April 2019


Post 328.

What if?

What if women, so tired of seeing other women and girls threatened, controlled, harassed, abused and killed, took vigilante justice into their own hands? Every man who harmed and killed their partner was now at risk of being violently injured by a gang of ordinary, angry women with pipes, poui, batons, broomsticks, bilnas and more.

Women who couldn’t stop the partners of their daughters, sisters, mothers and friends would find this gang of women and they would enact the kind of punishment which sends a message to all that women will no longer be passive in the face of such impunity. What if the gang of women began to grow as more joined and any violent man became vulnerable to being beaten by masked women secretly connected across the country in defense of those so failed by our justice system?

Any man abusing his partner or any other woman could be found out and dealt with immediately, violently and collectively. Would those men begin to feel afraid? Would violence against women decrease as such punishment acts as prevention? Would women across communities begin to feel as if they were empowered to make such violence end?

What if women began to do this, would it really be so bad? How would they be judged in the court of public opinion, amongst those who resist violence of any kind as a solution, amongst those for whom morality is defined by law, amongst those who have dreamed of just this scenario many times, amongst those inspired by these women to pick up a pot spoon or an iron pan to stop the next lash? And, when it comes to this gang’s judgment to kill perpetrators of violence against women, what decision would you support?

What if? This is the provocative question put to the audience at UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts play, Baddesse, directed by Brendon La Caille, and featuring a powerful cast of young actors.

There were many things I appreciated about the play. The cast of young women played assertive and complex characters, showing themselves as both experiencing violence and refusing passivity to it, yet conflicted by its many contradictions. Indeed, the relationships and negotiations amongst the young and badass women, of different ethnicities, were some of the play’s richest material.

Yet, the production was much more, creating several settings in which violence is discussed, enacted and resisted. We are taken into the bedroom of a politician and his wife, herself an women’s rights advocate, psychologist and battered woman. We are taken on set where the glamourous host, who represents the character of a flamboyant gay man in a way stereotypical of Caribbean theatre, addresses this issue, bringing the audience into the conversation.

We are shown commercials, created for the production, that show how violence becomes normalized as part of consumption of popular culture. We are taken into the safe house of the women’s gang, whose leader is called ‘Black Widow’, and where we get intimate insight into the difficulty of embarking on this dangerous path – out of trauma, frustration and anger, despite the fact that she is a police officer.

The play constantly draws in the audience through use of the theatre space and through direct engagement with audience members. You don’t know if to cry, sometimes despite yourself you want to laugh and mostly you watch the production heart-broken that this is where male violence has led women – to desperate self-defense when there seems to be nowhere else to turn.

In Trinidad and Tobago, 30% of women reported physical and/or sexual IPV in their lifetime and 6% in the last 12 months, 19% reported lifetime non-partner sexual violence, 11% reported economic partner violence, and 35% reported emotional violence in their lifetime with 12% reporting emotional violence in the last twelve months. The 2018 Women’s Health Survey also found that approximately 11,000 women are likely to still be in abusive relationships. Conviction rates following reports is grossly low.

Where is justice in such a society? Indeed, this is what stands out in the play’s well-researched script. Black Widow herself grew up witnessing and experiencing violence. The final scene, played using Arts in Action’s long-established ‘hot seat’ facilitation approach, features an abuser confessing to the trauma of his own father’s violence. Where so many abusers were once victims, their killing cautions even the most angry about vigilantism.

Go see the play. Strong women. Serious questions. It runs April 12-14 at Cheesman Bldg on Gordon Street, St. Augustine.

Advertisements

Post 327.

I WAS given hope this month by the 1.5 million school students who staged a global strike to protest attack on our planet’s ecosystem through fossil capitalism, the destructiveness of a growth-obsessed global economy, and our complete undervaluing of biodiversity for sustaining life on Earth.

Students’ posters’ messages were: “Our planet is changing. Why aren’t we?” “Make Earth great again,” “There is no planet B,” “Denial is not a policy,” “We’re missing lessons to teach you one,” “The clock is ticking and time is against us,” “We are the last generation that can fix this,” “The oceans are rising, so are we,” and one highly relevant to our region, “Think or swim.”

The strikes were on every continent. These were youth whose future is in peril because of their parents’ generation. Things were quiet in TT, but they should not have been.

All Caribbean children’s individual aspirations are threatened by climate change. From Mozambique to Nebraska, just this week, we’ve seen that success can be cut down over mere days. We’ve already seen that in Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico.

Students are demanding governments declare “a climate emergency.” This would seem extreme if only it wasn’t so realistic. The last 19 years included the warmest years on record, worsening food and water security risks as well as extreme floods, droughts and heatwaves.

Globally, in 2017, disasters triggered by weather- and climate-related hazards led to a US$320 billion loss, reports the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Business-as-usual growth could mean over 140 million climate migrants by 2050, according to the World Bank.

Outdoor air pollution, largely from fossil fuel combustion alone, is estimated to result in 4.2 million premature deaths annually. That’s Sahara dust problems multiplied.

What if our students decided to strike in solidarity (and they still could – every Friday), what would adults say? Should students stay in school and pretend that good grades will mean good jobs, and that success depends on conformity to the status quo? “No. This is the most important lesson of all,” answered many teachers and parents who supported the more than 2,000 protests in over 120 countries.

In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. It gave us 12 years to act. “While solutions increasingly exist, especially in the energy sector, there is as yet no movement on global action commensurate to the challenge,” writes Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

There are clear plans out there for how to respond by developing on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, smarter approaches to land development, shifts to more sustainable forms of agriculture, protection of forests, wiser water management, and more efficient and circular use of metals, petrochemicals and construction materials.

There are also calls for governments to put a price on carbon and move toward mandatory climate risk disclosure for major investors and companies. Even more, the call is for net-zero energy systems because models show that, to avert dangerous levels of climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions must fall to zero.

The New Climate Economy report puts it well: “Current regulations, incentives and tax mechanisms are a major barrier to implementing a low-carbon and more circular economy.

“For example, they slow down the penetration of new building materials in construction activity. In agriculture, they subsidise the application of too much mineral fertiliser, diverting innovation activity away from more sustainable forms of farming.

“They make it cost-competitive to deploy single-use forms of plastic packaging, contributing to the plastics crisis we are now seeing in the oceans.

“They make it hard to design products in a way that maximises component reuse. Along with getting carbon pricing right, we also need to tackle a host of other policies which are protecting the old inefficient, polluting economy.”

An example of a small step we can locally get right is TT’s Beverage Container Bill, now 20 years in the making.

The student strike makes sense because, despite our signing onto the Paris Agreement, Cabinet is twiddling its thumbs while the hills burn, WASA issues water-shortage warnings, and there’s insufficient plan or implementation to reduce our footprint.

It’s not too late for Caribbean students to join their peers in global action. Across race, class, religion and geography, this is the single issue in which thousands of children have a greater investment in showing up in front of Parliament than in showing up at school.