Gabriela Morris slams ‘antiquated’ views linking dress, sexual harassment
Opposition Senator Gabriela Morris stirred controversy in the upper House on Friday, triggering a spirited response from government senators when she castigated Education Minister Fayval Williams for reportedly suggesting that a particular dress requirement for female students discouraged sexual predators.
In her State of the Nation address yesterday, Morris, who is also the Opposition’s youth spokesperson, highlighted what she said was a pressing issue that was a source of discontent in many schools at the beginning of the academic year.
She said that many students were locked out of schools at the start of the academic year last month, owing to hairstyle or dress code violations.
“Quite shockingly, the last thing that I think anyone expected in response to this issue was the adding of fuel to the fire by [a] minister of education who comments that a particular dress requirement discouraged sexual predators,” Morris said.
“It is disheartening to see that in 2022 there are those in our national leadership who still espouse the ridiculously antiquated view that a woman’s clothing has anything to do with her likelihood of getting harassed,” the senator charged.
Leader of Government Business in the House Kamina Johnson Smith rose to challenge the claims by Morris.
MISLEADING THE HOUSE
Citing a point of order, Johnson Smith said that Morris was misleading the House as the education minister did not make the comment attributed to her.
Leader of Opposition Business Peter Bunting also rose to dismiss Johnson Smith’s point of order.
“That’s what the newspapers carried and that is not what she said,” Johnson Smith continued.
“The point is that the minister stood on the side of discipline. I know that the issue is complex, but what the senator has just said is not what the minister said and should be withdrawn,” she added.
However, up to the end of the sitting, Johnson Smith’s request was not accepted by acting Senate president, Charles Sinclair, who instructed the Opposition senator to continue with her presentation.
Picking up from where she left off, Morris said, “Furthermore, the views expressed on this matter is a representation of the continued laid-back and half-baked approach that is taken to issues in the education sector.”
She called on Williams to clarify the ministry’s position and guidelines on grooming in schools to prevent students from being locked out of educational institutions.
Morris, the youngest Senate lawmaker, reasoned that the uniform battle needs to end and more emphasis placed on creating a fit-for-purpose education system that strives to prepare the nation’s children to thrive.
She said that the Government’s focus should be on stemming the tide of violence in schools, referencing the unfortunate incident in which a female student was stabbed to death by a peer at Kingston Technical High School on Thursday.
Morris also urged the Government to place focus on providing proper nutrition for students in schools and equipping schools with the resources to provide quality education.