After years of appeals and lobbying, this country is today one step closer to establishing laws that will make sexual harassment a crime.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday told Guardian Media he will be proposing amendments to existing sexual offences laws, which will radically change how such acts are dealt with before the courts.
The AG says the suggested amendments will be wide-ranging and encompass everything from cat-calling in the streets, sexual harassment in the workplace, voyeurism, internet predators and even abuse in relationships. They will be presented to the public for consultation before going forward. The ultimate aim, the AG says, is offering protection to women and girls, who have been vulnerable to these offences for decades.
The proposal also comes as Cabinet gets set to deliberate pepper-spray being legalised.
All of this is indeed welcomed news from the Government, particularly at a time when gender-based violence and abuse and brutality meted out to women and girls have been in the spotlight following the murder of Andrea Bharatt.
Although this country has a National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment, many activists have complained it lacks the teeth needed to stop what for some has become almost a culturally accepted practice.
But therein lies part of the challenge … changing the cultural norms.
Laws, no matter how punitive they are, may not always deter someone from committing a crime.
That’s where the need for education and awareness comes in.
In this regard, the Office of the Prime Minister (NACC, Gender and Child Affairs) must be commended for doing its part by encouraging men to change their thinking when it comes to women and girls in society. Through its social media pages, it has been promoting webinars and discussions to facilitate this transformation. Such public awareness campaigns are just the start of a much needed national shift to truly end sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Women must also be motivated to speak out and speak up about sexual harassment if men and society are to understand the gravity of the emotional trauma it causes.
However, while the proposals are all steps in the right direction, such an important issue should not have taken this long to get off the ground. Furthermore, the suggested consultations should happen sooner rather than later.
Too many women have and continue to suffer in silence and live in fear because of sexual harassment in their communities, workplaces and in the streets.
Many are denied jobs and advancement in their careers because they have denied the wiles of men who see them as nothing more than sexual objects of sexual desire. Too many also continue to be at the mercy of men, who walk around with the erroneous notion that women are subservient and should be at their beck and call.
While the Attorney General and Government must be commended for their attentiveness to the issues and their efforts, any further delay in implementing these critical legislation could literally be life or death for an unsuspecting woman or girl in this country.