Post 365.

Here as in Guyana, we live with myriad injustices, but continue to assert a sense of expectation that state institutions – such as the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) or the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – will protect us from the likelihood of fraudulent politics which undermine democratic agreement and inclusion.

It is to our credit that, against all odds, we remain invested in rule of law and are provoked into anger at its blatant violation. When that anger turns to violence, however, much more than democracy is threatened.

In their Letter to the Editor, Karen de Souza, Josephine Whitehead and Danuta Radzik, representing Guyanese NGOs Red Thread, Help and Shelter, and Child Link, wrote,

“We are alarmed at the acts of intimidation, the threats, and verbal attacks including sexual threats to women and girls, the physical violence, the reports of property invasion by groups, attacks on police officers and schoolchildren and ethnicity-based attacks being reported in several communities. Recent reports of the loss of life of one young person points to escalating violence which must cease immediately. We condemn and call on all Guyanese to condemn and refrain from all racial and ethnic slurs and actions, to respect the rule of law and keep the peace. We call on all political parties to abstain from provocative statements, ensure that their supporters do not violate the fundamental rights of any citizen and keep all protest action free from any kind of violence or intimidation. We call on the police and security forces to protect the rights of all Guyanese and carry out their duties without bias in accordance with the law of Guyana.”

Invested in each other as one Caribbean family, we are also aware that the precedent set by one signals a risk to us all. In recognition of this, the Caribbean women’s movement and its allies, from at least seven countries, issued a statement echoing the words of these and other Guyanese women. The statement reads:

“We, Caribbean advocates for social justice and gender equality, join in solidarity with the people of Guyana in calling for compliance with the rule of law and specifically with the election procedure in Guyana. A damaged electoral process will negatively affect the likelihood of social cohesion in a country scarred by ethnic and political polarisation. The people of Guyana and indeed the Caribbean deserve better from political actors.

They deserve political leadership with integrity and that honours the collective will of the people. We particularly share our deep concern for the safety and security of all Guyanese and call for peace and calm in all communities. Not one more life should be lost.

We support the call of CARICOM for the lawful completion of the electoral process in Guyana by ensuring the tabulation of results in all regions using the Statements of Polls and the offer of the Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, to personally assist with dialogue, if needed, once there is acceptance of the results of the lawfully declared elections.

All parties should do their part in ensuring an engagement that is transparent, accountable and which builds trust. Political parties should dialogue with civil society and build consensus on the way ahead. We call on the political leaders to issue a common call for peace, respect and community-mindedness, showing their concern for all people and their safety and well-being.”

No electoral win can be a victory when safety, harmony and dignity, however inessential these seem, immediately become threatened too.

As long-time Guyanese activist  Vanda Radzik wrote last week, “What we see unfolding before our eyes is the poison that emanates, in a heightened way, from the recurring contest between two forces – hell-bent on “winning” power – at the expense of our nation. Being drawn into foolish political, largely race-based camps, with hatred and fear stitched into the fabric – for winner and loser, alike – is a recipe for disaster. It has to be stopped in its tracks now.”

Watching how quickly abuse of power and process devolved into public confrontation in Guyana and noting that, in our Local Government election, there were complaints about insults and abuse from supporters of the major parties on Nomination day, we should not only wet our roof but avoid irresponsibly starting fires in the backyard of our own racial and political tensions.

Trinidad and Tobago’s major parties should therefore re-affirm commitment to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct for the upcoming general election. Meanwhile, we look on at Guyana’s election imbroglio and hope for peaceful resolution.

Post 205.

Last Friday, the University of Guyana finally launched its own Institute for Women, Gender and Development Studies.

Working at a gender institute myself, I could anticipate its limitations and opportunities. There is only so much small staff with activist passions, but with priorities of teaching and research, can do in a society with big gender problems. However, such an irreplaceable space also provides the kinds of consciousness-raising, mentorship, and commitment to women’s rights and progressive men’s movements that our societies surely need.

Having once joined at the beginning of a graduate programme that changed my own life, it was a reflective moment to be in Guyana, almost twenty years older, and hoping that as many students as possible will have the empowering experience I did.

I felt the same respect and awe for the work ahead as I got to know Renuka Beharie, coordinator of the fledgling Institute for Women, Gender and Development Studies at the Anton de Kom University in Suriname. She did not even have a full time secretary, but, after many hours and much sacrifice, I could only imagine how many would think of her the way I do about the pioneers in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and beyond who similarly built the gender studies institutes that generations of us will inherit.

Sometimes people wonder about the point of spending money to travel to events that seem to achieve little or signal only an uphill battle, but I was struck by the sense of regionalism sparked each time we meet up and connect to our work across borders and seas.

I had heard Hazel Brown talk many times about wanting the government to establish a Commission for Women and Gender Equality, and found a 2010 pre-election newspaper clipping where the PM promised she would. Yet, it felt so much more real when I met the commissioners in Guyana, who continued to hope to bring women together across party lines, who were pushing the government to approve a national gender policy, and who spoke openly about the fact that the new government’s appointment of only 30% of women to state boards, with some boards having no women at all, wasn’t good enough.

On the flight there, I sat next to a young woman, twenty years younger than me, who was so passionate about her work with the Trinidad Youth Council, and who said all the right things about good organizing, that my heart lifted, and I self-consciously felt myself filling the shoes of those older activists who go to civic meetings and talk about how nice it is to see all the young people there.

Having been nurtured by a progessive youth movement, and seeing how many from there continue to exercise leadership however we can, I was certain of the passionate possibilities for a young woman interested in social change, the guidance available, and the power of her oncoming experiences.

As we talked, it turned out she had never heard of this person, Hazel Brown, something I didn’t think was possible for any activist, youth or not, in T and T. Here was a wake up call for women’s and youth movements, a reminder we must make an extra effort to reintroduce every generation, especially of young women, especially of activists, to the makers of our too-quickly forgotten history. I wondered if you asked fifth form students around the country to name one women’s rights activist, who they would name, and if no one, why.  What would that say about the value of such women’s work in our country?

I invited the young woman to an evening gathering of NGOs, hoping that being in the room with women like Vanda Radzik, Jocelyne Dow, Karen de Souza and other Guyanese stalwarts in the struggle for Caribbean women would in turn spark her connection to Caribbean feminism’s regionality.

That one day in Guyana rested on my mind throughout my first class at UWI this week. How did you end up here I asked? Students wanted to understand feminisms, their rights, themselves and power relations in their families. Gender studies institutes were founded, and continue to be, to provide precisely the knowledge that each generation, discovering injustice, finds that they need.