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Revised harassment policy aims to protect everyone

When we were young women, many of us never dreamed that we would become elected officials. We had so many ideas for our futures: becoming a teacher, a physical therapist, a mother, a scientist, a writer and more. As Democratic women serving in the New Mexico House of Representatives, we each took different paths to the Legislature, overcoming obstacles along the way. However, we have recently realized that we have at least one common experience: sexual harassment. Whether experiencing it directly ourselves, or listening to stories from a colleague or family member over the past few weeks, it has been painful to understand how pervasive this behavior has been, and the impact it has had on us and those around us.

As women leaders of New Mexico, we stand united against sexual harassment in our state Legislature, our courts and our state government. The halls of the Roundhouse, our state capitol, must be safe for all those who work and visit there. We want a legislature where all women, including community members, staff and lobbyists, feel empowered to communicate with their lawmakers without fear of harassment or retaliation. Creating this safe and open space is especially important to us because we understand the fear that stops women from speaking out, the shame and embarrassment that may keep women in the shadows, and the anger and frustration that may drive them away from policymaking work altogether. Also, we know how critically we need more women in leadership roles to lift up the state we love. We have serious issues to address, and women’s voices are essential to crafting the right solutions for our families and the future of our communities. This week, we took an important step to share with the public a first draft of suggested changes to the legislative sexual harassment policy, for public review and comment. Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Whip Doreen Gallegos, and Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson are working side by side with Speaker Brian Egolf, Rep. Liz Thomson, Rep. Angelica Rubio and a bipartisan group of legislators to ensure that our revised policy will outline a fair, impartial process and consequences for those who commit sexual harassment. Because women and men who have been harassed are often afraid to come forward, we must make the process to file a complaint simple and easy to understand. And after receiving training to prevent sexual harassment, legislators, lobbyists and staff should be able to identify what sexual harassment is, and what to do if they witness it, experience it themselves or receive a report.

As one of the most diverse groups of legislators in the United States – 45 percent of our House Democratic members are women, and nearly 70 percent are Hispanic, African American or Native American – we are confident we can find a way forward that ensures that everyone, regardless of their gender, is treated with respect. And while we must do all we can to prevent and address sexual harassment within the Legislature, our work doesn’t end once we’ve revised the harassment policy. We must also enact policies that empower women in the workplace, boost women’s economic opportunities, and ensure they receive equal pay for equal work. Our policies must advance fairness and respect for all women.

Moving forward will require us to have hard conversations with one another, and we are committed to doing so in a way that promotes dignity and respect and doesn’t depend on whom you know or how much money or power you have.

As women of the New Mexico House Democratic Caucus, we stand against sexual harassment in all forms. We invite you to provide your feedback on the Legislature’s draft harassment policy, and we welcome your ideas for policies that will promote respect and fairness for New Mexico’s women and for all New Mexicans.