Post 330.

There are women in every neighbourhood in Trinidad and Tobago who have terminated a pregnancy at least once. From here, our support to current efforts to decriminalize abortion in Jamaica should be clear.

In T and T, women can risk jail and pay for a private medical procedure. If they cannot pay or because poverty, age, lack of information and partner violence prevented them from being supported enough in this life decision, they could end up in hospital with various harms caused from unsafe options, as more than two thousand woman do here every year.

Illegal terminations can also result in long-term risks to reproductive health. They can be so unsafe that they result in women’s death.

The World Health Organisation estimates that twenty-two thousand abortions are performed in Jamaica every year. Additionally, the Partnership for Women’s Health and Well-being highlights that, “Complications arising from unsafe abortion are among the top 10 causes of maternal mortality in Jamaica, especially among teenagers”.

Banning abortion has never stopped the practice. However, it endangers women. It is a human rights violation which mothers negotiate without recourse to a public health policy that meets their needs.

Illegality also discriminates against poor women, whose right to equal medical treatment, privacy, integrity of the person, and access to sexual and reproductive health services is threatened by a combination of economic and social injustice, and arbitrary and archaic law.

Although women across religion, race, class, educational level and relationship status seek terminations by the tens of thousands under conditions not of their own choosing, poor and young women remain most vulnerable. In the Caribbean. 70% of all unsafe abortions are carried out on women below 30 years old and women 15-49 years old have the highest rate of unsafe abortions globally.

Prevalence of partner and non-partner violence in women’s lives is high, and pregnant women and mothers are at highest risk. Women do not always ‘choose’ to get pregnant when surviving conditions of physical and sexual violence, including forced sex, and such violence may leave them further unable to cope with children.

We fail to provide effective, national sex education. We let women ketch with employers who won’t hire them in case they get pregnant. We turn our heads at self-employed women who have no access to paid maternity leave. We blame poor women for having children they cannot cope with and for terminating pregnancies because they cannot cope. Is this an approach grounded in care, justice and respect?

Women often know they are making the best decision they can at the time, yet criminalization keeps them in fear, shame and silence when they most our need compassion, support and courage. In Jamaica, a woman can be sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to terminate a pregnancy, and accomplices or facilitators up to three years.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Offences Against the Person Act similarly makes abortion illegal except in cases of risk to the health and life of a woman. In both countries, many doctors are unwilling to take the risk of interpreting the law, also leaving women vulnerable to doctors’ personal biases.

Jamaican Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn has bravely presented a Motion to the Parliament proposing de-criminalisation of abortion and its replacement by a civil law setting out conditions under which women would be able to access legal and safe termination of pregnancies. The call is to create a Woman’s Right to Pregnancy Act that allows a woman, after appropriate counselling, the right of termination within the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter, if necessary, to preserve her life.

This is necessary because it is just. At 12 weeks, a foetus is four inches long and weighs one ounce. It has all its organs, but none are functioning. It is not able to function fully independently outside the womb until 23 weeks. Aborting an embryo up to 12 weeks is not murdering a baby. In Jamaica, committed Christians have been speaking out in recognition of this call to recognize a mother as a human being with an inalienable right to decide what happens to her body.

This amendment could follow Barbados and Guyana where abortion was decriminalized in 1983 and 1995. Belize, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also expanded exceptions that allow for abortion. Jamaican parliamentarians and social justice advocates are to be congratulated for putting this issue on the legislative agenda.

Trinidad and Tobago can show solidarity with such leadership on behalf of women and families. Meanwhile, we watch Jamaica, expectantly.

 

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Post 288.

Back in Trinidad, the brown grass in my backyard makes the threat of hurricanes seem far away, but islands up the Caribbean chain are already looking ahead. I didn’t even notice the clock ticking its way into official rainy season until a few days ago when I was up at midnight watching lightning repeatedly tear down through Havana’s cobalt sky.

The next day, amidst heavy, dusty heat, I listened to a panel on climate change at a Caribbean Studies conference. You wouldn’t believe the words speakers threw around: Infrastructurality. Disaster capitalism. The Age of Disaster. The politics of recovery.

They made it seem like one morning you wake up and you understand why Indigenous People believed in Huracan, the god of wind, storms and lightning, because on some dark night you may be too powerless to do anything but pray.

Hurricanes decapitated Grenada’s houses, and almost decimated Barbuda and Dominica. They’ve submerged Havana and flooded roads in Kingston. Parts of Puerto Rico are still without restored electricity since last year’s Maria.

Disaster capitalism is corrupt or exploitative profiting off natural disasters, strategically using them to land grab or forcing privatisation in ways that make governments and populations dependent and pliable to foreign or corporate interests.

In Puerto Rico, people had to resist push to privatise not only electricity, but also public schooling, and push back against reconstruction loans at interest rates that meant permanent debt.

Climate change is the region’s singular crisis, caused by the impact of a global economic order that continues to arrive in waves on our shores. It’s a repeating story of these islands.

The colonial encounter with the Caribbean was fueled by enough profit motive and warped logic to fell thriving Indigenous belief systems, landscapes, ways of life and populations by the millions. The effects were cataclysmic.

Today, scholars consider fossil capitalism a contemporary form of extreme and devastating economic violence. It wields power over our life and death. It leads to overnight collapse of tourist capacity, agricultural output, public health provision and GDP, along with developed country status. It’s also our own brand of development so we have a hand in our demise, and no plan for saving ourselves.

A three-hour rain floods the Northern Range down to the Central plains, submerges Port of Spain, and drowns millions of dollars in crops. The best we can do is have strong, resilient infrastructure in terms of water provision, roads, buildings and the electric grid, but Trinidad and Tobago isn’t near ready.

If you are in a community prone to flooding, start hammering at the doors of your MP and Regional Corporation. Demand a plan that’s bigger than household compensation, which is increasingly going to be insufficient, and unable to protect us from what is considered a ‘tragedy of the commons’.

This is a tragedy that starts with our inability to protect the temperature balance in our shared planetary atmosphere and therefore to prevent worsening regional storms. It continues with our inability to protect our nations from the socialisation of losses resulting from privatisation of fossil exploitation gains. Finally, it ends with our failure to collectively decide what disaster and recovery measures are best for whole, interconnected communities.

We will not survive attack on commonly shared resources and realities through short-term, individualistic or selfish recovery strategies. For us, it’s not an ‘if’, but a ‘when’, once the global economic order continues as is.

Soon, our brown grass will turn brilliant green. Our Caribbean neighbours will become anxious about the eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes predicted. Besides climate change, there’s a natural climate pulse cycle that produced hurricanes in the 1950s and 1960s, and is back again.

Following Huracan’s sweep, the disaster isn’t just the damage, it’s also the recovery. Global media will descend to package stereotyped apocalyptic scenes of devastated citizens in need of rescue. What we need is resilient, regional power to stop this exceptional harm.

After its first category 5 hurricane in recorded history, Dominican PM Roosevelt Skerrit described Dominica’s state with the words, ‘Eden in broken’. This metaphor of Eden isn’t random.

The whole point of the Caribbean in the Western narrative of modernity is to be a perfect paradise, to be beautiful and consumable and an escape from elsewhere.

That was the story of the region repeated for five hundred years and it’s how we understand ourselves today; In Eden, under God’s eye, in fear of his wrath, wondering how much, this season, Huracan will weep with us along our tragic path.

Post 280.

I sat three rows from Theresa May when, as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, she apologized for Britain’s role in criminalizing same-sex conduct in former colonies. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said, “They were wrong then and they are wrong now.”

Apologies by Britain should come hard and fast, for colonialism itself, the slave trade, inconceivably vast economic extraction and impoverishment, antidemocratic laws kept in place by a ‘savings clause’, and more.

This apology should not be diminished, for it results from courageous and sustained global South struggle, across at least thirty-six countries. Nonetheless, as Justice Rampersad pointed out in his April 12th decision, changing discriminatory laws is a matter for emancipatory Caribbean jurisprudence. We didn’t need the British empire’s ‘benevolent’ mission of colonising and civilising. We don’t need a 21st century version of civilising now.

On the same stage that morning, Jamaica’s PM Andrew Holness spoke, quite brilliantly, highlighting what sustainability, prosperity, inclusiveness and security mean from a Caribbean perspective in which equity and accountability among nations count.

In an earlier response on having gays in his Cabinet, Holness said, “I think that the first step is that the State protect the human rights of every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or inclination”.  This was a major shift in public position from Bruce Golding’s infamous “not in my Cabinet” statement, and highlights increasing openings for equitable and accountable Caribbean leadership.

Here at home, President Weekes herself has said, “I think in terms of the State and the law all citizens and all persons under the protection of our jurisdiction should have equal treatment whatever their gender, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their race we need to have absolute equality across the board in terms of State obligations and constitutional rights”.

Having been involved in LBGTI rights advocacy since about 2005, I didn’t expect to hear such public declarations in my lifetime. I have a beautiful memory of CAISO’s 2010 campaign, conceptualized in many ways by Colin Robinson’s politics of claiming belonging to a nation of ‘many bodies’, and the dual flying of national and rainbow flags high in the air at massive UNC rallies.

It wasn’t an easy space, and the PNM campaign trail would have been significantly worse, for those were the infamous ‘big C’ days, but to publicly declare equal citizenship involved great courage. There are forgotten foot soldiers, among many, who have moved popular culture forward over the last decade.

I thought about all this in relation to Guardian’s front-page expose on Michelle Lee-Ahye. There’s much to disparage about ‘rescuing’ someone from social media smearing, and doing this using her partner’s photos, in a still homophobic society and without consent. There’s much to say about the problems of prying into the private lives of women in public life though that’s long been debunked as illegitimate, irrelevant and sexist.

However, more important, was the public backlash to the newspaper, rather than Lee-Ahye’s choices. Many were clear that her sexuality was a non-story, and were outraged it would be headlined, supposedly and misguidedly for her protection. Being a woman-loving woman, or any woman who has sex outside of heterosexual marriage, might be a basis for idle gossip, but it doesn’t tarnish her achievement of gold nor does it reduce her right to privacy. That this could be expressed as a widely held view was an unintended, progressive outcome of that story.

In 2005, I couldn’t predict all this. Advocacy felt exhausting and ongoing without any progress. Even seeing hundreds proudly, joyfully gathering with rainbow flags over these past weeks was unimaginable as late as 2010.

Hope has been reborn in me. Yet, the evictions and firings of LBGTI citizens following Justice Rampersad’s decision signal continued need to tirelessly press back against continued vulnerability, believing that together we can actually aspire and achieve.

Post 157.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children. Children in Gaza, in South Sudan, in Brazil, and in Trinidad and Tobago. Children being killed by bombs. Children facing mass starvation. Children living in a state that can find money for football while they barely survive on the street. Children being abused in shelters and in their own homes.

In one way or another, all us adults are collectively responsible for all children. Our responsibility isn’t about charity, though that has its contribution to make. Our responsibility is about ending violence of every kind, relentlessly pursuing disarmament on every front, infusing a commitment to child rights into every culture, and refusing to let children be unprotected against our own mercilessness, whether from cruelty or neglect, from corruption-caused poverty or avoidable war. Who will hold adults like us responsible, and empower us to do better, if not also us?

Here at home, another taskforce presented a vision for a way ahead for children, and we can almost predict being disappointed by its implementation, because of delays regarding personnel, resources, legislation and political will, even as well meaning public servants press on with commitment and passion. Malala Yousafzai came and, because she was a girl child, was silenced from presenting a crucial message to all adults in her midst, including and especially Muslim men, whose leaders somehow missed the entire point of her global struggle against patriarchal definition of girls’ rights. Another video circulated of a child being beaten, this time with a shovel, and we already know there are no social services that can provide true rescue.

If I’m like other parents, there’s that moment of unmatchable peace at those times when I’m falling asleep knowing that Ziya is safe and near to me. I think of her absolute trust in us when she is scared, her reliance on us to provide for her needs, and her unquestioning expectation that she is loved, and can feel at home and be herself. That should be the reality for every child, but also I lie awake at night just thankful that she’s been able to experience what seems like a privilege for precious few, feeling like getting it right for her is as much as I can do.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children, knowing that our global failure is not good enough. Marches can bring people together and show that an issue merits public concern, but marches won’t help children in Pakistan, Jamaica, Uganda or here. NGOs can take responsibility where the state and families fail, but we can’t leave often women-run, volunteer- dependent NGOs to fix our society. We can always blame deficient state services, but the problem remains the world that each of us adults allows to continue as is. All us adults are collectively responsible in one way or another for all children because every single one of them is vulnerable in a way each of us is not, because the civility of a society is marked by the quality of life of its most vulnerable, because their vulnerability is a result of our domination.

We can’t entirely prevent what is happening to children in India, China, the US or Europe, but almost a million adults don’t need an extra cent to transform the terms of childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. We adults need to grow up. Commitment by us all is necessary, and possible. Right now, it is heartbreakingly clear, from Gaza to South Sudan, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, children everywhere desperately need our far greater, non-negotiable commitment to care.

Post 6

I’ve never experienced someone else owning my body like this. Zi crawls over to me while playing, pulls down my top’s straps and launches her mouth, and now four teeth, toward my breasts. She twists against me, feeds, sighs, then drags herself away and crawls off.

She acts like I am killing her if I try to put her back to sleep late in the night by patting or with water instead. Gets offended and vex. Eventually, I turn over and she wraps herself around me, clamps onto my breast, beings to kick her foot in the air and hypnotically feeds. Eventually, I wake up, pry her off and try to unlock my hunched shoulder.

Having had someone survive solely off my body for more than six months, I feel a kind of awe for breasts that I did not before. You could put me out there to market for TIBS. Breast-feeding can be a burden, but it also makes you feel important, like you are doing something that makes you special to this baby. That’s also why you are the one that they want in the night. It’s a double-edged sword.

Breasts belong to you and your body, but are intimately linked to the bodily needs of another human being. In political sense, they are yours. In a biological sense, they are theirs too. Weird. Babies think your body is theirs with such full and genuine innocence that it’s easy to see yourself in their eyes. It’s not quite, but it feels like love, this unself-conscious claim on you.

Breastfeeding for what seemed to combine into about five hours was how Zi sat through three days of a regional academic feminist meeting in Jamaica. Sometimes she played with her toys on the desk. Sometimes she napped in my arms. But when she fussed, I stuck her on and she was perfection itself. Like an addict with a fresh fix. Bliss. She was with her mama and had unlimited access. Either that or she has a high tolerance for meetings and would do well as a future bureaucrat, someone said.

For working women, breastfeeding is both super easy and seriously challenging. When I was recently in London, where the hotel rooms (apparantly) don’t have mini fridges, the management refused to keep my breastmilk, in a small case I provided, in the kitchen freezer. Something about ‘leaking’ and ‘not near food’ and regulations. Seeing my tearful response, overflowing with despair and loss, the workers volunteered to take the bags of milk to their freezers at home. They did that for 5 days. On the weekend, when the manager was not on shift, they brought my little case back, kept it in the kitchen and I traveled home with seven full bags of frozen milk. And it would have been more had I not had to throw away a few over two ten-hour plane rides and at a two-day workshop where there were no provisions for breastfeeding mothers.

I had a friend who used to say that her god has breasts. Too true. Women who breastfeed multiple children, for multiple years, are everyday goddesses walking the earth. I guess now that I’m wondering how much longer I can do this, I am also pausing in a phase that makes see and appreciate my taken-for-granted body anew.

A revolution is a way of life is one of my all time favorite phrases along with there is no pure place for resistance and everthing that i do shall be upfull and right (from my student days listening to lots of early Bob).

I gave this talk at T and T’s first TEDx talk, proudly organised by UWI undergraduate students led by a deep thinking youth called Joshua Hamlet. If you want to know why there is no revolution without feminism, if you want to know why change is always possible, if you want to hail out us Caribbean folkses with the mostses as historical inspiration, then along with 20 minutes worth of popcorn, this talk is for you. Peace, justice, solidarity, love, forward ever my people!