Scottish Parliament launches new ‘zero tolerance’ sexual harassment policy

Written by Tom Freeman on 21 March 2019 in News

Parliament to crack down on sexist behaviours that 'perpetuates inequality' in new sexual harassment policy

Sexual harassment poster in Holyrood - Jenni Davidson/Holyrood

Staff at the Scottish Parliament, including all MSPs and their researchers, have been sent new rules around sexual harassment and sexist behaviour.

An independent reporting mechanism and “zero tolerance” approach will “foster a culture of respect which ensures a safe, secure and welcoming environment for all,” according to the document.

The policy is based on recommendations made by an internal joint working group on sexual harassment in December.

It follows calls for “urgent action” last year from the parliament’s standards committee, after a survey revealed a fifth of parliamentary staff had experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour – one in three women working in the building.

A confidential survey also found that 45 per cent of those who had experienced sexual harassment said it had come from an MSP.

The new policy includes rules against sexist language and behaviour because “it can create a culture where assumptions are made about people based on their gender and can perpetuate inequality. This behaviour degrades individuals and is not acceptable”.

It defines sexual harassment as comments, leers and gestures of a sexual nature, unwelcome text messages, physical contact or “persistent attention”.

Both those making a complaint and those accused would then receive ongoing support.

In a joint letter to all staff, Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and chief executive Paul Grice said: “Launching the policy and support service is of course not the end of the process. We need to make sure the new processes are working effectively and, importantly, how the change in culture and attitudes is being embedded.”

A spokesperson from Rape Crisis Scotland said: "This policy is good, and the fact that it captures sexist behaviour as well as sexual harassment hopefully means that it will be more successful in challenging the culture and inequalities that let these attitudes and behaviours thrive in the first place."

The issue rose to prominence in the wake of the #MeToo movement, during which Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald admitted inappropriate behaviour towards women. He quit the SNP to sit as an independent.

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