Post 335.

Today, I turned 45. I’m not sure I feel celebratory. I feel like a survivor. Like the walking wounded. Moving slowly, but surely on my feet.

For all my empowerment, I’m amazed I’m still negotiating women’s timeworn challenges. Like an increasing number of us, precisely because sheer hard work has led to vastly more university educated women than men, I’m a main breadwinner.

At the same time, because male privilege remains so resilient, I also put in the majority of time on child care and carry the majority of responsibility for managing all the logistics and planning related to family life.

This comes at the cost of my savings and my career. It brings the exhaustion that so many single mothers are familiar with, and dust off like just another day.

It’s labour that is mostly invisible, undervalued, taken-for-granted, and assumed to be mine. For the good of my daughter, like so many moms, I do it willingly and wholeheartedly. I’m clear-eyed about the inequalities, but I’m prepared to sacrifice, to provide the absolute best, and to teach lessons of generosity, care and justice with joy.

I’ve started a whole new life. It’s like adulthood, which is cynical at best, but blushed with rose-coloured bliss. Maybe bliss is just a choice. I imagine I’m past life’s half-way mark so, at this point, I have fewer years ahead than I’ve already lived. These days, therefore, I’m just trying to be happy.

There’s debt to climb out of, overdue publications to submit, a house to buy, and ends to meet. It’s the kind of stress that keeps you up calculating at night.

There are also rivers to walk, waterfalls to find and beaches to remind of the wind and the waves, alternately whispering and roaring, as both wash across the shore.

There’s also love which feels like winning the Lotto every day. Maybe past forty you are not looking for perfect, maybe you are not even looking, maybe you just get lucky enough to cross paths with someone committed to growing.

Inside, I’ve turned bountiful like the hillsides after first rains. I awake more aware that love is a harvest you sow each morning. I count lessons about commitment and communication like seeds, in between calculations at night.

Some days, I lift each limb depressed and empty, like Sisyphus waking to discover the boulder he had shouldered uphill had rolled back down again. What working mother doesn’t know the feeling of not having an hour for herself, to breathe, to think, to feel or to stay sane.

I pole dance twice a week now which is both hard and hot AF. It enables me to support a woman-run and women-only small business which challenges women to become strong, to feel good, to recognize their challenges, to value themselves, and to connect to their sexuality. My goal is simply to show up, for me.

I’ve reached here through taking on and giving up, through gathering and letting go. I remind myself that it’s not possible to have it all, at least not at the same time, wondering if men tell themselves that daily too.

Patriarchy, from politician to religious leader to employer to lover, is a killer, but it’s like rising above the falling rain when you finally reach where you know yourself, your rights and your power. Women come into our own because we’ve hurt and healed, stooped and conquered. I hope I can carry my own independence and freedom, for it has been hard earned.

I now understand how women seem to become more certain, more centred, more unapologetic, and more fearless in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They’ve paid their dues pleasing everybody. Having learned through love and loss, they know there’s far less to fear than they thought. Such insight is a trade with age.

I’ve learned gratitude and forgiveness for those on my side, for those in my softly-beating heart, for the giants in my life, for the child who teaches me, for allies and inspiration, for opportunities to become a better person, and for laughter and cool mornings with trees in the distance.

Every dawn, we receive life as a gift to keep opening. Every dusk, women know the weariness from standing tall like a silk cotton tree, carrying our scars and imperfections, worries and burdens.

Over my shoulder, my own jahajin bundle is slung. Thirty kilometres per second on this next rotation of the sun, and blossoming in my own time and season, here I come.

 

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.

Post 266.

‘Sans humanite’ is our most identifiable cultural refrain, crossing centuries with its compelling, swaying echo of dark humor, stoicism, lament, and aspiration. The cry expresses a desire for recognition, and seeks audience identification with lyrical sparring with pain, for to be a victor in conditions of defeat is to hold your humanity like your bois, and to be seen defying forces that thrive off breaking its strength.

Just to stay on your feet, answering back, fighting, insisting on the fact of your existence is to make demands which matter on the larger collective watching, cheering or calling for your head and blood. It’s a big deal; a call for acknowledgement that you are human too.

Such insistence is fundamentally important, even when it will hardly change dominant institutions, structures and elites, because in the skies between heaven and earth are ever-circling corbeaux, and you might not reach that holy place that honors the God in you if, before your final ascent, your spirit first gets torn apart limb by limb.

How to be a victor in conditions of defeat? How to hold your humanity firm as a bois? How to escape that oppressive shadow of corbeaux following you?

Insist on fairness and refuse advantage by setting humanity as our first ground rule.

Long before conceptions of rights formally established the terms of our still unjust order, notions of fairness trod the land, wafting like breeze against curtains, warm like the smell of homemade bread; carrying in the last notes of rum shop conversation, evaporating in the cool night along with salty tears; and dusting off fruit and vegetables like remnants of garden soil as police and vendors negotiate the informal line between committing a minor crime and making an honest dollar.

Legal scholars will tell you that people are more likely to accept judgments against them, with which they may still disagree, if they feel they have been treated fairly in the process of administering justice. People will turn their lives around if the opportunity they are given is truly fair, with all that encompasses.

Women will stay rather than leave if the deal they are asked to accept truly honors their sovereign and independent humanity, and offers only what is fair.

Enemies might find a middle way out of senseless killing if a sense of fairness can establish just enough mutual trust and cooperation. Elites may act out of greater social responsibility if they recognize that that there is wider profit in fairness, and putting people first.

On this new day with its invitation to a new year, there is no solution to our troubles ahead if ‘sans humanite’ remains the best description of our state and our selves.

Lawyers will continue to debate the crisis in the judiciary and create no greater fairness for those most experiencing its injustice. Cabinet will shadowbox with financiers, contracts and corruption, hitting the public below the belt, while telling us to tighten, tighten. Women will continue to die while state agencies avoid those changes necessary to give them a fair chance at love and life.

Keep refusing such advantage. Fairness is the one ideal we all understand, which can make us more humane, which might still save us from ourselves.

I could talk about necessary resolutions, reform and implementation, civic values, and programmes to nurture something other than the crushing of integrity under government boots.

But, still on our feet, our bois is the smooth, hard weapon of fairness, and its power can hold us accountable to each other as individuals and across institutions. Without fairness, advantage, with all the deaths that it brings, will continue to rule.

‘Sans humanite’ may be our most identifiable cultural refrain, but corbeaux are circling, and their shadow is filling us with terror and doubt. Fairness and humanity must be our answer from today. They are strengths neither our society nor spirits can live without.

Post 258.

Last week, behind its glass façade, the CCJ was the site for a historic battle not yet won. These are hard words to write given that a judgment was already handed down ordering the Belizean state to return ancestral land to the Maya people. So, if the battle was won, why still fight in court?

Put yourself in the footsteps of the Maya as you follow this story. In 2015, the CCJ affirmed the right of 39 Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya indigenous communities, in the Toledo District of southern Belize, to lands that they have historically used and occupied.

Up to last week, those lands were not legally returned, meaning Maya land rights remain unprotected, forcing the Maya people to return to the CCJ to press the Belizean government to abide by the ruling.

Maya community organizations also appealed to the courts to protect their lands from multiple concessions given by the government of Belize to oil, logging, grazing and agricultural interests. These incursions occurred without the Maya people’s free, prior and informed consent, and without any redress. Not only has the Belizean government not returned Maya village lands, it continues to destroy and parcel out leases for land not legally, historically or morally its own.

Meanwhile, the government of Belize was ordered to develop a mechanism to recognize Maya land rights claims in consultation with the Maya people. A Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission was established, but no elected or designated representative of any Maya community or body in Belize has ever sat on the Commission. It is run by state officials who are not sensitive to customary protocols of engagement, good faith or international law. The Maya must meet the Commission on its terms. Imagine a paper judgment which has not guaranteed justice, but been met with delay and denial.

The $300 000 Belizean dollars which the CCJ directed the government of Belize to invest in achieving compliance is being spent, on a range of costs including rent, vehicles, consultations, administration and salaries, without any compliance achieved. Recognising insult added to injury, last week, the court mandated 50% go directly to the Maya people.

They don’t have resources to keep going to the Supreme Court, and neither should the Belizean people be putting their resources to defending state violation. Maya organisations want the courts to impose sanctions and fines against the state, and have also have called for a tribunal with teeth to resolve these issues out of court. Imagine, three years ago, this is a battle they thought they won.

Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the Mayan Leaders’ Alliance, and a long fighter in this struggle, said to me, “This case is being watched by Indigenous communities all over who are using this case to leverage their own land claims, and it was highlighted in the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” This is happening in our midst in Port of Spain. The world is watching, are we?

Carrying the burden, costs and tears of this with them, Maya communities continue to organize, demarcate their traditional boundaries, and envision sustainable alternatives which put ancestral reverence for nature at the heart of a Maya economy. Cristina’s heart was heavy, but her words committed: “Maya people have to remain resilient in face of these challenges, uphold our wellbeing, be a self-sustaining people, resist these violations, and protect our lands, territories, culture and identity.”

Their struggle may seem far from yours, but injustice is something with which we can all identify. The Belizean government seeks to replace Maya victory with defeat. The injustice of a battle already won, yet still having to be fought, reflects on us all from the CCJ’s glassy front on Henry Street.

Post 228.

“On behalf of the Government and People of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I wish to convey heartfelt condolences to the President of the United States of America and the American People with respect to the unspeakable horrors of the June 12th attack on an Orlando, Florida nightclub, the worst mass shooting in twentieth century US history.

Today, we urge the American people to acknowledge the national and global danger of their pro-gun culture; religiously-legitimized sexism and homophobia; embedded racism and classism against African-descended persons, people of colour and immigrants; and pervasive realities of violence against women. Violence against persons, who do not fit dominant ideals of manhood, womanhood and heterosexuality, profoundly intersects these other issues and experiences. True greatness is showing fearless will to dismantle these points where oppression and fear meet, instead making them meeting points for cross-cutting transformation.

The People of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago recognize that members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities share the right of all citizens of all nations to live in conditions of safety, respect and equality, and to create spaces for affirmation, empowerment and joy. Members of these communities are part of our nations’ families, civil society organizations, workplaces, religions and schools. We understand that threat to their lives also harms those who know and love them, and whose solidarities are with them.

As the Government and people of the United States of America struggle to come to terms with this terrible tragedy, Trinidad and Tobago is also gripped by shock, sadness and outrage. This strengthens our resolve to collaborate across the region and hemisphere to fulfill the dream of full emancipation born out of the subjugation experienced, refused and resisted by so many of our resilient peoples. The lesson to us is that violence to one constitutes violence to all as it violates the hope of a world of greater justice and peace.

No doubt, members of Trinidad and Tobago’s LBGT community wish to hear even greater government commitment to ending discrimination and criminalization on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, knowing that such laws perpetuate the conditions for many forms of gender based violence, which harm citizens, including children, across all sexualities.

Without commitment behind them, words remain just such. They offer little genuine solace or solidarity on behalf of the nation’s representatives, highlighting above all our own fears of challenging homophobia and surviving in political life.

Acknowledging this vulnerability means being truthful about what it takes for LBGT persons to survive and thrive daily. Therefore, my government takes this moment to conscientiously state its commitment to ending the conditions within which such an American massacre becomes possible. It is not enough to say may it never happen or should never happen in Trinidad and Tobago. True leadership means taking action so that it does not. Prejudice will not keep us from acting, for our watchword of tolerance does not extend to inhumanity and inequity.

Our hearts are also heavy at the loss of so many young, promising lives. We are reminded that protection of children and youth includes those who are lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender, for they face greater vulnerability. As Prime Minister, I assure our own LBGT young people that we honour your need for safe spaces to grow and flourish, whether in schools or other public places.

No nation should ever have to face such tragedy and it is hoped that nothing of this nature will ever befall any nation again. I call on everyone, from religious leaders to teachers, from youth to parliamentarians, to affirm a place for the human rights of all.

Join me in assuring the LGBT community that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago will unite to treat each other as we wish to be treated, to choose compassion instead of conflict, and to tolerate and protect gender and sexual diversity as we do religious and cultural diversity. May we strengthen our resolve to create a nation where each of us is surrounded by love, and safe within our shared home.”

Dr. Gabrielle Hosein for Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley
Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago