Post 359.

A gender-based violence (GBV) unit is being established by the TTPS. Expectations are high and likely beyond what police response can provide, because real solutions require that policing be integrated with legal amendments, social services, NGO partnerships, data-driven strategies, community buy-in, and cultural change.

Hope is that the unit can coordinate TTPS approaches to intimate partner violence, domestic violence and sexual violence in order to, among other goals, reduce the number of women killed.

Only about 7% of women report intimate partner violence (IPV) to the police. Of those that report experiencing partner violence in their lifetime, about 25% do not report. If the TTPS implements measures to make reporting easier, kinder and safer, such as through taking reports from victims at their homes rather than at a station, those numbers could increase. What happens then?

The whole system, from hotlines to victim and witness support services to shelters to the magistrate and family courts, will have to be prepared for a surge in demand when women believe that reporting could lead to real protection and conviction. We won’t be sure if increased numbers reflect a rise in violence or a decrease in fear and silence, but forecasting these scenarios by the GBV unit is necessary.

It’s the same with orders of protection. If around 10 000 are sought every year, what happens when better policing means they become easier to secure and more likely to be enforced through better record keeping of women’s reports, timely serving of summons, lethality assessments, and other follow up?

There were 579 breaches of protection orders in five years, 174 breaches in 2019 alone. If these men are going to end up in jail, and they should – for breaching a protection order is a deliberate crime, are we prepared to provide mandatory counselling for perpetrators, to implement a restorative approach, and to find ways of making these repeat offenders less likely to get back out of jail and kill? Women report fear for their lives when perpetrators are released, particularly when women are not informed by the prison system. Better policing is also going to require forecasting implications in relation to perpetrators.

The GBV Unit can do a number of things: continue to clarify the law for all police officers, not just those with oversight of GBV or DV crimes; continue to educate all police about established protocols with regard to domestic violence reports; recognize that police may be friendly with perpetrators, may be perpetrators and may discourage reporting; and include outreach to migrant women so they know that they can safely report GBV crimes, which are a violation of their human rights, without fear of deportation or greater vulnerability to traffickers.

The unit can also establish a case study approach to better understand how to reduce men’s killing of women who have applied for orders of protection, and make sure the Domestic Violence Register is being actively engaged. It should work closely with the Child Protection Unit, Victim and Witness Support Unit, and Family Court to share rather than duplicate data. It’s also possible that DV reports can anticipate child sexual abuse reports, and the Unit will need to understand the intersection of different forms of GBV in this way.

CAPA doesn’t currently make perpetrator data easily accessible. As we continue to emphasise understanding and ending perpetration, and not only telling women to recognize “red flags”, sex-disaggregated data that supports this advocacy is also necessary.

The Unit should not start from scratch. The Coalition Against Domestic Violence has already been working with TTUTA to develop and implement the school programme, “Education for Empathy and Equality”. The Sexual Culture of Justice project is producing a toolkit for the Police Academy with protocols for training new police officers on issues of LGBTI bias and gender based violence. It also highlights the particular vulnerability of transgender persons, which is part of the problem of under-reporting.

Caricom recently published procedures for collecting data on domestic violence which may eliminate some obstacles to filling out report forms. CAFRA has been undertaking gender sensitization with police for decades, and the Network of Rural Women Producers has been working with youth and police in the police youth clubs, using the UN He For She Campaign and the Foundations Programme, to promote gender equality.

A civil society advisory committee to provide guidance and ensure accountability is key. The Unit has the opportunity to get things right before getting them wrong. Women’s lives are at stake. Fear and outrage demand urgency.

Post 358.

In the spirit of being fed up with obscenely selfish, offensively short-sighted and obstinately stupid practices, words I’ll be forced to repeat over the next months, I want to know what would it take to stop the harm of fireworks and why it can’t be done in one year? Why must NGOs, from animal welfare organisations to umpteen citizen groups, have to write letters to the editor and sign petitions simply for basic consideration and protection?

It’s very simple. Fireworks, and particularly scratch bombs which are the loudest, totally illegal and potentially hazardous, are imported and sold with the effect of repeat trauma and injury to elderly, sick, the very young, domesticated animals, people with PTSD and disabilities, and a range of others.

In Santa Cruz, where I live surrounded by mountains, I’ve always cringed for the wildlife, baby animals and birds asleep in their nooks and nests and awoken with terror. And, while my dog trembled uncontrollably, I’ve wondered at being surrounded by the kind of God-fearing hypocrites who could drop bombs on the innocent and laugh callously.

If you sell fireworks, you are simply lining your pockets at others’ cost. If you don’t get why your fun should not cause others to suffer, may bandits raid your house and beat you (see metaphor extended in paragraph below) so that you can get a taste of why doing what you want because you decide you want isn’t its own justification.

There was an entire parliamentary joint select committee on this issue, with the report laid on May 25, 2018. I read all 201 pages, and it’s enough to make you laugh if you don’t first cry.

There’s a legislative framework to be reformed in all kinds of ways that will never happen and will be of limited consequence on the ground. Getting from complaint to conviction, such as in relation to the hole in Vaneisa Baksh’s roof from some unidentifiable person’s fireworks, is unrealistic, the process is circuitous and any complainant needs court clothes.

One recommendation is for police to drive about in increased numbers to prevent people from being both uncaring and irresponsible. All and sundry, from the EMA to the Fire Services must jump hoops with measuring tape and with public education messages on Beyond the Tape, to convince us to exercise concern for each other. Holistic data collection on a litany of health risks must be conducted by UWI and the San Fernando General Hospital to tell us what we already know from watching with our eyes open, and to tell us about alternatives easily found in the first ten hits on Google.

My daughter may love fireworks as all of us do, but its cowardly to put our children as an excuse for such harm. Bandits love to run up in people’s home with two guns between them, and they certainly feel a right to, but that doesn’t make it right either. Another generation has to be allowed higher standards, exemplified by us being thoughtful about those more vulnerable because of illness, age and trauma, and about the animals God supposedly gave us dominion over.

If children were presented with the stories of how animals are harmed, you may be surprised what they all agree to forgo while the entitled adults around them fight up to evolve. You may be surprised at their own commonsense suggestions, for zoning to specific public places, limited times and limited decibel ranges, and the expansion of laser displays and ‘noiseless’ fireworks.

The next time fireworks are likely to kill another kangaroo will be at public expense for Independence Day. In its celebratory display, the state can act immediately to set an example of leadership for the greater good and for another generation. It’s so easy, and everyone will learn to respect the philosophy of respecting everybody, including the other living beings around us. No legislative amendments or implementation roadmap required.

Within one year, it could be one significant change that puts us on the world map like the little Italian town which legislated the change to quieter fireworks and the communities that have switched to laser shows.

It’s simple consumer power for more considerate alternatives. It’s citizen demand for city and regional corporations to light up a sustainable approach as we mark our independence. It’s old-school public pressure on ourselves and neighbours to not be Neanderthals masquerading as hominids. I’m constantly calling for the government to do better, and it can, but this time, plainly, it’s also on us.

Post 357.

Today begins the most important decade of our generation and perhaps of all human time. What we do in these next ten years will determine the future of billions and of hundreds of species on our blue planet, and it will do this with a finality we have never before experienced.

On the one hand, it’s the best of times. Even while economic and class inequality increases, the poorest across Asia and Africa are becoming less poor, increasing numbers of girls have access to education, forest protection is emerging as a priority, and agriculture is improving in productivity. Countries around the world are beginning to ban single use plastics, turn to renewable resources and energy efficiency, and clean up the oceans.

On the other hand, it’s the worst of all time. Given the biological annihilation of 60 percent of all wild animals in the past fifty years, and the extreme loss of insects and birds, we are in what is being described as the First Extermination Event or the Necrocene (necro means death so the age of death). We can also see this globally in the contradictions and realities of flooding, heatwave, stronger hurricanes, melting glaciers, sea level rise and drought. Wherever there is such crisis, the poorest, the youngest, and the most vulnerable disproportionately suffer, starve, become trafficked and exploited, turn to risky migration, or become incarcerated and killed. There are thousand of stories like this. Pay attention, for one day we too may be crying while no one hears.

I find hope in the public fury that emerged across the globe, seemingly overnight, from Paris to Port-au-Prince, Beirut to Bogota and Berlin, Catalonia to Cairo, and in Hong Kong, Santiago, Sydney, Seoul, Quito, Jakarta, Tehran, Algiers, Baghdad, Budapest, London, New Delhi, Manila, and even Moscow. People are furious. Dissent is everywhere. Where ordinary people see a system that alienates them, they sought to represent themselves and take power.

The New York Times reports that “many of the catalysts in 2019 were originally small, even unlikely, and the initial demands modest. In Sudan, the spark was the price of bread, in January; in India, the price of onions, in October; in Brazil, it was a cutback in funding for school textbooks, in August; in Lebanon, a tax on WhatsApp usage, in October; in Chile, a hike in subway fares, in October; and in Iran, a four-cent increase on a litre of gas, in November. But virtually all protests worldwide quickly escalated, and began issuing ultimatums for their governments to embrace sweeping changes—or to move aside.”

Here in Trinidad and Tobago, an election year is a time for anger, not for patience nor politeness. Why is there no procurement legislation? Why is there no Beverage Container Act? Why is there no approved National Gender Policy? Why is there no national strategy to prevent violence against women and girls or, worse, child sexual abuse? Why are we spending $5 billion for a Port in Toco when the population is not convinced it is necessary? Why is there no serious economic diversification strategy? Why are experienced domestic violence shelters closing for lack of financial support while the government plans to open more? Why must any of us repeat ourselves when we call for what is right?

From taxi drivers to hairdressers to supermarket cashiers to delivery men, who we decide to be, how we decide to live and what we decide we value will determine the survival of our children.

This is not a time for pessimism, just as it is not a time for passivity. Democracy is popular control over our social, economic and ecological destiny. It means that governments listen to sense without us having to beg. It means they answer to our refusal of injustice. It means that what they don’t hear, they feel.

We always had this responsibility and power. We wasted it in wars, in distraction, laziness, block talk and greed. We wasted it in letting elites make poor decisions while we vote them back in cyclically. Today there is a turning point by which this must stop.

In this decade, our primary responsibility is to seize power and opportunity to determine our fate. Each of us must find something we care about, some minor change we can make, some necessary demand we will defend, some part of a hopeful future on which you will leave your mark. Each of us must step forth into this dawn as if we were born to conquer the dark.

 

Entry 356.

Christmas is such an important cultural ritual. Daniel Miller, my old PhD supervisor, describes Christmas as the most global and local of festivals at the same time. It’s materialistic, but also unapologetically about family and kinship. It enables us to keep up with the newest and latest in modern products on the internet and TV and, yet, is celebrated for its distinctly historical customs.

Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago is also an unapologetically nationalistic moment for affirming that, despite corruption, inefficiency and inequality, “Trini Christmas is the best”.

If you’ve had a hard year, struggle to figure out your next step each morning and sometimes wonder at the point of life, there’s a sense of belonging that this season can provide across ethnicity, religion and geography. But, can we also see the effects of economic tightening on changing social practices of tradition, home and family?

There were probably 15 000 workers retrenched in the last four years, and it doesn’t seem possible that they have been fully reabsorbed into the legal labour market. Many were factory and refinery workers. Others were public servants and even tertiary educators.

In addition, there’s an entire tier in the public service on short-term contracts of a month or three months, with no wage security. There is also a broad informal economy affected by these lay-offs, such as those in catering or hair dressing. Only so many of these could be surviving as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Yet, the malls and grocery stores were full of shoppers. Where is all the money coming from? How are so women and men managing a time of year that relies on having money to spend?

Would these under-employed or unemployed women and men be looked after by family with more stable income, and invited to their homes this Christmas as costs for food and drink are absorbed by those with more, as part of the spirit of giving?

Would those with more time and less money help out more with preparations such as cooking and cleaning of the house, putting in greater labour as their contribution to collective sharing? Do neighbours still expect to be able to drop by for drink, and has this become more important as human connection bridges hardship at these times?

Giving toys to poor children has long been an act of generosity by a wide range of organisations and individuals. Have the numbers of these children increased? What are the shifts felt by our youngest, whose parents may be working more jobs or longer hours to earn the same income, and for whom this has become a time of anxiety and management of their self-presentation for when they return to school in January?

As social as Christmas is, it’s also deeply economic, and can tell us much about families’ adjustment to new realities. Still, keep in mind that these realities are cyclical, and another generation will remember us being here before.

Miller’s research on Christmas was conducted in the 1980s, and presents a curious mirror to now, given the downturn that characterized the early part of that decade. The Trinidad Mirror of December 13, 1988 begins, “Do you remember the time when you couldn’t get that Christmas feeling unless your home was well stocked with Europe’s best whisky, cognac, brandy and wines, not forgetting the apples and grapes that lent some colour to the joyous occasion?” The Christmas Day Sunday Guardian supplement contrasted the year to an earlier boom period when, ““It was a straight case of who could outdo who . . . who could have the bigger staff party; who could buy the more expensive gifts.”

As nostalgic as Christmas is, we are unlikely to return to our elders’ coping strategies with greater poverty.  Miller quotes Angela Pidduck,  in the Trinidad Express, 19 Dec. 1990, describing how her “grandmother pulled out the old hand sewing-machine, she cut the curtains and Morris chair cushion covers, we the children (boys and girls) took turns turning the handle . …But there was warmth, sharing and love.

Warmth, sharing and love will carry us through the day and its demands, just as it has carried the country through the financial struggles of our energy-dependent economy.

As you eat, drink, unwrap gifts and admire new curtains, painted walls and polished floors, know that many had to make difficult and creative decisions to connect to a tradition that excludes as much as it creates belonging, and is expressed by care as much as by money in a recession year.

 

Post 355.

Vincentian feminist Peggy Antrobus once told me that women can have it all, just not at the same time. There are life stages, she cautioned, and knowing your stage grounds your choices.

The thing about elder wisdom is that you don’t necessarily agree until you reach the life stage where you do. In the meantime, you debate the advice you get and, as they say, hold a meditation about its relevance and worth.

Over the last year, I’ve been wondering if indeed Peggy’s right. I’ve discovered that, not only is it not possible to have it all, but that the choices you make determine the next stage, foreclosing options, and that widespread expectations of womanhood and motherhood are not incidental to these choices. The ‘all’ isn’t about having money, luxury and leisure, it’s about basics that women have a right to, such as both family and a career.

As I’ve become more responsible for Ziya as a working mother, I’ve become more aware of the job sacrifices I’m making, my lower expectations for my abilities, and reduced capacity for leadership.

This is common for professional women in their forties, who are primary carers of their children at the same time that they are in their most important years for professional advancement. Every ambition has its costs and you start aiming for what’s merely realistic as if schoolgirls’ aspirations are just a modern fairy tale.

In making these choices, I’ve become more attentive to the older women around me; the ones who delayed achieving their degrees until after their children grew up, the ones who took less demanding jobs so that they could get home earlier, the ones who start their work day at 4am so that they can do school pick up at 2.30, the ones who took on three jobs despite the extra exhaustion so that they could pay for extra-curricular activities, and the ones who reliably go to pediatricians, parent-teacher meetings and counseling sessions with their children knowing that their best chances for development and emotional resilience have to be planned, communicated, managed and honestly reflected upon.

The very women who can’t have it all are simultaneously at the center of making so much happen, like magicians coordinating a whirlwind, at risk to their sanity, self-care and self-definition. I’m not saying that dads are not important. I’m just saying that the unequal burden of care is real and it’s at the heart of a life stage many women reach.

Working mothers, whether on their own or not, often have to be on top of all the details, from Diwali and Christmas concert contributions to knowing where the uniforms are for each week, and the mental room this takes up is taken for granted whether they work in KFC or have PhDs.

Looking on, we often say to ourselves, I don’t know how she does it.

I’ve listened more for the everyday sacrifices; in health, in self-confidence, in savings, in sleep, in dreams. I deepened appreciation for the crucial role of women’s sisters, mothers, neighbours, children’s friends’ mothers, long-lasting friends, and compassionate co-workers.

Working mothers depend on understanding, encouragement, help, patience and time from a widespread network just to get their family through each day. Women everywhere could barely achieve what they do without the other women who invest in enabling them to.

I always saw these women around me, fitting the common character of the strong Caribbean mother, without really seeing their inner lives, difficult decisions, necessary relationships or wearying stories. Now that I live it, who feels it knows.

In a sense, I have had to decide what I want to excel at, what I am prepared to do my best at, however badly, and what I simply won’t accomplish this month or year or the next. The consequences are ones that will settle into experiences of acceptance and regret that accumulate with age.

In having to spend more time with my daughter this year because that’s the life stage she is in, I have come to recognize that motherhood means her needs determine my life stage for me. All further decisions follow, however this sets other achievements back.

It’s not a complaint, it’s an adjustment to embrace, like a soucouyant who would forever soar the night skies in fire if only daylight didn’t compel her into the confines of her skin. Daybreak has brought knowing what it means to sacrifice for your child as a life stage and as more than a line women so often say.

Post 354.

Yesterday was December 10th, Human Rights Day, and the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. I’ve used these weeks to share statistics, but also emphasize that real women’s lives are at stake. I’ve highlighted youthful student activism so that we acknowledge that violence, such as sexual harassment, persists in the lives of another generation, including in the educational spaces where girls have supposedly taken over.

In this final column marking 16 days of advocacy, I want to amplify the call, made by domestic violence shelters, for sufficient state support.

Within these sixteen days of activism alone, a woman battered by her former partner could find no room at any shelter. She and her children were traumatized and had nowhere to go on the night they fled. Following this, Conflict Women and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence organized a forum to assess the state of shelters.

The forum confirmed that Trinidad and Tobago currently has seven shelters. The oldest shelter is closed for renovations, and is still fundraising in order to open again. Right now, it receives a government subvention enabling it to offer counseling and other services, but no crisis refuge.

Two shelters closed over this year due to lack to financial capacity. One of these closed its doors for the first time in twenty years because it too has to fund raise for renovations as well as daily costs of running both services and a shelter. In these 20 years, it received a government subvention twice, both more than five years ago. It too now provides reduced counseling, medical, legal, transportation, educational and other support, but no shelter.

Among the four shelters still open, one has scaled down to 50% of its intake of survivors, from 25 women to 12, because of financial constraints. It receives no government subvention and is entirely community-supported. This is not a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, it’s a sign of its perpetual state of crisis.

Even with subventions, over 90% of operational costs to run a shelter (building maintenance, security, food, counseling, legal aid, and transportation) must be raised through continual fundraising efforts. By contrast, 1 million dollars would cover all operational costs for the 3 shelters for 1 year.

To put this in perspective, 1 million dollars is only five times more than Minister Colm Imbert spent on confetti to open the Uriah Butler/Churchill Roosevelt Highway Interchange. Just 5 times the cost of Colm’s confetti, which was immediately blown away, would enable three shelters to provide emergency accommodation for more than forty women survivors and their families for an entire year.

And, even that isn’t enough. Roberta Clarke, President of the CADV, has pointed out that, by some international standards of one family space per 10 000 persons, Trinidad and Tobago should have at least 130 family spaces provided by shelters. The proposed government-run shelters, promised but not yet operational, can accommodate up to 18 women and their families. One is targeted toward men.

Even with these shelters opened in Trinidad, they would not meet these standards or women’s needs for emergency safe housing or subsidized transitional housing. They may not adequately meet disabled women’s needs, and will still not enable enough women to keep their families together when fleeing with boy children over 12 years old.

Finally, though a single shelter in Tobago is finally being planned in conjunction with the state and the NGO, Women of Substance, even that will not be enough. Across the country, more than 10 000 DV protection orders are sought each year, 11 000 women are estimated to be living with violent partners, and 1 in 10 women cite “nowhere to go” as a reason they stay. It’s also a reason they return.

Shelters are absolutely essential for women and their children fleeing for their safety and lives. They protect against immediate homelessness. They provide traumatized women and children with safety for up to six months, and continued care long after.

Just 1 million dollars and more coordinated formal arrangements with state ministries that provide essential services could save women from repeated violence, and improve children’s life chances for generations. Understanding this reality, shelters are urgently calling for adequate and consistent state resourcing as we move into another year in which we can expect there will be male partners who batter and kill women.

As shelters close their doors or open their doors to fewer women, women could die for lack of options to escape. Political will can change this fate.

Post 352.

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Sometimes, the university is the best place to be. There is a chance to teach skills encouraged in few other places, and to simultaneously nurture a hard reading of reality, a utopian demand for freedom and acts of principled courage.

This is particularly true for young women and men challenging gender and sexuality norms, and learning about the continued necessity for Caribbean feminist struggles to end violence and inequality.

Our society is hardly friendly to these struggles, they are barely taught in any syllabus, and progress remains slow, disciplined by the status quo and contained by the backlash. Despite the apparent educational success of girls, such struggles therefore remain just as relevant today.

Ask the students of IGDS Ignite, a feminist undergraduate mentorship programme focused on inciting another generation of students to spark and lead activism which changes the conditions of their lives and advances gender justice.

Last week Thursday, I walked into the Ignites’ “Chalkback” event held in the university’s quadrangle. Organised as part of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, the student-led action built on an earlier Instagram campaign, @catcallsofuwi, which highlights sexual harassment on the UWI St Augustine Campus.

The idea for @catcallsofuwi was brought to IGDS Ignite by Kelsie Joseph and Tia Marie Lander, second-year students who were introduced to activism in their Men and Masculinities in the Caribbean course, and who were inspired by the @CatCallsofNYC campaign. The UWI student campaign currently has 1275 followers, mostly 18-24 years old, 77 per cent of whom are women. Between November 26 and December 2, there were 1565 interactions on the page and 3854 accounts reached.

This is a youthful example of Caribbean cyberfeminism, or using technology and social media to break silences, share stories, and build community around gender and sexual justice. As the university commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Revolution, started on the campus, our business can’t be nostalgia, but keen attention to the makers, messages and media of radical organising today.

I approached a 40-foot sized chalk-drawn game covering the middle of the quadrangle. Its steps connected sites on campus to stories of sexual harassment highlighted on the Instagram page.

I took the box-sized dice the students made and rolled, following the number of steps to a space which the students titled, “Security Booth.” “Come inside nah sweetheart, I want to take you home,” was the first quote, highlighting experiences of discomfort, rather than protection.

And, so the game went with each square fictionally labelled with a location and each highlighting real sexual harassment experienced by young women students as they pursue the very education which the society is worried is a threat to manhood everywhere.

At the Student Activity Centre: “Are you your mother’s only child? Can’t have nobody else sweet like you.” In the quadrangle: “I would slurp you like a cup of callaloo.” At Engineering: “I need to know where I could get a sweet reds like you to marry.” On the LRC Greens: “Baby girl, I heard ladies with bowlegs have something sweet between them.” At the Faculty of Science and Technology Greens: “Nice a–, I would tap that.” At the Faculty of Humanities and Education: “De thing buff boy, wah yuh have in there?” At the Centre for Learning Languages: “That pu— looks fat, I could f— it.” In the parking lot: “See you, I going to kidnap you.” At Daaga Hall: “Smallie with the nice bottom.” At the Teaching and Learning Centre: “You’re perfect size and wife material, I just want to tek yuh away.”

As I played, the game felt more disturbing, and more real. Girls have faced this in public spaces their whole lives. Seeing how we’ve failed to protect another generation, prioritise prevention, and end perpetration should renew our sense of responsibility.

IGDS has long used games to teach, encouraging chalk graffiti and poster as well as social media campaigns, and emphasising interactive peer education, even when it seemed frivolous, like students should have instead been studying books. IGDS Ignite aimed to reach them out of the classroom, and to enable undergraduates to have both support and independence to invent and lead generational advocacy for themselves.

Mentored by graduate students, rather than faculty, this is what activist succession planning requires. Adults have to learn to trust youthful judgment. Graduate students grow through providing guidance. Undergraduates experience the right to address their own realities.

In doing so, they create the transformations needed for the university to really become the best place to be.