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#MeToo movement open doors for T&T

Published: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017
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The cover of Time magazine featuring The Silence Breakers.

The announcement yesterday by Time magazine to name the Silence Breakers—a group of men and women who have been raising awareness of sexual harassment and assault on social media— as the 2017 Person of the Year would no doubt encourage and motivate citizens in T&T who have been sexually harassed to come forward and speak out.

This was the view shared by Powerful Ladies Organisation of T&T (Plott), Fixin T&T and Single Fathers Association of T&T (SFATT) that advocate against sexual harassment.

Silence Breakers which triggered the #MeToo hashtag followed sexual harassment and rape allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. It was identified as the fastest moving social change Time magazine had seen in decades which began with individual acts of courage by hundreds of women and some men who came forward to tell their own stories.

The movement began spontaneously in October after actress-activist Alyssa Milano tweeted “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write #MeToo as a reply to this tweet.

Co-founder of PLOTT Gillian Wall believes that the foreign-based group can encourage more openness and discussions on sexual harassment and gender violence in T&T.

“Sexual harassment is prevalent across T&T. It is very much part of our culture with many people not even understanding that they are engaged in it. It involves both men and women who feel uncomfortable in the workplace. I think the timing is right for this.”

Wall drew reference to Angostura’s chairman Dr Rolph Balgobin who was cleared in October of sexual harassment allegations made against him by a female executive of the company who has since been fired, which has been gaining a lot of attention.

Wall said in an environment where there is naming and shaming victims of sexual harassment tend to stay silent.

“If the women are so hesitant to speak out, just imagine for the men.”

Wall said T&T need to create more public conversations about the issue.

Head of Fixin T&T Kirk Waithe said T&T has to find some way for sexual harassment victims to come forward to share their stories like Silence Breakers.

He said for far too long many victims stay quiet and suffer in silence which gives the perpetrator the power to do what he/she wants.

“It’s an issue that we have to embrace and deal with. Ideally, it should start at the top...the highest office holder for us, but I don’t think this will happen. In the USA it started at the ground level with one person and looked where it has reached. It’s now attracting international attention.”

Waithe said raising such awareness has to start with the people. He said within the last few weeks sexual harassment in T&T has been on the front burner by NGOs, women’s groups and the business sector.

“Men have a critical role to play in all of this. Women need their support.”

Waithe also urged citizens to clamour for the immediate passage of sexual harassment legislation, which we lacked.

President of SFATT Rhondell Feeles said for Time magazine to recognise the group was a step in the right direction which would open our eyes to what is taking place here.

He said citizens tend to believe that only women are victims of sexual harassment.

“Men are victims too but they are embarrassed and ashamed to report it to their superiors far less the police. Now that the topic is being raised people are wondering if they are being sexually harassed.”

Feeles said people are yet to understand what is sexual harassment since there are a lot of grey areas.