New Bill Introduced to Combat Sexual Harassment Across Belize

New Bill Introduced to Combat Sexual Harassment Across Belize

A new Bill to address sexual harassment was presented in the House Meeting today.  It is a Bill that will provide an avenue for justice for persons who have been victims of sexual harassment whether at the workplace or otherwise.  Minister of Human Development, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, explained that this Bill aligns with the changing needs in society.  These changes include harassment in the form of online photos, videos and messages.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development: “It’s been a long time in coming. This new act, because the old one was from back in the 1990s, but this bill, the new one, Madam Speaker, seeks to address and enhance measures concerning sexual harassment, aiming to update the existing law to meet the changing needs of society. Unlike the current Protection Against Sexual Harassment Act, which deals specifically with sexual harassment in employment, accommodation, and institutions. The new bill addresses sexual harassment also in the workplace, as well as other circumstances or business transactions. Madam Speaker, this bill includes the cyberbullying and photos and unwelcome messages that are now a part of the social media phenomenon here in the 21st century. But the bill also looks at sexual harassment, protection against sexual harassment and anti-sexual harassment when seeking or receiving goods and services. when seeking accommodations in transactions relating to real and personal property, while being a member of an association or organization, during employment or vocational training, and while seeking the services of an employment agency or an authority that is responsible for professional certification. Under the current legislation complaints of sexual harassment, Madam Speaker, are made directly to the Court. However, in this new bill, which we believe is progressive, the bill seeks to resolve complaints of sexual harassment through alternative dispute resolution where appropriate. If a person considers that he or she has been sexually harassed in any of the circumstances under Part 3 of the bill, that person is able to make a complaint directly to the employer or person in charge of the institution or organization where the sexual harassment allegedly occurred, who is then obligated to investigate the complaint and refer parties to the complaint conciliation or mediation if there is evidence of sexual harassment. This provides the parties with the opportunity to resolve the complaint without a trial and on terms that may be mutually acceptable. Madam Speaker to safeguard against bias and to ensure that a person alleging sexual harassment against a person that is not employed by the other person, the bill also allows for complaints of sexual harassment in those instances to be made directly to the court.”

Minister Balderamos-Garcia explained that the sexual harassment bill will treat complaints as a civil matter.  This gives the court the leeway to give awards for cost, damages and the likes.  She added the flexibility in the Bill allows recourse in a variety of circumstances.  Additionally, she noted that employers who fail to take action on a complaint of sexual harassment will also be liable.  

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development: “We are signaling the seriousness with which we take this matter. And believe me, Madam Speaker, this whole issue of sexual harassment is alive and well. And just as we are taking action in relation to the criminals in society, we also have to take action against those people who believe that they can get away with harassing people in a sexual nature. Other salient features of the bill would include the obligation of the employer to implement a sexual harassment policy and the bill provides a template for that, and to maintain a register of complaints made. Again, Madam Speaker, this would not be an apply to your mommy and daddy panades shop, but it would apply to large businesses. It will apply to government. It will apply to the private sector to make sure that across the board we are signaling that we are serious. We can also hold persons criminally liable for making a false complaint, so that we have to put in the law as well. And we also make it an offense to victimize a person who has made a complaint of sexual harassment or to pressure someone to engage in sexual harassment.”

It is to be noted that those who make false complaints will also face repercussions.

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