It’s our duty to root out this problem

November 16, 2017 15:57

The disturbing revelations about sexual harassment in the film industry, politics and elsewhere have proved that there are few if any areas of working life which are immune to the menace of sexual predators and bullies.

If this scandal has told us anything, it is that action is necessary in our community as much as in any other in the country.

It is the duty of those of us in positions of responsibility to create an environment in which harassment cannot take root and to ensure that it is called it out when it does happen — whether it takes the form of inappropriate language, sexual assault or anything in between.

If there is a positive to be taken from the current outrage it is that a light has been shone on these murky waters. Both women and men have been empowered to come forward and speak about their experiences, thereby breaking the stranglehold of secrecy and manipulation upon which the harassers depend.

We need to promote the right conditions so that harassment will be reported and taken seriously when it happens. And we need to go further, by exploring mechanisms through which behaviours like these can be confronted.

Our community must be one in which everyone feels respected and protected; where high standards of behaviour are the norm and breaches are punished, not swept under the carpet.

Harassment thrives on inequality — notably where there is a deep power imbalance between men and women.

Even where this imbalance exists there is never an excuse for harassment. We must work for equality in our community and in wider society and women have to be properly represented throughout. As actress Emma Thompson said recently: “In Hollywood there aren’t nearly enough women in positions of power, and this gender imbalance is a big part of the difficulty.”

We also have to combat all types of abuse, whether in the workplace, at home or other places where it can remain hidden from view. For that reason, the Board of Deputies is teaming up with Jewish Women’s Aid and the synagogue movements for a cross-communal awareness-raising initiative on Shabbat November 25, the UN-designated day for the elimination of violence against women.

Whether it be sexual harassment in the workplace or violence and abuse at home or anywhere else, we have a duty to act.

Gillian Merron is chief executive of the Board of Deputies

November 16, 2017 15:57

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