Nfld. & Labrador

What does harassment and bullying of women in politics look like?

Linda Ross says bullying against women in the workplace can take many forms, but usually it's ongoing behaviour demeaning someone.

Body language, disparaging comments all examples of workplace bullying

Linda Ross is the president and CEO of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

With this week's news that Newfoundland and Labrador veteran politician Eddie Joyce is being accused of harassment of at least one female MHA, it raises the question — what form can harassment of women take in the political sphere if it's not sexual?

According to Linda Ross, president and CEO of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, bullying against women in the workplace can take many forms, but it's usually ongoing behaviour demeaning someone.

The president and CEO of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women is calling for clear policies in the House of Assembly on harassment and bullying. (CBC)

"It's just overall disparaging comments around an individual. Whether it's a personality or body size or body shape, challenging any ideas you have," she told CBC's Here & Now.

"Women relate stories of being told to get back in the kitchen, or to go home and do their knitting and these kinds of comments that say, 'You don't belong here, this isn't a place for you.'"

Body language

Bullying isn't something that happens only in the schoolyard, with a bigger kid demanding lunch money from a smaller one.

In adult professional life, and especially politics, bullying and harassment can take a much more sophisticated form and is often conveyed in subtler, but still disparaging, ways.

Service N.L. Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh lodged an harassment complaint against Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Eddie Joyce, though no details have been made public. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

One such example is the body language that male politicians often exhibit in legislatures when a woman from the opposing party speaks, according to Ross.

"They'll sort of slouch back in the chair almost as if to be dismissive of whatever she has to say."

Culture of politics?

Ross said the argument that politics is meant to be combative and aggressive shouldn't be used as justification for harassing behaviour.

She said it's time for governments to develop clear policies and codes of conduct for elected officials, so that there are consequences when members cross the line from just being passionate about a cause into outright bullying or harassment.

Ross said having that type of legislation is the only way to ensure incidents aren't swept under the rug. With the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, she said people are just going to keep coming forward with individual complaints until a proper process is put in place.

"It's been going on for far too long, I think there's a lot of us that feel the light is being shone on that kind of harassing behaviour and it has to stop."

With files from Anthony Germain and Here & Now