Post 409.

SOCIAL movements always need both action and reflection. The protests and vigils of the past two weeks have been immense. It was unbelievably powerful to see thousands take to the streets to express their horror at continued violence against women. This was a landmark moment in Trinidad and Tobago history, one which we should take some time to understand.

Many ideas mixed in those crowds, from those who believe mothers have primary responsibility for whom sons become to those who think that boys need strong male role models to become better men. Looking on, the confluence of views and messages was complex, and at times problematic.

I was intrigued by women and men’s hope that such public outcry, including businesses closing or women staying home, would result in real change. I was hopeful too, but more focused on the work that would continue after everyone went home. Would our advocacy be more immediately effective following these massive numbers? Would the Government make soothing pronouncements on which it didn’t follow up? Would those who came out also try to make a difference in the long term, and in what ways? What opportunities had we gained for systemic change?

Men joined with signs and statements in numbers I’ve never seen, organising rallies and sharing their solutions as citizens, police, business leaders, and poets. Others became women’s-rights activists overnight, leaving us to hope they understand the painstaking work it takes to shift gender socialisation, ensure women’s reproductive rights, end homophobia, reduce male domination in leadership, and orient state policy and action toward advancing gender equality and social justice, for that is what it will actually take to end gender-based violence.

Machel put out a song about protecting women, despite the fact that women don’t want protection. What we want are rights, justice and freedom.

It was amazing how many ideas people had. We found taxi drivers leading in creating safer transport for women and girls, through their own self-organisation. Others recommended finally filling vacant positions in social services and policing, which can help improve state response. Some recommended mandatory mediation between victims seeking protection orders and abusers, despite the fact that this potentially further endangers individuals who fear for their life.

The State approved pepper spray, now putting women’s protection even more in their own terrified hands. There was no promise of a gender-sensitive transport policy, though measures such as a mobile app, lights which would be fixed to hired vehicles, a QR code which could be scanned, and a renewed registration exercise for all drivers were announced.

Fascinatingly, the PNM used the moment to reintroduce the old idea of a monorail, even though that wouldn’t help women get to the far reaches of the country where transportation is most insecure.

Andrea Bharatt’s casting as a “perfect victim” perhaps also allowed us to cross a line forever in victim-blaming, but it saddened me that 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, going to her grandmother’s on a Sunday, was not equally considered to have been perfect or a tipping point for us all.

These weeks achieved something, perhaps many things, but we are not entirely sure what.

Varying agendas gained ground. It’s clear that there has been some social-norm change. It was heartening to see feminist language about women’s rights and transformation of masculinities on placards across the country. State language may become more careful, for what prime minister will again tell women that he is “not in their choice of men,” given how many girls go missing, how many serial rapists roam, the increase in women’s reports of domestic violence since March last year, and state culpability in failing to adequately resource any real prevention strategy thus far?

What is not clear is whether our society is actually any safer. I’d be surprised if anyone thinks it is. There were attempted kidnappings of women travelling by taxi last week alone.

Our challenge now is not about ideas, but implementation and accountability. Rather than mushrooming into disparate initiatives, we need to partner with core groups working on these issues for decades. There is more work going on than most realise and this is the moment to build impact and reach.

Over the next weeks, I will be highlighting such work, and invite groups pursuing solutions to share them with me. If we agree that our society is no safer than before, what are our next steps?

We need to know what each other is doing, share our analyses, strengthen our collaboration, and agree on effective strategies.

Post 402.

Sometimes, when I’m quietly at my desk, the media calls for a statement on another murdered woman, and I haven’t yet heard the news, and my instinct is to just sit silently in shock despite demands to respond immediately. Quite often, despite having so many recommendations at my fingertips, I’m at a loss for words. It’s regret that we couldn’t do enough to save another child from abuse or another girl from disappearing or another woman from death.

Sometimes, I send the media to other advocates, from Women of Substance or the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals or the Coalition Against Domestic Violence or CreateFutureGood or Womantra, and I wonder if their heart will sink the way mine does when they get that call.

Sometimes, I’m just tired thinking and talking about violence. It feels never-ending, like waiting for the next story, or knowing that so much harm to women and girls is occurring in the peacefulness of each night and remaining unreported. Despite the need to be aware, there are mornings when I can’t read the news. As a nation, we are so traumatised by stories we hear. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like for victims, and the cost they pay for our slowness to change hangs heavy in my chest.

It must be like this for so many who are addressing violence in a sustained way: social workers, counsellors, service providers, police officers, shelter managers, those working in child protection, those providing victim and witness support, media workers, advocates and activists. I think about the trauma they carry, as we all do, with each story. I think about how much I have to stay abreast of interviews, opinion pieces, political leaders’ statements, and debates about violence against women and girls, and it makes me very tired. Sometimes, I close my eyes and wish it was easy to not care.

Violence doesn’t only traumatise victims and families, its harm spreads wide for it also brings feelings of fear and powerlessness, injustice and sadness. People want more guns. I want more social workers. More of those healing rather than harming communities everywhere.

Sometimes, I think I’m not very good for my family, for I’m hardly present enough, and I often miss the chance to take a walk with Ziya or have breakfast together or spend time with her while she falls asleep at night. There are costs to this commitment; costs to time, energy, and mental and physical health. I wonder if I’m failing to make memories with her, for I seem to always be working, in some way, to make a difference. I wonder how much women have to give before they burn out. I wonder how everyone else does it. I dream of a month where there are no reports of abuse so I could spend more time with my family, set aside advocacy, and pretend injustice doesn’t exist.

I didn’t want to leave this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence without thinking of all those giving as much as they can to end violence in families and against children, to help victims secure justice and find healing, and to improve state response. I know they are tired. They were tired when young Shannon Banfield was killed in December four years ago. In the wake of Ashanti Riley’s killing, they are even more tired today.

We think about victims and families, and distressed communities, but we don’t often understand the impact on those responding, the care and understanding they need from their partners, and the exhaustion they carry. Sometimes, I know that they return home at the end of the day as emptied individuals with nothing more to give even to those they love.

To those that are doing this work, I wish you rejuvenation. I wish you time with loved ones. I wish you a sea bath to wash away the pain you encounter daily. I know you have dedicated your life to a better world. I know weariness will not stop your commitment. In my last words on violence for this year, I honour your contribution and impact, however incremental. I write to thank you for the work that you do.

Post 401.

When will it be safe to travel by taxi? When will no one get raped in church? When will fathers not rape daughters in a security booth? When will a ten-year-old girl never again have to survive being smothered while molested repeatedly by a man the family trusted? When will we be safe in our bedrooms?

When will killers stop stuffing women into a barrel or leaving them dead on a river bank or beaten bloody on a forest floor or beheaded in front of their families? When will women never again be bludgeoned outside their work or set on fire in their home or stabbed to death outside of a school?

When will men no longer drug girls and drag them home claiming they are their daughters? When will adolescent girls no longer disappear at rates higher than any other group in our society? When will migrant girls stop being the most vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation?

When will the threat and fear of sexual violence not define the lives of girls and women from birth to death? When will a baby always be free from rape and incest? When will there be sufficient safe houses? When will perpetrators be put out by police so that families can be safe in their homes?

When will male partners, husbands, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, police officers, church elders, teachers, taxi drivers, bandits, businessmen and traffickers stop sexually violating, raping and beating women, girls and boys?

When will we acknowledge how many pregnancies result from unwanted sex, forced sex, and rape? When will we acknowledge how many miscarriages result from women being beaten while pregnant? When will we be honest that women are raped by their partners in front of their children because making children witness violence is a known and common practice to instill silence, compliance and fear?

When will the media not describe a man’s sexual assault of a mother with the headline that she was smoking ganja as if that was an invitation to rape, when he pointed a gun at her head and at her baby? When will we no longer say a woman was raped or beaten or killed and instead report that another man beat, raped and killed, putting attention and responsibility on those committing acts of violence?

When will state officials stop speaking as if women choose violence by wearing a skirt, going to lime, agreeing to a relationship, playing mas, or wanting to keep their job?

When will more men hold their bredren accountable for their violence? When will they stop men from preying on young girls as happens every day? When will the majority of men stop staying silent? When will they only show boys to obey women and girls’ right to be free and safe? When will someone always intervene?

When will we realise women stay because they can’t financially afford to leave, they fear the licks they’ll get if they do or they believe they or their children will be murdered if they go? Don’t we see that women are at greatest risk of being murdered when they try to leave? How can we blame women when perpetrators leave a trail of victims as they go from relationship to relationship?

When will churches and mosques and temples acknowledge that women are deathly afraid and may have nowhere to turn because families send them back and religious leaders advise women to stay, to keep trying, to be forgiving and to be more submissive? When will religious leaders stop telling men that their rightful role is to lead women when these very beliefs are the root cause of so many women’s vulnerability?

When will mothers never again be complicit in the abuse and prostitution of their children? For no children should be sacrificed by adults, regardless of their own fear and trauma or need to survive.

When will every perpetrator be named by those who know them? When will there be programmes targeted at perpetrators?

When will we stop being asked for solutions after repeating the solutions again and again year after year amidst political lip service, state under-resourcing, and leaders’ misguided admonitions of women? When will one little girl or boy be too many? When will one more woman killed be considered a reason for a national emergency? When will Ashanti Riley’s horrific murder become a wake-up call for action and measurable results that create transformation? When will we finally do enough?

If not today, if not now, when? When?