Distressing findings

Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2000

THE findings by consultants that there is widespread sexual abuse among female employees in the timber industry should spur the authorities and concerned groups into some form of immediate action.

The report by the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD) is on major social issues yet to be dealt with in the forestry sector and the sexual abuse finding is a startling reminder of the conditions under which women live and toil in parts of the country.

The CARICAD report found that there are "widespread incidents of sexual abuse, demands of sexual favours, harassment or subtle pressures to comply".

Many female employees live in fear that resistance or protest can lead to dismissal or victimisation, the report said.

These are just not right and cannot be accepted.

What is also surprising is the finding by the consultants that despite union representation, persons still work in fear of being dismissed or victimised.

The report speaks of almost slavery conditions.

"Female residents at concessions are in a minority and tend to be pressured into relations that result in bearing children for different male partners," the study found.

It said that at a relatively early age women begin their child bearing responsibilities and it was fairly common to observe what appeared to be "teenage" parents with two or three children.

"A common complaint was the extensive manner in which women were subjected to sexual advances and harassment from employers, as well as co-workers," the consultants noted.

We expect that groups like the Women's Progressive Organisation, the women's arm of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the main partner in the PPP/Civic government, and others that have been in the forefront of women's issues, will be rallying to right this wrong as a matter of urgency.

Some kind of commission or working group should be set up to investigate further and to establish minimum acceptable standards for the employment and treatment of women in the sector.

And sanctions for breaches must be stiff if the conditions are to be meaningfully improved.

An important consideration the consultants noted is that the "relative isolation of the large scale concession places an employee almost at the complete `mercy' and `goodwill' of the employer".

The conditions uncovered in the study perhaps thrive more in the remote location of the operations and this means there will have to be special efforts at supervising these places.

Sexual abuse at workplaces is, from many accounts, certainly not confined to forest operations in the `bush' and there have been persistent reports that the practice is prevalent in and around Georgetown where women, including girls, have to endure the molestation to keep their jobs.

Women have exploded in recent years on to the job market and outnumber men in many places.

This makes them even more vulnerable to the abuse at the hands of men looking to exploit them and these is usually little recourse to prevent the abuse.

The findings of the study into the forestry sector prove that the monster is alive and well and steps must be taken to bring it down.

This is the start of a new millennium and it should be too the beginning of a fresh assault on an old monster.