[WATCH] No sexual harassment policy at national sports agency

Sexual harassment conference hears how sexist and patriarchal society needs to change • SportMalta chief executive admits it is 'a shame' the agency has no sexual harassment policy

Gender equality veteran activist Marcelline Naudi
Gender equality veteran activist Marcelline Naudi
Marcelline Naudi

SportMalta has no specific policy dealing with sexual harassment, a conference heard on Monday.

Chris Bonett, CEO at SportMalta, said the agency did not have a clear policy and it was "a shame" that there was none.

He was answering a question at a conference held in Valletta on sexual harassment at the workplace and the social context organised by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality. Bonett was one of the panel speakers.

He said the sports sector went through a bad phase in relation to sexual harassment, citing the case of the gymnastics coach in US found guilty of sexual harassment.

“I do think that the sector does have a conservative and patriarchal mindset, and women are forced to deal with very masculine figures in power,” he said, adding that unfortunately there are people who abuse of this position.

“We don’t distinguish between men and women as athletes. There are athletes who have been through traumas and the government is working on measures to make amends," he said, adding a new law to replace the outdated Sports Act was being drafted.

“The respect of both genders, and athletes in general, will be enshrined under the new law. We are hoping that it will be concluded by next year," Bonett said.

Bonett said that while he is not aware of sexual harassment cases in sport coming out in the public, "it does happen".

Marceline Naudi, senior lecturer at the University of Malta’s Gender Studies department and women’s rights activist, said sexual harassment does not exist in a vacuum but relies on patriarchy, inequality and sexism.

“The patriarchy requires men to have power everywhere – in the home, at work, and in holding social privileges. It is found everywhere, and is reflected in the way society is organised,” she told the conference.

Naudi noted that most contemporary societies were patriarchal, built on the notion that men are better and more capable than women. This is what ultimately leads to harassment and rape, she said.

Naudi was chairing a panel during a conference on sexual harassment, where she presented an online platform – the Everyday Sexism Project – on which women can report instances of sexism experienced on a daily basis.

“Our society, which is sexist and patriarchal, needs to change,” she said, providing a number of practical solutions. She urged women and men to "challenge harassment whenever we see it".

Naudi said more work had to be done for power to be shared in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and better implementation of laws and policies.

Miriam Teuma from Agenzija Zghazagh said that although improvements did happen, the behaviour of young people proves that there is much more work to be done, and the problem is further compounded due to social media.

Lorraine Spiteri of Maltese Confederation of Women’s Organisations (MCWO) cited a report by an inter-parliamentary union which found that women in parliaments abroad experience sexual harassment – not only from fellow MPs, but also on social media. This keeps women from coming forward, and participating in public and political life. “Not all men harass, but all men were born in a society in which if they do harass, they can get away with it.”

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