June 2017


Post 252.

An historic victory was won last week when child marriage was prohibited by amendments to the marriage laws of Trinidad and Tobago. This was a victory for the women’s movement, supported by male allies and working across race, class and religion, despite how fraught that can be. I was relieved both PNM and UNC MPs voted for an amended law. I was sorry the change failed to happen under Kamla Persad-Bissessar as early as 2010.

The call first came from the Hindu Women’s Organisation (HWO) more than six years ago. Organisations such as the IGDS and FPATT became involved by 2013. Lobbying expanded over the last two years, as a coalition of civil society organizations, including Womantra, CAISO, the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT), the YMCA, CAFRA and more, was brought together by Folade Mutota and WINAD.

It was discriminatory for girls to be marriageable earlier than boys. There was no contemporary reason for this other than girls’ sexual vulnerability at a younger age. The solution isn’t marriage, it’s transforming such vulnerability to older male sexual predation. That this was overwhelmingly an issue affecting adolescent girls points squarely to how gender inequality leads to denial of full self-determination at a much younger age for girls than boys.

The majority of these marriages were between girls under sixteen, and boys and men who were, at times, much older.  This is not the Ram and Sita or Romeo and Juliet story of two teen secret lovers nor of their unwed adolescent sexual experimentation nor of family protection of two secondary students supported to finish both this and tertiary schooling.

Largely working class girls, perhaps with limited educational support or options, and definitely limited prospects for occupational advancement, were experiencing the greatest vulnerability to early sexual initiation by adult men, who usually also had low educational or occupational achievement.

Marriage may have seemed like a secure economic option because an older man promised to look after them. Perhaps, they were seduced by a feeling of adulthood that sexual relationships bring. Maybe they were in love or escaping oppressive and insecure family conditions, or they got pregnant and marriage seemed the next step. It’s likely they didn’t have a clue about the compromises, conflicts and responsibilities that come with partnership with a hardback man.

Rather than “the destruction of family life”, what was destroyed was the legal access of adult men to teen girls. This was necessary if we recognize how gender, religion and class unequally impacted thousands from lower-income families.

There were recommendations that teenagers over sixteen, but within three years of age, be allowed to marry. Such an exception had merit. That the exception didn’t make it to the legislation is a complicated story about the AG vs the HWO and the coalition.

What happens to the babies of unwed mothers? Families and partners can still love and support them such that teenage girls finish schooling, can secure their own income and can decide what they want out of their lives. A change to the marriage law in no way affects this.

If lack of respectability associated with unwed pregnancy is a major fear, then the solution is to give girls knowledge, support and access to contraception.

Adult hypocrisy, rather than “strict family values”, is at stake here for no one wants to girls to have sex, whether by choice and desire or by grooming and predation, without the threat and likelihood of dire consequences. So no one wants to prepare them to protect themselves if they do. When they are made pregnant, everyone can treat them as if they are responsible for the shame. The solution can’t be marriage to the same adult man who didn’t know or care enough to use condoms or protect a teenage girl’s future freedom in the first place.

Too early pregnancy isn’t a more important issue than too early marriage. Like child sexual abuse, they are consequences of adult failures to acknowledge girls’ sexual vulnerability and empower even poor girls to secure better options. If we care as much as we say, all the other work must now gain momentum.

 

Advertisements

Post 251.

Stormy ongoings in the teacup that is Trinidad and Tobago are both an indicator of and distraction from the major hitch facing us today. That hitch is lack of institutional accountability in state and corporate governance of our planet.

Such accountability cannot be secured by either technological or technical fixes, though they may counter crises. Such accountability is totally a matter of politics, meaning political will and public power driven by a fearless demand for human responsibility, justice and truth.

Elections are of little relevance here, for the damage is ground into our bodies and our generations, while being both hidden and denied, in the years between voting a party in and then voting them out. As we all know, we pay the costs with debt and blood.

How can we persuade the young that what the report, Global Catastrophic Risks 2017, calls “striking exponential developments” such as species extinction and carbon dioxide poisoning of the earth will not be solved simply by invention when the challenge is to quicken care, conviction and collective action?

Nuclear warfare risk, for example, is best contained by controlling proliferation, creating decision-making paths that slow the chance of use, and replacing a deterrence model with one banning all nuclear weapons.  ‘Seems utopian’, said my students, when I read them the Bandung position that world peace required disarmament, made in April 1955 when ex-colonies came together to declare their vision for a world other than that dictated to them.

Nonetheless, the fact is that planetary movements of ordinary people can insist we reduce warfare risk, even as it has expanded into chemical and biological weapons, as used in Syria up to this year. The threat isn’t just from rebel terrorists, but from states’ use of non-deadly chemical weapons for “domestic riot control purposes, counter-terrorism operations, international peacekeeping operations…and standby offensive chemical weapons capability”. People somewhere fought for the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, which has not yet been empowered sufficiently.

The climate change crisis is much the same with solutions widely proposed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through a Carbon Law that aims to halve emissions every decade to around zero by 2050. We saw what happened when Trump’s ‘America First’ policy led to his pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement. This means we can’t simply be a world watching to see whether political leaders will commit to fossil fuel phase out and renewable energy.

Indeed, states have “consistently disregarded the high-end scenarios that could lead to abrupt, irreversible or runaway climate change” despite evidence of a tipping point, the likelihood of a 4 degree rise, and effects such as starvation, displacement and ecological collapse. Sweet T and T has historically had a fossil fuel phase in combined with a what-else-we-go-do approach, that is not only short-term and short-sighted, but lethal, and on which all political parties agree.

Such is the Anthropocene, a geological era when we are impacting the habitability of the planet at an accelerating pace. The current situation is one where nine planetary boundaries that underpin the stability of the global ecosystem were identified. These included ozone depletion, fresh water use, ocean acidification, and biosphere integrity which includes species diversity.

We’ve exceeded safe limits for four of the nine, which means it’s past time, as the Global Catastrophic Risks 2017 report recommends, to integrate the valuation of ecosystems into economic decision-making, reduce pollution, change consumption patterns, monitor national and corporate reporting, and cooperate globally in recognition of the fact that these risks cross national boundaries. Who can make this happen? Only you and me, with our insistence multiplied by millions.

Within the university, I’m struck that students don’t seem to realise the fate in front their eyes, nor the urgency required of them to overthrow business as usual, nor the fact that they will be the first global generation in history whose parents have robbed them of a secure future.

Innovation won’t drive change without a sense of will, care, capacity, anger, commitment and immediacy. Yet, I struggle to successfully and sustainably teach these or even to connect our small-island, headline squabbles with irresponsible elites and institutions to similar governance catastrophes whose unjust implications are now planetary.