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‘Law must change to enable gender equality’

Impact of violence: Laurie Shiell, from The Centre Against Abuse (File photograph)

Outdated vestiges of law that hearken to the island’s patriarchal past need to be systematically addressed, the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Women’s Issues and Unemployment heard last night.

Elaine Butterfield, from the Centre on Philanthropy, told the gathering that much of what she raised had been said before “over and over again”.

Emphasising the need to move from talk to action, she added: “Real change can’t happen without judicial intervention and sanction.”

She cited sections of immigration law, favouring foreign male spouses of Bermudians over female spouses, as one of many “highly discriminatory” areas of law that needed to go. A bureau of gender affairs needs to be implemented, Ms Butterfield said, and statistics — especially covering gender and employment — have to be greatly enhanced to identify areas in need of change: at present, even the number of corporate directors on the island is “completely absent from employment statistics”.

“Statistics show that women are generally better educated than men; yet men earn more than women at each level.”

Out-of-work women between the ages of 55 and 65 face a host of challenges, Ms Butterfield said, suggesting that the age of retirement needed to be raised.

“People are not only living longer, but they are in need of work to support themselves.”

Whatever the recourse, she said, “the point I want to bring across is how important it is that we move this beyond the conversation”.

Meanwhile, Laurie Shiell from the Centre Against Abuse outlined the impact of domestic violence on the workplace, where women have been stalked on the job and even murdered at their place of employment in the island’s history — down to a host of everyday problems from impaired work to sick leave and counselling because of an abusive partner.

She said the centre had seen 140 clients last year, 93 per cent of whom were female, and 98 per cent of those women had jobs.

About three quarters of women in abusive relationships had been harassed at work, and victims who left their abusers were 20 times more likely to be harmed at work.

Again, Ms Shiell suggested legislative change: adding policies to respond to domestic violence in the workplace to the Health and Safety Act or Employment Act and adding provisions to immigration law so that non-Bermudians in abusive relationships could be readily informed of the rights available to them.