Right Steps & Poui Trees


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No Written Rules Banning Sleeveless Dresses: An Access to Information Story

I look at the Gleaner this morning and see that the issue of the banning of women wearing sleeveless dresses is again in the news here in Jamaica. The Gleaner’s editorial entitled “Dressing Sleeveless in Jamaica” was sparked by social media commentary pointing out “that women in Jamaica could not dress like Mrs May to enter several government departments and agencies, including hospitals, prisons and schools.” This was a reference to the UK Prime Minister’s sleeveless attire in a formal setting during the official visit of the US President.PM May - Trump visit 7-2018

But we don’t have to go that far afield to show the disparity between what is accepted in a formal setting and what will get a Jamaican woman barred from entry to do business in some government entities. We only need to look at our own Governor General’s wife at the swearing-in ceremony of PM Andrew Holness at King’s House in 2016. She, like a number of women who attended, wore a sleeveless dress, which was perfectly acceptable attire for that very formal occasion. Yet wearing that same or a similar dress, I would risk being barred from entering some government ministries or agencies.

Back in May this year, someone shared the classic story of her elderly mother, a woman of high standing in the field of education in Jamaica, being barred from attending a meeting at the Ministry of Education recently because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Undeterred, she returned to her car, tore a hole for her head in a sheet of The Gleaner newspaper, returned with her arms covered in this way and was allowed to enter!

I have been interested in this issue for a number of years and have written a couple of blog posts about it and decided that I wanted to actually see the regulations that guided this sleeveless ban. So I made a request under the Access to Information Act to seven Ministries for

“any regulation/guideline/protocol/etc documenting the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”

I also made this request to one Executive Agency.

I made my initial requests on May 29 & 30. This week I received the response from the last of the bodies. Not one produced any document prohibiting the wearing of sleeveless dresses or blouses by female members of the public.

The Ministries & Executive Agency and Their Responses

The Ministries and Executive Agency I made ATI requests to were

  • Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport
  • Ministry of Education, Youth & Information
  • Ministry of Finance & the Public Service
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Labour & Social Security
  • Registrar General’s Department

I selected some of these Ministries and the Registrar General’s Department because they have featured in sleeveless banning complaints in the past; the other Ministries were included just to extend the range. Their responses are as follows.

Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport

June  5, 2018 – “In response to your request stated below under the Access to Information Act, I am not aware of any documentation from this Ministry regarding any regulation/protocol or guideline for the prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”

Ministry of Education, Youth & Information

June 8, 2018 – “The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) is pleased to grant you access. Please see attachment Visitors Dress Code.”

MOYC Visitors Dress Code ATI 2018

On June 11, 2018, I made two subsequent ATI requests. It is now more than 30 days since I made these requests and I haven’t received either an acknowledgment of them or any documents in response to them.
“1. I note that this document does not include “sleeveless dresses or blouses” in its list of prohibited wear. Is there any document that does?
2. The document sent seems to be a photograph of a framed notice at the Ministry. It includes the words “Signed Human Resource Management and Administration. Ministry of Education. 2009”. Are there any documents (minutes, memos, letters, reports, etc) relating to the issuance of this notice and the establishment of the dress code for visitors policy on which it is based?
Please regard this as a formal request under the Access to Information Act.”

Ministry of Finance & the Public Service

July 9, 2018 – I am somewhat heartened by the indication that the Ministry of Finance is currently reviewing its “practice of restricting access by females who wear sleeveless blouses or dresses”.

MFPS ATI response 9-7-18 sleeveless dresses

Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade

June 15, 2018 – “I hereby acknowledge receipt of your request dated Wednesday, May 30, 2018. The Ministry however, does not have any documented regulation prohibiting female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses when entering the Ministry to do business.”

Ministry of Health

July 3, 2018 – “Please be advised that we have undertaken the necessary research to respond to your request for any “regulation / guideline /protocol/document which guides the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business”.

To date no document has been identified or located. It appears that this is an unwritten policy that has been carried on over many years.
In pursuit of a concrete response we have sent the request to the Cabinet Office and continue to await their response.”

Ministry of Justice

June 22, 2018 – “Reference is made to your Access to Information application below, please be informed that no documents were found in support of your application.

Ministry of Labour & Social Security

July 11, 2018 – “Thank you for your application under the Access to Information Act, wherein you requested the Ministry’s Dress Code to enter its offices. Please note that the ministry in keeping with other Government entities established a Dress Code Guideline for its customers. The Dress Code prohibits:

  • Camisoles
  • Tube Tops
  • Merinos
  • Short Shorts
  • Mini Skirts
  • Low Cut Garments exposing the Bosom
  • Tights
  • Sheer (see through) Garments
  • Pants below the waist

It should be noted that persons are not prohibited from entering the building, as long as the clothing is not excessively revealing. Steps are also being taken to review this guide bearing in mind the Ministry’s stakeholders.”

The list included in the Ministry of Labour & Social Security’s response is displayed on printed posters at the guard house at the gate and in the lobby of the Ministry. It is delightfully ironic that the poster in the lobby has a piece of masking tape affixed to it, on which is written the word “sleeveless”!MLSS dress code poster 7-18 - sleeveless

Registrar General’s Department

May 30, 2018 – “The Registrar General’s Department does not have any formal regulation/guideline/protocol documenting the prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses.

We do however follow the general rule of most Ministries and Hospitals, which prohibit the wearing of alter backs, tube tops and spaghetti blouses.”

On May 30, 2018, I replied making a follow-up ATI request:

I’d like to make a request under the Access to Information Act for a copy of any document (memo, correspondence, minutes, report, etc) in the possession of the Registrar General’s Department that sets out “the general rule of most Ministries and Hospitals, which prohibit the wearing of alter tops, tube tops and spaghetti blouses” referred to in your email, which you advise that the RGD follows.

On June 11, 2018, I received the following reply: “The Registrar General’s Department does not have a written document, but there is an unspoken, unwritten dress code which is in force.

Please note with regard to Dress codes each organization sets its own policy, which can be written or unwritten. It differs and is dependent on the organization.

Our unwritten policy encourages our customers to dress in such a way, that shows consideration for other members of the public.”

(I remain somewhat puzzled at how the dress code can be efficiently communicated if it is both unspoken and unwritten!)

Concluding Comments

So there you have it. A small sampling of government entities.

  • 8 entities requested via the ATI Act to provide documents setting out “any regulation/guideline/protocol/etc documenting the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”
  • 6 out of 8 indicated that they had no such document.
  • 3 of those 6 gave some background or context for the unwritten sleeveless ban policy/practice.
  • 1 of those 6 made mention of some of the prohibited garments.
  • 1 of those 6 indicated that they had referred the request to the Cabinet Office for a further response.
  • 2 of the 8 entities sent the list of garments prohibited by their dress code. Neither of those dress codes specifically prohibited sleeveless dresses or blouses.
  • 2 of the 8 entities indicated that they were currently undertaking a review of the existing practice.

It is time that this practice – unwritten, unspoken (?), unjustified, whatever its origin – be officially abandoned and those Ministries and other government entities applying it recognise that a woman in a sleeveless dress or blouse entering their precincts will not bring government business to a screeching halt.

P.S.

A note on camisoles, tube tops, halter tops, spaghetti blouses mentioned by those dress codes supplied…they are different from sleeveless dresses and blouses.sleeveless collage

P.P.S.

Donkey seh di worl nuh level. I guess the Ministry of Education hesitated to apply the sleeveless ban to a former government Minister. No Gleaner newspaper needed to cover her bare arms?

Tweet 31-3-16 Flloyd Green & Lisa Hanna at Min of Ed

March 31, 2016 tweet

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More On Barbican Square Roadworks, Following An Access to Information Request

Blog pic for Barbican Square Roadworks 2Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety. In it I shared photos and thoughts about the safety risks posed to drivers and pedestrians by the ongoing roadwork being done in and around Barbican Square. I indicated that I had made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the National Works Agency (NWA) and promised to share any information I received in response. So, that’s what I am doing today.

I must say, first of all, that I am very pleased with the timely response by NWA. I wish all government bodies responded so quickly!

  • On Friday, March 9, 2018, I submitted by email my request for:
    1. All written regulations/guidelines/protocols/requirements for the provision of warnings/precautions/etc during road work/construction/repairs. This would include, for example, requirements for barriers, warning lights, reflective tape, cones, flag men, etc.
    2. Any requirements specifically for the construction now taking place in and around the Barbican Square area.
  • On Monday, March 12, 2018, I received an acknowledgement of receipt of my request.
  • On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, I received two documents in response to my request.

All of the responses were well within the time frames required under the Access to Information Act.

The Two Documents Received

  1. National Works Agency Temporary Traffic Control Template

NWA Temporary Traffic Control Template July 2015 versionThe document sent in response to the first of my requests is entitled the National Works Agency Temporary Traffic Control Template ; the cover indicates that it was last revised in July 2015. In six sections, it sets out the information that needs to be included when a temporary traffic plan for a project is submitted to the NWA.

An overview of the project is required…NWA template 1. 0 Project Overview

…and a list of “the responsibilities of key personnel involved in the development of the project” (2.0 TPM Team – Roles and Responsibilities). The Work Zone Impact Assessment (3.0) should include details such as the length of the project, whether road closures and detours will be necessary, whether any temporary structures will be needed to facilitate the movement of traffic and pedestrians, an assurance that there will be access for emergency vehicles, whether any utilities will be affected and what the hours of operation will be.

Section 4.0 refers to the traffic control devices to be used and recommends that planners refer to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices Section 6C. I haven’t yet found reference to a Jamaican document by that name and wonder if the reference is to a US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration document by that name. Section 6C of that document is about Temporary Traffic Control Elements and is certainly relevant. It specifically mentions that the needs of people with disabilities should be taken into consideration, the absence of which was one of my concerns about the situation in the Barbican Square area.NWA template 4.0 highlighted

It is somewhat ironic that the sample template given in the document uses Barbican Road as its fictional project.NWA template 4.0 - sample

Section 5.0 – Project Alterations – requires that if there are any changes to the scope of the project and additional work zones not in the initial Traffic Management Plan are added, the original plan must be resubmitted with all the proposed amendments. Section 6.0 gives a list of relevant terms, and an Appendix is required with all the sign dimensions and diagrams.

2. CHEC Traffic Management Plan for Barbican Road Improvement Project MIDP

The second document I received is entitled Traffic Management Plan for Barbican Road Improvement Project MIDP (Major Infrastructure Development Programme) and is a China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) document dated 28th September, 2017. It is stamped as having been received on September 29, 2017 by NWA Technical Services. CHEC Barbican Traffic Management Plan 28 Sept 2017

It is a six page document (including the cover) divided into three sections: 1. Profile, 2. General idea, 3. Traffic Management Plan. There are four diagrams in the Traffic Management Plan; this is the diagram on page 5.CHEC traffic management plan 28-9-17 p. 5

The details of the diagrams may be easier to understand when you look at the original document, as the images and legend are not very clear in the copy I received. The details of the plan may also be easier to understand if you are familiar with the project as a whole or if you have training and experience relevant to such planning and construction. I, however, come to this issue as a member of the public who had to travel through the area two weeks ago and was appalled by what I saw. And I find it difficult to understand from this document exactly what provisions were being planned to ensure the safety of people who would have to navigate the area by car or on foot.

I can’t easily tell what specific traffic control devices are to be placed where and when. I don’t know what the timeline for the four steps or phases are. I don’t know if the provisions of this plan were in effect or were supposed to be in effect on the two days I went through the area. What I do know is that on the days I drove and walked through, I saw no organised traffic management, one traffic sign in the vicinity of the Square and multiple hazards posing dangerous risks to both pedestrians and drivers.

The traffic management plan makes this statement: “We should set a flag lady on the flag zone to direct the traffic.” On the days I was there, I saw no sign of any flag lady or man directing traffic in any area of the work in the vicinity of the Square.

I don’t know if the NWA thinks that this Traffic Management Plan meets the requirements of the NWA’s Temporary Traffic Control Template. I don’t know if the NWA deems this Traffic Management Plan to be adequate for the scale of work being undertaken in the vicinity of Barbican Square.  I don’t know if it is representative of the plans generally submitted. I don’t know if there is any monitoring done on site to see if provisions laid out in submitted plans are implemented. I don’t know if the NWA has at any point evaluated the safety situation of the work being done for the Barbican Road Improvement Project.

There is a lot that I still don’t know, but there is one thing that I am certain of. The situation I saw on March 8 & 9 was a clear example of Government disregard for people’s safety.

I will be making some more ATI requests and I will share any further documents I receive.