Today’s Editorial February 16: Protecting our women

As could be expected, the bill of rights remains the most controversial aspect of the constitution voters will consider in the referendum scheduled for May.

Last week brought harsh words in the on-going debate on the constitution from Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts toward the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee. Those words brought a harsh response from HRC Chairwoman Sara Collins. Indeed, the bill of rights is an emotive issue here.

In the background of this latest bill of rights rift, a final report on a survey that took place two and a half years ago was finally released to the public. The results of that survey were shocking.

The report states that half of the respondents, most of whom where female, said they had been stalked at some point and that 40 per cent of them had been sexually harassed, often in the workplace.

Stalking most often involved unwanted, uninvited and repeated pressure for dates or a romantic relationship, while sexual harassment most often involved sexually suggestive comments, gestures or looks that were unwanted and uninvited.

More than 81 per cent of the stalkers were male, and more than 91 per cent of the sexual harassment offenders were male. Not unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the victims are female. Most of the respondents reported that the stalking or sexual harassment they experienced interfered with their daily lives in some way.

These things happen partially because, here in the Cayman Islands, in the year 2009, there are no laws against stalking or sexual harassment. That’s right: it’s perfectly legal to sexually harass someone in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter. And it’s perfectly legal to stalk someone as long as you don’t break any other laws while doing so.

Here we are, erecting monuments to women in Celebration Square to celebrate their great contributions to the formation and development of this country, and yet we don’t see the need to enact laws to help protect our mothers, wives and daughters from being sexually harassed or stalked.

Enacting laws would also send a strong message to women about their value in our society; tacitly allowing sexual harassment and stalking devalues women and at least subconsciously reinforces the notion that they are merely sexual beings.

Here we are, debating over who should have rights in the new constitution and yet we seem content to continue on with a system in which women are not assured by law the basic dignity of a sexual harassment-free workplace.

There will be some who will argue that stalking and sexual harassment are part of Caribbean culture. They are probably many of the same people who would argue that wife beating is part of the Caribbean culture.

It is past time for our government to give the women of this country some protection under the law by making stalking and sexual harassment – against men or women – a crime, just as it is in most civilised places on the planet.