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Monday 16 July 2018
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The tipping point?

It is funny how change happens.

I have often wondered, as I am sure many have, how to fast track social change. What kind of intervention is needed to shake up deeply engrained unhealthy social practices? The formula is elusive generally, but then bang! One voice sounds louder and clearer above the drone and suddenly, as others join in, the way we do things begins to shift. Slowly at first but decidedly and irreparably.

As my fellow columnist Raffique Shah has predicted, the impact of the #MeToo campaign has begun to hit TT with the result that the despicable practice of sexual harassment is being unveiled. There have been many times in the past when women have had the courage to refuse and challenge sexual harassment, but when significant (male) voices use their influence in support of those women, then the pace of change moves into another gear.

When individuals – women, men or children – who have suffered the injustice and indignity of sexual harassment attempt to seek redress, it can be surprisingly easy to relegate them to victimhood in your mind. It is an almost unconscious reaction because the complexity of the situation is too difficult or too bothersome to deal with. It is much easier to play a voyeuristic role, looking on with peripheral interest while quietly rooting for one party or the other.

Raffique Shah makes reference to “our cultural disposition,” by which I understand him to be talking about how pervasive sexual harassment is in this country. If that’s his point, I could not agree with him more. I have had my own #MeToo moments over the years–not to mention having to endure tiresome and offensive overt references to the pros and cons of employing a “red woman” as opposed to doing something else with them.

Apart from the ease with which sexual overtures enter into power relationships in this country, there is another aspect of our cultural disposition that appears to be changing, and that is the general unwillingness to get involved; to take a principled stand.

The most current public bruhaha over accusations of sexual harassment and the manner in which the accusations have been investigated is playing out in an interesting way. The statement issued by Peter George Jr calling for transparency and an independent investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against the Chairman of Angostura, Dr Rolph Balgobin, has the potential to fuel a significant shift in attitudes about sexual harassment.

When business challenges business to higher standards it changes the game. Kirk Waithe, who has long been vocal in demanding high standards of government, says he has withdrawn a contract with the besieged Angostura “on principle” pending the outcome of a “thorough transparent and independent investigation.” Importantly, the statement issued by Peter George Jr not only called for an independent investigation, which is an important principle itself, but it explained the importance of the issue to those most often affected by sexual harassment, describing the practices as the “odious part of society that must be addressed frontally and aggressively.” The tipping point for social transformation does not just lie in the admirable stance taken by two businessmen, it is in the prospect that change leadership is coming from the private sector.

Angostura is a household word uttered globally by Trinidadians with even more pride than “soca,” so to contemplate undermining the brand with a sexual harassment scandal must be weighing heavily on the decision makers in the board room. As a matter of fact, one would imagine there are powerful people all over the country who are feeling increasingly uncomfortable. At the same time, women in particular, but others also, are beginning to feel more comfortable with the prospect that merit may determine their future career growth rather than how they decide to dodge the mine field of sexual overtures.


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