mechanism for research needed as we are trying to solve a problem in the dark”
  • Society is uncomfortable with subjects relating to sex – sex-related issues are no longer in the education system, it is no longer taught and some parents have issues with the topic being taught to their children– respectability politics, what is reasonable for a woman to wear etc.
  • SH at the workplace could be problematic depending on the needs of the person leading the worker to comply
  • Young people need to understand what they see is not necessarily the right thing
  • Shame and fear lead people to hide what happened to them, as well they are sometimes blamed for what took place.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS AND RESPONSES

  1. Address how women are portrayed in media, advertisements, and billboards on the streets
  2. Implementation needed – people need to be responsible for their actions, there must be consequences for actions which does not generally happen. There should be no confusion as it relates to domestic violence (DV) and SH – sexual harassment is mental discomfort while DV is fatal and physical
  3. Women sometimes contribute to SH against other women by aiding and abetting, which need to be addressed
  4. There must be mechanisms of support put in place.
  5. Governments come and go but work remains; we need to continue working towards change
  6. At present the EOC treats the issue under sex discrimination. Pursuant to the EOA, the EOC receives, investigates and conciliates matters free of charge; it is only when conciliation is unsuccessful that complainants decide whether they wish to take the matter to the tribunal.
  7. At present the EOC is in the process of making amendments to the EOA, which consist of amending the definition of sex in the EOA to include SH, providing definitions of what constitutes SH and creating a duty on employers to promulgate a workplace code/policy as it relates to SH.
  8. There is a role for the media which must be found and have them play their part
  9. We need strategic interventions
  10. Skill sets required to deal with the issue – around specific incidents etc.

UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES

  • What is the extent of SH in T&T – is there a trend? Is the situation looking better? If not, why is this? We keep running around in circles. To these questions an offer was made by a participant from MoreFM to allow the Network and the EOC in the first instance, and subsequently including others, to host a weekly or monthly radio series dealing with the issue. Orange Day, the 25th of each month was identified with the first to be held on August 25th or a day closest to it as that day is a Saturday.
  • Coalition-building involving youth-based organisations to take the campaign to social media