Post 276.

Class has always been an issue in the women’s movement. Crossing class divisions among women, and empowering working class women to have the pick-up-the-phone power of wealthy businessmen, remains the challenge today.

This, despite organisations such as Women Working for Social Progress (Working Women) with an explicit politics of working class women’s empowerment since the 1980s.

Media wished us all ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ on Thursday. I reflected on whether I’d prefer being wished a ‘powerful’ or ‘fearless’ IWD, instead of ‘happy’.

‘Happy’ doesn’t require acknowledging how much more people need to contribute to changes to our ecological and economic decision-making, corruption, social services, transportation options, and gang violence, which is what women really want. Happy isn’t a statement of commitment or solidarity, it’s a celebration, which is cool, but it’s apolitical, which is not.

This day was born from garment women workers’ public and unapologetic protests for better wages and working conditions, and from socialist women’s struggles in relation to class inequities in the economy and politics, women’s unequal responsibility for care work, violence, and more.

Radio hosts, particularly male ones who dominate the talk show terrain, discussed IWD, often combining progressive positions on consent, violence and women’s leadership with stereotypical and problematic block talk on women’s ‘natural’ characteristics, lesbianism and abortion.

The slew of activities that filled last week spoke to a growing national will to see respect, honour and safety as part of women’s rights. This is a success that has taken 110 years of blood, sweat and tears globally.

In the present, many months go into planning activities so that women get direct access to political leadership or so that it’s the women from rural South and Cashew Gardens whose work is amplified or so that men are called on to be vocal and visible allies.

In addition, IWD cocktails and fashion shows, and sisterhood with Proseco events, pop up; some very last minute and some quite costly, as if IWD is trending or another all-inclusive or about etiquette or a day which women should pay to access.

Rather, IWD is built on long-term and even year-round commitment to transforming a world in which women do not yet have full human rights, choice and freedoms in conditions of their choosing.

While there is joy in gathering over food and drinks, there is a risk when the costs separate women rather than bringing them together. Finally, when events appear a week before on the calendar, as if it only just occurred to the organisers, it makes you wonder if they took the time to find out what the long term work, and collaboration with and support to that, could have helped accomplish instead of another separate event.

Yet, so many events last week democratize a feminist dream in a way that makes sense to different women wherever they are. Amidst this, professional women and those of wealth and means should be aware of gathering to celebrate sisterhood, but without sisters lacking wealth, professional status and networks.

I thought about this while putting on a good jacket to talk to women leaders and managers about a private sector approach to addressing intimate partner violence.

I also thought about it while reflecting on my own political goals to provide ways for women of all classes to participate in IWD, whether by cutting out an IWD poster printed on March 8 in the newspaper and making sure its up in the store where they work or the office where they clean; or by freely sharing all the #speakyourtruth and #caribbeanmencan messages created for Facebook and Instagram; or by marching as a nation of women and girls gathering across differences of class, age, ethnicity, sexuality, geography and ability.

As commemoration of IWD expands, let’s remember its history is not just about celebration, but affirming how we can put our power to empowering women still needing and pursuing what others have achieved.

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Post 271.

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Painting by Susan Mains           

Justice for Yugge!

There are some ways of wielding power that should end a political dynasty, for they are so cynical, manipulative and unethical that collective disgust should rise up with toppling momentum. The injustice experienced by 22-year-old Yugge Farrell in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a blatent example of such advantageousness in our midst, and we should not let it occur without consequences.

Yugge was charged for using abusive language to Karen Duncan-Gonsalves, wife of Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, daughter in law of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, and Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney General’s office. After Yugge pleaded not guilty, the prosecutor requested that she be sent to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. The magistrate agreed without any evidence of mental health issues presented to justify court-ordered evaluation and confinement. Indeed, if Yugge’s mental health were an issue, the charge and court process should not have proceeded as it did in the first place.

Yugge spent three weeks in a mental health centre. According to newspapers reports, she was administered a cocktail of medication outside of the court order and against her will, without proper or independent evaluation, without trained psychiatrists on staff, and despite the fact that the Mental Health Act only speaks to observation and evaluation and not to involuntary admission and treatment.

The St. Vincent and Grenadines Human Rights Association, a petition hosted online by Code Red for Gender Justice and continuing to be signed by hundreds across the region, and a collective statement created by Womantra in Trinidad and Tobago all point to misuse of political power, questionable judicial process and integrity, and human rights violation in this situation.

The petition asks whether commitment to a mental institution for use of insulting language is a regular occurrence or, instead, irresponsible and heavy-handed state force. Yugge has publicly claimed she was in a romantic relationship with Minister Gonsalves up to 2016, but as the petition points out, “state entities can easily use the excuse of mental instability to vilify, discredit, and institutionalize any critic or person(s) deemed a threat or embarrassment to the established political order”.

Regional calls are therefore for a formal investigation into the decision to detain and medicate Yugge Farrell, an immediate review of the Mental Health Act in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the dropping of all charges, and public resistance to such state persecution to silence truth.

Shockingly, Prime Minister and Minister of Legal Affairs Ralph Gonsalves, despite his clear conflict of interest in protecting his political heir, has been brazenly commenting on the case in media. On January 24th, SVG’s iWitness News described him as arguing that “a magistrate can decide to commit someone to the psychiatric hospital based on information that the prosecutor gives the magistrate outside of the court proceedings and which is not disclosed to either the defendant or to their lawyer”.

Ralph Gonsalves is no neutral bystander here and himself has been accused of sexual predation and harassment. What we are seeing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is another cover-up strategy to hide sexual impropriety by powerful men in government.

As Leave out Violence in SVG (LOVNSVG), a group which focuses on gender-based violence and violence against women has put it, “Yugge’s story highlights the subjection of the poor and those on the margins to the whims and fancies of the political elite and ruling class”.

If the region had not been horrified and acted in solidarity, Yugge’s experience and confinement may have passed with impunity. Now that Yugge has been released on bail, her defense, protection and wellness are priorities. Additionally, as Womantra put it, we are “closely watching the further conduct of this case and stand ready to speak out against the slightest hint of malfeasance by any agent of the state”.

Find and sign the petition on the Code Red for Gender Justice webpage. Support the fundraising campaign for Yugge at: https://www.gofundme.com/justiceforyugge.

https://www.facebook.com/justiceforyugge

http://www.looptt.com/content/update-yugge-farrell-relieved-be-granted-bail-2

https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/1 /24/the_dark_side_of_the_sunny_caribbean.html

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/opinion/st-vincent-jamaica-and-a-tale-of-two-entitled-families-in-politics

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/17/ralph-is-wrong/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/25/yugge-could-spend-years-in-psychiatric-hospital-lawyer/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/23/former-model-yugge-farrell-screams-as-she-is-sent-back-to-psych-hospital-videos/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/23/farrell-given-antipsychotic-drugs-against-lawyers-advice-video/

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/opinion/st-vincent-jamaica-and-a-tale-of-two-entitled-families-in-politics_123551?profile=1444%3Fprofile%3D1444

Post 249.

Indian Arrival Day provides a moment for looking back through history and asking what we should continue to carry in our jahajin bundle tomorrow. All remembering is selective. For young Indo-Trinidadian women and dougla or mixed-race women with Indian ancestry, who we accept and empower ourselves to be is shaped by the historical stories we are told. So, choosing those stories is as key to what we remember as it is to how we define ourselves today.

Stories of Indian womanhood typically idealise a sacrificial, dutiful and respectable figure, making many young women wonder how to manage being both Indian and self-determining at the same time. It’s as if Indo-Caribbean and feminism are awkwardly fitted words, to be lived in ways you hide from your family or as a marker of your irreverence to the teachings of priests, pundits and imams. Or, worse, your failure to be either appropriately Indian or an acceptable woman.

But, this ideal figure is a mythical one – drawn from emphasizing some women over others in India or the history of Islam, some goddesses or others in religious texts, and some women over others today.

Instead, the Indian women we should be remembering are our great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers. They were complex characters, not simply self-sacrificing. They could be unruly and heroic. They were imperfect, yet resilient, resourceful and determined survivors who changed lives, families and communities. These were the kind of women in whom we can see struggles, choices, regrets, victories and secrets, so much closer to our own lives despite the span of sometimes more than a century.

Thirty years of Indo-Caribbean feminist writing has highlighted that Indian women who arrived as part of the odyssey of indenture came as workers, not as wives. Some were kidnapped or fooled by recruiters, but many were escaping conditions not of their own choosing, including economic conditions shaped by successive droughts in India, the multifarious violence of British colonization, and the oppressiveness of marital, family, caste and village life. Sexual violence was also a reality in India, on ships that crossed the Kala Pani, and on sugar estates in the new world.

Amidst all this, these jahajins earned their own money (though at discriminatory wages in comparison to men), accrued and invested their own savings, and started and left sexual relationships in ways that explicitly threatened men’s control over them. The idea that Indian women were or should be docile, dependent or domesticated was a myth wielded by colonial authorities, religious leaders and Indian men to manners women, such that men would not turn to the cutlass or courts to control them and such that the British experiment wouldn’t be seen as producing the wrong kind of woman for a patriarchal stable family.

Post-indentureship feminism, which Lisa Outar and I write about in the collection, Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought, is the pursuit of self-determination which, in this post-indentureship period, explicitly builds on these stories which we are less often told.

It’s a sense of rights and how to navigate them which emerges from looking, not to India or texts or myths or the past, but to the indentureship experience and the archetypes or models which women have provided for us since they set foot on those boats.

It’s a legacy of women’s dreaming, strategizing, learning, laboring and organizing to resist, withstand or outlive violence, to express sexual desires and experience erotic pleasure, and to manage the demands and rewards of respectability.

Post-indentureship feminism describes how Indian women today negotiate gender ideals, navigate a range of aspirations and expectations, and wield a sense of self and rights shaped by decades of feminism. That feminism, in all its kinds, is home-grown. It emerged from the plantation experience of slavery and indentureship, and provided Indian women with the rich possibilities for cross-ethnic relations, intimacies and solidarities among women which are the best of Caribbean feminism today.

As we remember stories from indentureship to present, young women now have 170 years of Indian women’s sometimes hidden histories from which to find inspiration for our fearlessness and refusal to obey oppressive ideals at our own expense. Our families and communities should be our allies. This would honour those who arrived seeking nothing less.