Watching her Gayelle family celebrate and remember Marcia Henville, I couldn’t shake disbelief that domestic violence could have caused her death. The loss of such an irrepressible woman left horror hovering behind the love and courage being shared from Gayelle’s studio to our living rooms.
Feeling what Sunity Maharaj rightly called ‘grief upon outrage’ pressing heavily on my heart, I remembered that providing a sense of connection was always the genius of Gayelle and its hosts. Even at home, you could feel you were there with them, close, personal and on set with their emotions, their aspirations and their community.
But it wasn’t just Gayelle who made television we own, it was Marcia, a woman who seemed to know no boundaries, who walked unarmed where police feared to tread, who asked questions to make a politician cringe, and who made her own television brand one that was unapologetically rooted in pursuit of justice. Anyone who watched the programmes she hosted felt compelled by her passion, and on the streets with her she held your gaze, like a clear eye in an angry storm, as she demanded accountability to truths the whole nation could see.
When I was too tired to wake with Gayelle’s night-long vigil, I tried to sleep, but was unable to resolve how such a fearless woman could still be so unsafe in her own bedroom. It’s a different feeling from the sense of threat when Dana Seetahal was murdered. That was public and political, reinforcing that anyone who threated powerful interests and secrets lacks genuine protection in this country.
Marcia’s death happened at home, emphasizing how many women, less fearless than her, lack genuine safety in the one place it should always be. So too with nineteen year old Salma Chadee and Shabana Mohammed, both also killed at home, as they either attempted to leave their relationships or after their relationships had ended. So too with Dorothy Rodrigo, 30 years old, shot on January 2nd, in her bathroom.
Homes are amongst the most unsafe places for the vulnerable. Women are most likely to face life-threatening abuse at the point of leaving relationships. It is their partners who present the greatest threat. We all know the smallest forms of violation and the most unconscionable acts of violence are borne by girls and women of all ages, daily.
In one month of 2013 alone, women reported assaults and threats to police in Barataria, San Fernando, Gasparillo, Marabella, Arima, St. James, Tunapuna, Las Lomas, Malabar, Pinto, Princes Town, Barrackpore, Point Fortin, Arouca, Gasparillo, Moruga, St. Madeleine, Cumuto, Freeport, Couva, Carenage, Malony, Mon Repos, Morvant, Siparia, Scarborough, St. James, La Brea, Valencia, La Horquetta, St. Margarets, and more.
Yet, despite all this information, despite understanding that class, race, and other differences don’t provide women with any guarantees, I couldn’t sleep because I realized how much I also fall for the myth that empowered women are more able to escape pervasive experiences of abuse. I had forgotten that a woman’s public life, her education, her job and even her politics, tell you little about the personal and her negotiations with its deeply embedded, often excused inequalities.
If a woman who was her own woman, like Marcia Henville, could fall victim too, then what does this mean for all the work that we, men, women and the state, need to do?
We lost a woman unlike any in the country and media because we haven’t completely confronted an entire culture of male power and domination. We haven’t made being safe at home a reality. Marcia Henville’s spirit surely demands we pursue such justice. Now, and fearlessly.