Post 504.

A PUBLIC health approach to crime continues to float about without a clear anchor. At this point, we can only pray that security experts understand the intersections between gender and sexuality, and gangs, murders and the illegal economy.

While we must stem gun availability, we can’t ignore boys’ incentives to join gangs and choose “shooter” for a profession. This is not a problem that can be solved through sports or vocational training while leaving violence as a source of masculine status intact.

Responses should also be informed by how and why women become involved in criminal networks from spaces and in ways in which they exercise limited power. Regardless of how gangster women may be, these networks are ultimately and entirely male dominated.

Similarly, as community leaders, women play the role of community peacemakers, but their power is limited in comparison to national and transnational networks of crime. When men are spraying bullets, how does this exacerbate women’s relative powerlessness? As part of a public health approach, is addressing such gender inequality considered necessary?

The public should also note the Government’s failure to approve school curricula that improve awareness and prevention of gender-based violence among youth. The reason for such irresponsibility is rooted in gender and sexuality.

The State is choosing to leave children without information that can reduce societal violence to satisfy (primarily Christian) religious groups resistant to the health and family life curricula, which they wrongly believe promotes sexual activity and gender diversity. Gender and sexuality are hardly incidental to the responses the Government chooses, and a public health approach must recognise these connections.

Regarding murders, women are also impacted in gendered ways. For example, in terms of being killed by partners and ex-partners. Patrice Aaron, 30 years old and mother to two young children, was bludgeoned and strangled after months of physical abuse. She was killed on her daughter’s birthday, February 14. Her ex-partner, Simon Cova, 42, was charged for her murder.

Gabrielle Raphael, who just turned 25, was found in the Savannah on May 8. She had grown up without her mother and was herself mother to five children of different fathers, all under seven years old. She was unemployed because she suffered from seizures. Express reported that “she had been taken ‘advantage of’ since the age of 18.” This too is a story of gendered vulnerability.

Aneesa Vicky Ali, 33 years old, was last seen liming at a bar before she was found battered in a forest after being missing since March 29. No charges have been reported in the press. The fact that you can be alive today and dead tomorrow without explanation has women across the country terrified in a way that men simply don’t live with day to day.

Women are also being killed as part of long-standing disputes in which they are the target or collateral damage. On May 10, Asha Angelica George, 30, mother to two adolescent girls, was shot to death along with her partner Devon Drayton. Her 12-year-old daughter survived wounds to her head. Asha’s father shot and killed her mother in 1999, her partner G5 was shot dead at her home in 2018 and her house set on fire.

Family violence was part of her short life history, perhaps explaining her later trajectory, and the gendered vulnerabilities in her girls’ motherless future.

Similarly, Aneesa Ramkissoon, 26, was assassinated while kneeling in front of her three children, all under six years old. She was the target in a complex clash that has taken the lives of others, including a teenage boy.

Candace Griffith, 41, was killed at a birthday party on April 17. A 15-year-old girl was also shot in the leg, one woman was shot in the head and another, a grandmother, was shot in the mouth. None was an intended target. On April 10, Elizabeth Watson was killed when masked men in tactical uniforms shot at a house where she was liming, also hitting another woman.

Six-year-old Kylie Maloney was killed when men in camouflage shot at her house on January 8. Kenfentse Simmons, 30, and Aaron London, 25, were charged. On April 18 Kernella Saunders, 35, was killed by a stray bullet while at home. Another woman, 27 years old, identified as “Lashay” in the press, was also shot to death. The target, Lashay’s partner, escaped. Innocent girls and women are collateral damage of men’s fighting in such ways.

As we mourn Gabrielle Raphael, it’s necessary we remember, crime and violence are always gendered.

Post 503.

I WAS SO emotional after David Rudder’s concert on Saturday night that I thought it was just me. I sit down and cry in my living room, not even sure for what. I didn’t know if I was left up or down, cleansed or struck by dread. 

I started this column many times, each beginning different, and would pause at the paucity of words to express the tumult of visceral memories still shaking my body. 

Rudder lit by coloured stage lights, looking into the eyes of his congregation like he was searing the moment into his memory as much as we were scorching it into ours. Crystal-sharp, back-up vocalists, Karla Gonzales, Natalie Yorke, Carol Jacobs and Sarai Rudder, whose harmonies kept lifting those who might have otherwise fallen into overwhelmed weeping. Horns powerfully punching the air.

“Blessed musicians” led by musical directors Kenneth Baptiste and Jeremy Ledbetter, and special guests Machel Montano, Andy Narrell, Vaughnette Bigford, Destra Garcia, Kees Dieffenthaller, Voice, Mical Teja, Roger George, Isaac Rudder and Carl Jacobs buoying Rudder through his five-hour journey. Sound men Victor Donowa and Robin Foster. Verna St Rose Greaves ringing a bell. It was dizzying. 

All now I think this drama, like I catch a spirit, is just me. 

Sunday morning, I woke with my heart brimming, wondering if I should talk about the gratitude that one can’t help but feel for Rudder’s calypso, and pride we could make music so.

It makes everything bottled up to stay sane and survive in this place – our dreams and faults, togetherness and alienation, sweetness and corrupt slyness – come flying from one’s chest in song and praise and disappointment and confused feelings like the whole country is Pandora’s box. 

All the ugliness and loveliness documented like an anthropological text, news daily, Naipaul novel, holy book or “group of ghetto woman around a standpipe discussing.”

Indeed, you could wine with your hands in the air, throat open to vibrations rising from the singing crowd like dust at Brass Festival. Just as much, you could sit and study Rudder lyrics for their poetic distillation of history, politics, philosophy, ethical truths and descriptions of the peculiar Trini character. 

Music for heady celebration. Songs about sobering reality, detailing what we would rather be too distracted to see. His reminders are serious joke of the grim and unjust. We have “the goods and the bads,” he sings, and “half the country mad.” “Make a liar of me,” he provokes, and you reckon with violence from Soweto to Bogota, but mostly you reckon with yourself.

It’s like that surreal moment, when the whole crowd is repeating, “somebody letting the cocaine pass” in celebration of Rudder the griot and prophet who nails it now as much as he did then (Madman’s Rant was released in 1996). An astounding irony which everyone knows, that only laugh could prevent cry, and what feels like collective anger at state officials and elites’ constant and boldface mamaguy, is mixed in. Yesterday, cocaine. Today, guns. Big, big men dying, and no one expects anything will be solved by millions spent on a crime symposium. 

Those five hours were a generous gift, reminding that David already said so much that we need to hear, whether out of love or ache for his country and people. He brought calypso in its most ideal form, crafting a mirror from detailed and attentive notes, both musical and written. What might we change if we really listen? 

He has been public with his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. There was, therefore, a kind of heartbreak haunting the sweat and passion of the night, even as the spirit of joy had its way with us. 

I wondered why we didn’t fill the Oval or Grand Stand to pay tribute to the man. How could we not call for encore after encore? How could we not say, Rudder don’t go?

Half the time, I didn’t know if I should be mourning an orator making his last major speech, even though he was still on his feet. Whole night I was just trying to stay present though the hours felt like an unsettling foretelling of a cosmic cycle closing.

Forget King Charles and his family of thieves. Here was our King chantwell, crowned by the people, causing us to wrestle with our lonely souls and contemplate our beauty in this strange land

For leaving fire in your wake, for awakening our spirits, for urging us to never surrender, thank you, bless and nuff respect, Mr David Michael Rudder.

Post 502.

OVER THE weekend, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest gathered more than 100 novelists, short-story writers, biographers and poets to exuberantly celebrate books.

There was a glittering wealth of writing from the Caribbean, and from TT. In-person or online, one could hear readings from recent publications and backstories from this generation of award-winning Caribbean authors as they are ascending a global stage. Up close and personal, the connection to both writers and their work felt wonderfully intimate and familiar, so typical of us in these small islands.

While the One Caribbean Media (OCM) award, symbolising the most commended book of the festival, went to Ayana Lloyd Banwo for her outstanding novel, When We Were Birds, the poetry prize went to Anthony Joseph for his recent collection, Sonnets for Albert, which captures his memories of his father in snapshots of vivid verse. The non-fiction prize was awarded to Ira Mathur’s epic transnational autobiography, Love the Dark Days.

These are just a handful of the nuggets that comprise the entire treasure of what we are producing through home-grown creativity, hard work, talent, mentorship and ambition.

Circling the national library’s atrium in-between sessions, I pressed close to booksellers’ tables like a candy store window, trying to decide which books to buy. Such choices were a question of space; I’ve no more empty bookshelves even after agonizingly whittling down by about seven boxes to mostly Caribbean literature. However, deciding on the hard sweet or the soft toffee was also a matter of money. I was like a child clenching precious pennies.

Books are expensive.

Perhaps if they were more affordable, more men would buy them instead of guns, carrying smaller ones rolled in their back pocket to read instead of killing time rolling weed. Perhaps if Caribbean books were more accessible, we might see each other’s outward violence and inner confusions more compassionately, finding characters in novels or descriptions in poems that enable us to recognise and forgive even ourselves.

Booksellers may make sales, but their trade is a labour of love, hardly making the profit they should, perhaps explaining why we have more rum shops than bookshops – places to drown loneliness and sorrows rather than be steadied by the humanity of shared desires and fears.

Contributing to this situation is a senseless tax on books imposed by the present government in February 2016. Educational materials such as school texts and exercise books are exempt. However, the cost of literature, even locally produced, was increased.

At the time, the finance minister described the tax regime as fiscal policy, not social policy, but that’s merely a mirage. All taxation reflects an assessment of social needs and priorities as well as principles of who should contribute and how.

For example, VAT applies equally to all consumers, whether rich or poor, and is therefore inequitable. In contrast, property and income tax should raise greater revenue from the wealthy, and be graduated rather than flat, meaning the rich should be taxed at higher rates than the poor, always.

At the time, booksellers protested. Prof Bridget Brereton described the decision to tax literature as strange, surprising and disappointing. She wrote, “VAT will be applied to all ‘literary books’ – this means novels of all kinds, modern and classics; volumes of short stories, plays and poetry; non-fiction books (biographies and autobiographies, works on social and natural sciences and his­tory, books about art and music).”

Recently, a sort of literary renaissance has taken place in TT and the Carib­bean, with more local or regional authors publishing novels, short stories and poetry, and winning big awards, too, as well as interesting non-fiction books of all kinds. Do we want to reduce their market by ma­king their books more costly?

Richie Sookhai, then president of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce, rightly observed, “This cannot be the way forward in a society where low levels of literacy can be cited as contributing factors in crime, poverty and social mobility.

“One of the ways we encourage pride in country is by reading about our history, about those who went before us and the great literature produced by our own writers like the Naipauls, Selvon, Lovelace. When we put that out of the reach of our children and the wider population, we do our country no service.”

And so it continues today. Caribbean literature, blooming in our midst, can transform our reality. Yet, as long as they are taxed as a luxury, people are least likely to choose books with their precious pennies.

Post 501.

WITH Earth Day just passed on April 22, there is one lesson. Women are fighting back. 

On April 19, women of Red Thread in Guyana spoke about multiracial, grassroots Caribbean women’s organising against oil extractivism and its impact on life, species and nature in our beloved region. 

As they put it, “The oil conglomerate ExxonMobil has established a foothold in Guyana. What does this mean for the environment, the economy, politics and society?”

We should all be asking these questions. 

Take note of their courage while facing backlash and death threats. Women across the Americas (and activists across the world) have been assassinated for resisting extractivism, whether for mining, oil and gas production, industrial livestock farming, logging, mono-agriculture and even the building of dams. 

Extractivism refers to overexploitation of natural resources, which destroys rivers, oceans, groundwater, soil, coasts, forests, climate balance, human health and life, biodiversity, livelihoods and communities. 

It refers to a belief system that puts wealth above life and nature, and to use of power (and bribery and corruption) to secure resource extraction regardless of social and ecological costs, whether forced displacement and migration or increased social conflict and violence. It is as brutal as colonialism and has its roots there. In the Caribbean, colonial history should teach us that people can be killed by the millions as long as there’s profit. 

Extractivism is a “necropolitics.” “Necro” refers to death and “politics” to the use of political, administrative and economic power to determine how people will live and die. 

This is what is happening to us as we watch ourselves buffeted between hurricanes, flood and drought. For Red Thread women, it’s a necroilpolitics, pelting the planet into a crisis that is accelerating in timing, unpredictability and impact. 

Exclusions resulting from poverty, race, gender, disability, family size, dependence on public transport and health care, age, educational level and sexuality most affect those marginalised, making it hardest for them to survive. Even when they have reason to be afraid, this is why women fearlessly fight.

Women’s resistance is just one strand in the weave of gender, extractivism and climate change. Extractivism also creates conditions for women’s sexual and economic exploitation, for example in mining communities. It increases ill-health, for example cancers and respiratory diseases, which further adds to women’s responsibilities for the aged, young and unwell. 

When families are displaced by climate disasters, women, girls and children are the most unsafe, and have inadequate access to resources or land ownership for resettlement and recovery. They, and those from LBGTQI communities, are least represented in corporate boardrooms and government cabinets when decisions are made. 

In Jamaica, there’s longstanding resistance, also long led by women, against extractivism in Cockpit Country. Gorgeously biodiverse, Cockpit Country is historic home to Jamaica’s Maroons. It is the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica, supplying 40 per cent of Jamaica’s freshwater needs.

The government has opened Cockpit Country to the company Noranda for bauxite mining. People instead want its protection. On May 4 at 6pm Jamaica time and 7pm TT time, you can listen to a webinar about these protests. Register at:

This past week, the Breadfruit Collective and the Climate Conscious Podcast held their second Caribbean Women for Climate Justice conference, focusing on themes such as women’s gender sensitive “leadhership” for climate resilience. 

It was a brilliant show of regional vision, analysis and organising by a younger generation of feminists. For Christine Samwaroo, 30 years old and a founder of the collective, gender justice and climate justice are inseparable struggles, and “those most impacted are also our most important advocates.” 

Caribbean women are allied with our sisters in Latin America, challenging logging and mining as it has decimated forests, rivers and communities. For example, in October 2014 in Ecuador, the Declaration of the Meeting of Women against Extractivism and Climate Change stated, “We do not want the development alternatives that have signified the extinction of cultures and peoples; this is a development of death, of destruction, based on exploitation, primarily of oil and minerals. This development has no future. We know this because we have already lived with it for more than 500 years.” 

They proposed renewed efforts at food sovereignty, water sovereignty and energy sovereignty. 

Such earth and gender justice organising by girls, women and LBGTI folk is multiplied across our hemisphere, taking risks for our very future. 

If we fail to hear, Mother Earth herself will rebel. Like Caribbean women, her purpose was never to be exploited to death for unsustainable accumulation of obscene wealth.

Post 500.

THIS ACADEMIC year has been characterised by headlines about Open AI’s ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) programmes that appear to be replacing so much of human capacity.

Some schools are responding by banning these AI applications, particularly models that process language and which can generate news articles, research papers, websites, tax returns, recipes, poems and more.

Fear is that students will simply pass off AI-generated essays as if they are their own, and fail to learn the knowledge and skills necessary for good global citizenship and professional competence.

Those who set citation styles have rushed to put out rules for crediting research or text generated by AI, bringing it into the domain of plagiarism prevention. Some have suggested they could easily publish a book that earns millions using AI, mocking writing talent and challenges of the writing process. Doomsayers have pointed to AI’s potential to make journalists, lawyers, teachers, graphic designers, content creators and more simply obsolete.

This goes far beyond automation’s sweeping impact on labour, particularly in manufacturing and services, where production and consumption are entwined in a race to become cheaper and faster, enabled by machines. These changes won’t just “replace” humans, but will also free up humanity from many forms of drudgery. The question is what we do with these transformations.

In a world where so much is already available at our fingertips, we were already moving away from information-based learning. In those fields where it remains important for foundation courses, schools will adapt (as they always have) so that students must still show knowledge as well as an ability to evaluate what’s learned.

I think of Ziya, now 12, who doesn’t need to be taught information that can be researched on her phone, but instead needs to be guided to know what to do with such access and why – why understanding the lessons of history and science are still important, why consciousness of how deeply interpenetrated we are with Earth’s ecosystem matters, why ethics (which is not religious indoctrination) retains the central significance it has had for all of human time, and why care remains the foundational value of the future.

In this way, AI offers us an opportunity to make information matter differently than when students were expected to just take notes. Indeed, the domain of ethics and morality is being built into AI in ways that are good for humanity, with blocks being established against using information for the purposes of harm.

An interesting letter on pausing training of unreleased AI systems was published this week with signatures by tech innovators, academics and activists. It called for a pause to establish industry self-regulation for creating AI that is safe, transparent, trustworthy and loyal, and acceleration of governance systems, liability standards, regulatory agencies, public funding for safety research, and well-resourced institutions for managing disruptions to economies and democracies. This approach builds on earlier precedents, such as aligning the biotechnology industry with ethical principles.

However, we all need to consider the implications of AI for labour and ethics. This week, Goldman Sachs’s analysis predicted 300 million jobs will be lost or degraded by AI, without necessarily being replaced.

Activists have been pointing to this trend for decades, highlighting how much human labour will become expendable, meaning without value, entirely changing basic economic theory’s nexus of land, labour and capital.

Activists’ focus hasn’t only been on how much wealth AI will generate, but how we will address its contribution to existing, vastly iniquitous wealth inequality. Legal and economic arrangements currently favour those with wealth and power (think of how companies like Amazon get away with poor wages and paying negligible taxes).

There are therefore long-standing proposals to provide a minimum income to individuals so that they can survive, whether or not they earn a wage. This is similar to the universal provision of healthcare and education, which is provided free as a basic right.

In other spaces, solidarity economies are springing up based on co-operative exchange of agricultural produce and community self-help (like the gayap model), a step back from materialistic and ecologically destructive hyper-consumption and towards reuse and recycling, and a break with fossil fuel-based electricity grids in favour of renewable energies.

These experiments and alternatives require us to be able to think imaginatively and ethically, which is why our education system needs to shift from memorisation and fear-based discipline. Something to think about in this poui season, which marks transition, whether for SEA-level students or those soon sitting exams at university.

Post 499.

“WE MUST hasten slowly,” were the words of Audrey Jeffers in 1948.

Audrey Jeffers was the first woman elected to the Port of Spain Town (City) Council in 1936. She is well-known for her pioneering welfare and women’s rights work, for founding the Coterie of Social Workers, and organising both regionally and nationally for better social and labour conditions for women. 

However, as part of a Franchise Committee established to consider adult suffrage for women and men over 21 years of age, in 1944, she opted to deny women full suffrage, instead supporting a minority recommendation that the right to vote should be limited to those who met income and property qualifications. 

As Caribbean feminist Rhoda Reddock summarises in her book Women, Labour and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago, Jeffers’s (and others’) middle-class politics “was largely a struggle to become the complement of the men of their class, not for all women’s emancipation from gender and class oppression.” 

Such “feminist conservatism” clashed with the more radical feminist and solidarity politics of Christina Lewis from the Caribbean Women’s National Assembly. Lewis was a Butlerite and the first to organise an International Women’s Day march in Trinidad in 1958. Reddock quotes Lewis in 1949 as observing that “most of the intellectuals we voted to represent our views have joined hands against the interest of the working-class.” 

Christina Lewis’s observation challenges us to assess whose interests women represent when they occupy and wield state power. Is it the most vulnerable girls in our society or the most influential religious elites? Is it women in the informal sector, such as domestic workers, or employers? 

At the launch of a Parliamentary Group of Women Legislators on March 23, I stood looking on with Jeffers’s and Lewis’s words turning over in my mind. It was an historic initiative by the Speaker of the House. 

I kept thinking how pleased Hazel Brown would have been. For fifty years, Hazel was a leading Trinidad and Tobago women’s rights activist on a broad range of issues, from consumer rights to women’s health, renewable energy and gender policy making. She was a pragmatist, optimist and frontrunner in the feminist push to increase the numbers of elected women, their transformational leadership and their solidarity with women’s rights. 

From the 1990s, she contributed to the founding of the Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership (CIWiL) with its vision of women in public life as transformational leaders. She also contributed to the making of the first Women’s Manifesto: Ten Points for Power which set out the issues and demands that mattered to women and girls as a constituency. As well, she consistently supported women candidates in both local government and national-level elections over the next decades, aiming to increase women’s numbers to 50% with her ‘Put a Woman in the House’ (of parliament) campaign. 

Hazel was famous for her commitment to women’s cross-party caucuses. She was a vortex pulling women together (and then educating and lobbying them while she had them in the room) with encouragement and clear-eyed recognition of how difficult it is for women in governance systems which remain male-dominated and ideologically heteropatriarchal. 

It may not seem difficult to those of us on the outside, but women in political parties, regardless of how powerful they may seem, walk a tightrope in which their status in the party is deeply complicit with their loyalties to divisive and gendered class, race and religious politics, and to the party leader’s top-down power. 

Sensing both Hazel’s efficacy and her empathy, women parliamentarians had huge affection for her, at the same time as, no doubt, they had to manage inner apprehension when they saw her marching toward them with her unrelenting feminist agenda and stubborn enthusiasm for her cause.

For Hazel, any women forming a Parliamentary Group of Women Legislators should start from the premise that they both share similar experiences as women and face greater feminist expectation that they represent girls and women’s interests.  

This is because, over the last hundred years, Caribbean women fought not just to end numerical inequalities between the sexes in parliaments, but for elected sisters to represent and advance the rights of women and girls. Similarly, feminists outside the State fought for gender ministries and bureaus so that state power could be occupied from the inside to transform gender and sexual injustice across national life. 

This is an absolutely key point. Individual women may work hard to rise in politics, but their advancement as a sex has been supported by innumerable global organisations, campaigns and trainings, including by women’s organisations across the Caribbean. 

However, collaborating across party lines and state institutions on behalf of women can still be considered disloyal, too radical, or out of place. In this context, a parliamentary group for women legislators is a bold, ambitious first for TT. 

Quite often, feminist activists outside the State are frustrated at how much convincing, lobbying and begging is needed to achieve legislative and policy gains that are empirically justified and overdue. We share interests with elected women and moments of solidarity, yet also navigate containment and gatekeeping. 

Impatient for change, I find navigating such polite, often-jacketed and heeled spaces to be emotionally challenging. One must genuflect to ministers, not press one’s agenda too forcefully, and applaud meagre steps ahead while wondering how much this strategy, even as it complements others such as letter-writing, organising marches or lobbying as part of cross-class coalitions, risks one’s own complicity with a hierarchical structure from which most are excluded. 

At the same time, women in parliaments may feel as if feminists don’t stand up for them when they face sexist attacks, and they don’t stand up for each other across party. Public life is full of jeopardies, dividing women by class, race, sexuality and religion, and part played in the pace of change. 

I tried to strategise what would connect these women legislators across party divisions. Did they share a vision of where our society should be in 50 years? How did they imagine we would get there? What political will would enable them to be the powerful allies which girls and women need? 

I wondered if Christina Lewis would have felt scepticism as well as cause for celebration. For Hazel, I opted for optimism. 

Yet Audrey Jeffers’s words echoed. I hoped they would not hasten slowly.

Post 498.

THIS MONTH, I’ve highlighted transwomen and sex workers, both categories of women about whom there are myths and stereotypes. This week, I’m explaining another pervasive myth and its problematic power: the idea that “women are their own worst enemies.”

This debasing “own worst enemy” label is untrue, but is a stereotype often cast against subordinated groups, and then repeated as a way of seeing and blaming themselves for their condition.

It’s also a way of circulating self-hate which has long been a successful divide-and-conquer strategy, encouraging those who are oppressed to be more likely to trust, stand by and forgive their oppressors than each other. It’s propaganda, propagated since Plato, which has become a cognitive short-cut for explaining who women are today.

There are moments that feel true in this representation of women as untrustworthy even among themselves. The “tief head” is when one partial view becomes the whole story, displacing how it is also and more greatly untrue. Stereotypes work in such devious and disparaging ways.

Dominant narratives about women in Western society either put them on a pedestal and require them to be perfect in feminised ways, or demonise them. We have inherited the patriarchal framing of women as either virtuous or evil, and often repeat what has come to have the feeling of common sense.

The ease with which this phrase rolls off the tongue says more about the power of patriarchal typecasts of women than about women themselves, particularly when women know how complex we are.

Men constantly undermine men, literally killing each other for walking on the wrong street. Men may be unbreakable allies against women because the “bro code” positions them as women’s opposites and superiors, but they bully, fight, wound, exploit, oppress and kill each other in unprecedented numbers, whether as individuals, gangs, armies, or male-led corporations. They are their own worst enemies. Why does this phrase not roll off our tongues so easily?

Women being their own worst enemy is untrue because women do not primarily beat, sexually assault, kidnap, sexually harass or kill girls and women. Women’s worst enemy is those who perpetrate these crimes.

Yet no one uses this phrase to describe a daily relationship between an oppressor and oppressed. In this way, men’s historic role in (violently) excluding women from power is mystified and denied. Hence, no catchphrase comes to mind.

Positioning women as their own worst enemy also names an expectation that women will automatically be allies and support each other. They certainly do. This is why the currrent wave of the feminist movement is the most powerful global revolution of the last 50 years.

It was fought by women defending each other’s rights, exercising collective power, speaking out in transnational solidarity, and building unapologetically woman-centred movements. It hasn’t been perfect. There have been hierarchies and exclusions, but it’s an unarguable example of women not being “their own worst enemies.”

Feminism is also the most demonised of social movements. Thus the major example that challenges this misogynist phrase gets successfully filtered back to us through a patriarchal lens, encouraging us to disidentify with it.

Patriarchies always recentre men so that a movement that is about caring about women becomes framed as one that hates men, or one that prioritises including and amplifying women becomes cast as one that excludes and silences men.

Today, feminism is increasingly cast as legitimate when it makes immediate sense to men, takes responsibility for meeting men’s needs, makes space for men’s perspectives, and is sensitive, gentle and kind.

Propaganda. You can tell by how quickly all this rolls off people’s tongues.

It’s also true that women are not necessarily kind or supportive to each other, and that some hold more power than others and over others.

Women are human beings. They are imperfect, and may see each other competitively, be traumatised, toxic, self-interested, aggressive and indoctrinated, or just not nice. There’s work to do individually and collectively.

Even then, we will never all get along. Sisterhood is therefore an achievement even while solidarity is a must.

More problematic is how a vast vision of women’s rights gets mixed up with, and flattened down to, whether women are nice (to each other), as if ideal nurturing behaviour is what legitimises their demands.

Focus on whether women are nice turns our gaze away from cold-eyed analysis of systemic power over women, and strategising to bloodlessly destroy patriarchy and its intersecting oppressions without mercy.

More to say, but remember this: an oppressed group is never its worst enemy.

Post 497.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING and prostitution, which are not the same thing, are back in public uproar. There are a lot of voices speaking, such as politicians, police and even neighbours of brothels, but the voices of sex workers and prostitutes are mostly unheard. 

Hearing from this group is essential for recognising what sex workers want and need from legislators, social services, police and others, rather than having their issues defined for them. As well, as feminist scholar Kamala Kempadoo puts it, in her collection, Sun, Sex, and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean, we should be “sensitive to the humanity of those who [make] a living selling sex, not pathologize or condemn working women and men for taking up prostitution,” particularly in an economy that has been in contraction since 2010. 

First, human trafficking and prostitution are not the same. Sex workers are not necessarily trafficked or forced into sex work in the ways typically imagined. 

There are trafficked girls and women who are imprisoned and forced into sexual labour. There are also women (and men and transpersons) who engage in sexual labour and who live at home with their families, raise children, and may have additional, but insufficient, sources of income. Provision of romance or sex in exchange for food, money, or housing, for example, takes place along a broad continuum in our society. It has been so for 500 years. 

While issues of male dominance and violence, oppressive conditions and sexual exploitation are real, as they have been since slavery, it is also true that there is a long history of women of all ethnicities using sex work to reconfigure power and to improve their families’ and their own lives. 

Treating these women as only victims to be rescued stereotypes diverse and complex experiences in this area of labour relations, driving sex work further underground and into precarious contexts. As well, when we don’t think of sex work as work, its stigmatised status means that harms experienced on the job, such as physical violence or rape, are less likely to be reported to the police. 

Thinking instead about prostitution and sex work in terms of labour rights, working conditions and unionised representation is a shift that is long overdue. 

All over the world, sex workers are organised. The Jamaica Sex Work Coalition was founded in 2007. The Guyana Sex Worker Coalition was established in 2008, the same year that the Caribbean Sex Work Coalition was formed. 

To quote comments made by executive director Miriam Edwards in 2016, “Sex work is work. Sex worker rights are human rights. Each sex worker belongs to, has a family, has feelings, and has needs. As such, they should benefit from the same rights as any other person.” 

The dominant union tradition in our country plus the space taken up by male-defined concerns and respectability politics are reasons why sex workers are not embraced by unions and find it challenging to organise those in their own industry. Yet, unions build worker power from the ground up and create more democratic decision-making regarding laws and protocols that should govern sex work and protect sex workers’ rights. 

Sex workers are generally freelancers working under a range of circumstances, like many media workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, DJs, graphic artists and others in the gig (temporary or part-time) economy. They could benefit from lessons learned from organising such groups and well as contribute to national knowledge about how best to organise those in the informal sector. 

Sex worker unions are not necessarily focused on decriminalisation, but may prioritise improving health services, community-building, sensitisation of state representatives, and reducing discrimination through human rights awareness. 

Nonetheless, decriminalisation would allow greater collective bargaining, assisted by legal recourse. It would enable prostitutes to sit at the table and propose how their industry as a whole should or should not be regulated, just like chambers of commerce. 

Those in prostitution may be divided by ethnicity, employer, other employment status, gender, age, sexuality, class, health status, motherhood, marital status and more. They are often in a contradictory relationship with the State as HIV policies may be non-discriminatory while legislation is not. 

Public hysteria prevents understanding of sex work as a labour process that includes choice and exploitation – as do most forms of low-paid, low-status and non-unionised labour. 

It includes oppression as well as bases for collective action and self-determination. Greater recognition of the latter would reflect genuine concern about sex workers’ realities. Currently, this is merely a football among political elites.

Post 496.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day (IWD), now being commemorated for more than a hundred years, celebrates the contributions of women and feminists to social progress. It acknowledges the issues of gender and sexuality and the political and economic struggles that still define the lives of women and girls. It affirms continued solidarity with the advancement of women’s rights.

It is a call to energise the anger, joy and hope of collective movements seeking an end to patriarchal beliefs and systems as they intersect other hierarchies, inequities, exclusions and organised forms of violence, including the violence of war and against the earth.

In short, IWD includes commemoration, celebration, revitalisation, recognition and solidarity, whether with our sisters fighting religious fundamentalism in Iran, or with indigenous women fighting for Amazonian ecosystems and their traditional ways of life, or with mothers navigating survival of their families in dangerous sea crossings from Syria to Europe or Venezuela to Trinidad.

It’s a day to also express solidarity with transwomen. Transwomen are not born female but come to identify as women at some point in their lives. They are a minority among the world’s girls and women, and face specific difficulties. These include lack of acceptance by others who mobilise stereotypes that present transwomen in terms of perversion, threat and fear, and who focus on the biological, reproductive, life cycle or social differences between transwomen and women who were born female.

Why emphasise this today? When a group understands what it means to be excluded, stereotyped and even demonised, as Caribbean women have been for centuries since colonisation, there’s greater responsibility to compassionately ensure that others live without such harm.

Second, feminist struggle fundamentally targets a binary division of sex, gender and sexuality that patriarchy, and its henchmen of homophobia, sexism, violence and the sexual division of labour, keep in place. This binary constructs us all into two sexes – male and female, two genders – feminine and masculine, and two sexualities – heterosexual and non-heterosexual.

In Western society, this binary has always reproduced women’s subordination, defining how women can appear, behave and exercise power, what labour they perform, who they can love, and how much violence (and its constant threat) they must endure. Transwomen, just like women in historical feminist struggles, are resisting that binary. We must fight side by side.

Being born female doesn’t give women a right to exclude transwomen from the category “woman”. There are many kinds of women with different biological and social experiences. As well, ultimately, all women are made, not born, for we all must shape ourselves into acceptable representations of our sex or pay the costs.

Some who were born biologically female may not even wish to identify as women, but as non-binary people or as men. Those who are female and appear feminine from birth will have specific experiences of inequality and vulnerability because of their sex and gender. Others who become female or feminine at other life stages will have their own experiences. All exist. All are valid. They don’t threaten each other.

Transwomen are another manifestation of womanhood, with all its contradictions, challenges and complexities. In different contexts, many kinds of women were or are not considered real women – those who are disabled, childless, migrant, poor, black, indigenous, lesbian, jamette, masculine-appearing, in “male” jobs, big or considered fat, with too much body or facial hair, with mental illness, without a menstrual cycle or labouring as a sex worker.

This history, these contexts and the sometimes difficult conversations that are happening globally about what it means to be a woman could take a 12-week UWI course just to explain, so don’t rush to opinion if you have more to learn about debates and activism that are hugely nuanced and, ultimately, rooted in justice.

If someone identifies as a woman, even if you don’t think they should, just respect that. It’s not your journey. If someone doesn’t identify as a woman, even if you think they should, just respect that. It isn’t your journey. If someone isn’t the kind of woman we are expected to be, that too isn’t your journey.

Your journey is to create a better world where women (and people) are safe, equal, free and loved, where being female or feminine is not a source of vulnerability, exclusion or inequity, and where we transition from judging the coherence of others’ sex, gender or sexuality.

Champion the journey each woman is on to become who she is meant to be. Such loving embrace is one way to commemorate IWD.

Post 495.

IN LESS than a week, we have had Hinduism’s Maha Shivaratri on Saturday night, Carnival on Monday and Tuesday, with its grounding in transplanted African traditions, and now Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Catholic period of Lent.

These are all spiritual traditions in one way or another, sometimes overlapping in surprising ways and sometimes focused on establishing their opposition.

As a people, we are blessed to have these and other belief systems available to us to understand more about each other and what it means to live together when we may not agree.

At Maha Shivarati, I sat at the Hindu Prachar Kendra, while Pandita Geeta Ji guided rites around the Shiva lingam. Not my family’s religion, but I thought it was beautiful, and felt lucky I could live in a country where anyone could sit and observe another’s sacred traditions.

Scan world news, this is a time when religions, whether Christianity, Hinduism or Islam, are being increasingly led by divisive politics, where our differences become a basis for excluding, putting down or fomenting mistrust and violence.

It’s growing globally, whether in India, Iran or the US, and those women and men are here too. They are in the churches that stop people from seeing their family if they don’t also belong.

They are in temples and mosques, where orthodoxy matters more than human beings, practising humility, and considering that, maybe, we take different paths to shared destinations. By contrast, I’m interested in those who are open to finding connection, rather than moral superiority.

I was intrigued to see Visham Bhimull’s linking of Shivaratri and Carnival. Both are events which are guided by a lunar calendar. However, Bhimull makes other connections, such as between Shiva, also known as Nataraj or Lord of Dance, and Carnival.

He also suggested that Shiva’s other identity as “Someshwar” is associated with intoxication, as are these two days. Finally, he pointed to co-occurrences with the colour blue as associated with Lord Shiva and with blue devils, who also carry tridents, and are horned like Shiva’s sacred bull, Nandi.

I’m not here getting into a debate about whether such associations are valid nor am I establishing whether or not I agree with these suggestions. I appreciate the space they offer for us to consider who we are in relation to each other, and perhaps see our differences and similarities in new ways, regardless of our race, creed or religion.

There are people who think that only Hindus can discuss Hinduism or only Muslims can discuss Islam or only Christians discuss Christianity. They are one step away from saying that only those who agree with them can speak at all. Beware.

I almost never agree with Archbishop Jason Gordon. Actually, put differently, I disagree with him (and the Catholic position) on a number of human rights and women’s rights issues, and I often despair that so many have to live by positions which I think are prejudiced, harmful and discriminatory.

However, I thought the archbishop’s comments about Carnival, as published in the Catholic News on January 26, were expressed in ways that created points of agreement even among those who may have very different values.

He described Carnival in terms of a multi-layered tapestry in which there was much deserving of celebration. He spoke of the art and discipline of pan, which gives us a glimpse of how we can forge a nation from the ground up in communities as pan sides do. He criticised fetes, but also described concern for the turn to simply importing costumes from China.

I disagreed with his final conclusion, that Carnival doesn’t have a morality of its own – which I think is apparent in mas-making as in pan, but we do agree that it holds up a mirror to society. I appreciated his nuanced considerations and a tone that was more than condemnatory. More than the religious, I have faith in those who can see that others may have different interpretations, practices or paths, but are willing to journey to common ground beyond only their own ideology.

As we begin a different season in our calendar, we have another opportunity in Lent, just as we have at sacred days on the Hindu and Muslim calendars, to invite others in, to reasonably dialogue about what we each bring, and to find words and images that provide examples to consider. We may not always agree, but surely we can see value in thinking about our connections to each other.