Feedback sought on sex discrimination law

The government is inviting public feedback on the draft of a new bill that aims to combat sex discrimination.

sex law

Juliana Oconnor-Connolly

A draft Prevention of Gender Discrimination Bill 2010 was released Friday and for the first time addresses such gender issues as sexual harassment in the workplace and job advertisements that specify male or female applicants.

‘Women’s rights have progressed considerably during the past three decades, but there are still major obstacles that prevent gender equality from being achieved,’ said Deputy Premier and Gender Affairs Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.

‘Given the far-reaching effects that this important piece of legislation will have on employees, employers and other bodies, I encourage the public to review the draft bill and provide their comments to the ministry,’ she added.

Under the new law, women must be paid the same as men for doing the same job and a person cannot be prevented from becoming a partner in firms based on his or her gender.

The law also protects the right of pregnant women at work, and expands the definition of marital status to include a couple that is living together, but not married.

Religious bodies whose tenets or doctrines call for a specific gender in a role are excluded. Other exemptions include jobs where a specific gender is called for, for example, an actor or actress in a dramatic role; where the employee is expected to deal with people of the same sex, e.g. changing room attendants; or in jobs where employees share sleeping quarters.

Anyone who breaks the new law is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000. The law also entitles a victim of gender discrimination to sue an employer for damages and to be reinstated to a job.

The law extends the United Nation’s Convention on the United Nations’ Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty to the Cayman Islands through the United Kingdom.

CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The UK ratified the treaty in April 1986.

Senior Policy Advisor for Gender Affairs Tammy Ebanks-Bishop said that despite advances, much remained to be done in Cayman before the principals of gender equality became the national standard.

‘Acceptance of this bill will be a positive step towards ensuring the extension of CEDAW to the Cayman Islands; that will be yet another gain for women’s and girls’ rights on a practical, everyday level,’ she said.

‘However, serious human rights violations against women still occur daily, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination due to maternity status or unequal pay for the same work as males,’ Ms. Ebanks- Bishop added.

The legislation addresses the issue of sexual harassment for the first time, defining it as ‘the performance of work, which is threatened or imposed as a condition of employment on an employee or which creates a hostile working environment for the employee, being conduct…which violates the dignity of the employee or intimidates, degrades, humiliates or offends the employee; and…which may reasonably be considered as violating the employee’s dignity or intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offending the employee.’

A survey by the Young Business and Professional Women’s Club carried out in 2006 showed that of 270 respondents who said they had been sexually harassed, 44.3 per cent said they had been sexually harassed at work.

The draft Prevention of Gender Discrimination Bill can be viewed on the government website, Members of the public have until 31 January to submit their comments on the draft bill.