Post 480.

“THERE ARE no millionaires where we come from,” sings local band Freetown Collecive, describing those who have grown up as the have-nots “in the middle of corrupted people.”

The hook names a raw truth about this place, which is its inequality, its contempt and its rampant complicity. We should hear these lyrics amidst the song’s beautiful melody, because there are many millionaires, many of them enriched by bloated state contracts, some of them in the House of Parliament, driving million-dollar cars, making decisions for the rest of us.

Whatever wage increase they accept, I want to express my solidarity with public servants and unionised workers, teachers and nurses, who have demanded more. The increase will not match inflation, making them poorer today than in 2013. There will be no millionaires among them.

These are two women-dominated areas of labour, meaning we can expect women working full-time jobs, possibly as main or single earners in their families, to be poorer than they were ten years ago.

These are also two of the most valuable jobs in our society. The first because they care for our children, who are our most precious resource, and the second because they care for us and our loved ones when aged and ill. That they earn less and have fewer benefits than politicians must feel as if they are on the front line in a class war.

The disconnect between political elites and the masses resounds, echoing off headlines, and it cannot be drowned out by shouting about how people are ungrateful. Those who have held power, which is primarily but not only the PNM, are responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, stolen, unaccounted for, misspent and frittered away. Colm Imbert himself spent $200,000 on confetti to open a bypass, such was his self-congratulatory spending at our expense, and so it has gone for decades.

We are told to tighten our belts today because of “unresponsibility,” poor decision-making, failed promises and quid pro quo. Not a soul who has read the newspapers in the last 60 years can disagree. This is why people are angry.

Were things different, citizens would understand the buffeting impact of the pandemic, the war over Ukraine and a global downturn. They would understand banding our belly, together, if it felt as if there were less division and less disconnect, more respect and more shared sacrifice.

People rightly felt insult was added to injury when told we use too much gas because we get up late on mornings and choose to drive at expensive times. This from politicians who can cut through traffic with a privilege that ordinary commuters do not enjoy. This from decision-makers who rule against flexible working arrangements, as if nothing was learned from two years of the pandemic. Imagine millionaire lawyers-turned-MPs talking of coal pots. Is there a single bike lane in Trinidad? It seems too farcical to be real.

What country are our governors living in? Is it the same one where food prices have soared? Is it the same one with hours of traffic to get to and from Port of Spain? Is it the one where unemployment and labour precarity are increasing with no end in sight?

I hear ministers talking about how much is spent on welfare, scholarships, transportation, training programmes and medicine. I agree. There’s massive social protection that helps many, but these are not gifts. In a wealthy economy, where we have no excuse for poverty, these are social rights, ensuring the democratisation of what we have gained.

With all that we have earned as a mere million-plus people, we should all have been millionaires, not grateful for a few hundred dollars of disability grant or a wage increase that dissolves at the cash register. Where has all the money gone?

It’s as if those ruling are living in a world where ordinary people are considered pampered, spoilt, wasteful, greedy and lazy; always dreaming a lot of dream. This from those who have taken no pay cuts in solidarity with workers. From those who can seek healthcare abroad. From those parking up in their Porsches and Benz. From those who can afford cheese.

Freetown Collective continues, “Bills due and meh pocket still feeble. Bread woulda make but the flour full of weevil. Hungry to kill, belly thin like a needle.”

These are lyrics of daily worry and rising crises. They speak to a reality that is making people poorer. They explain widespread public sentiment. Millionaires should not respond with such contempt.

Post 474.

ON SUNDAY, I was pleased to see Dr Rowley’s post on his Facebook page saying, “I am available for a public discussion on caring and respect for women.”

Given worsening economic contraction and social insecurity since 2015 and in the wake of the pandemic, such public discussion with the prime minister listening to unaddressed women’s issues is urgent and necessary.

Publicly-paid workers are making important claims in relation to higher costs of living. The economy may not be able to sustain salary increases, but the poor state of the economy, export and more is the Government’s responsibility, not just because of decades of poor economic planning, but also because of how bureaucratically difficult it is to do business in TT.

Every week, economists write about the necessity for diversification, analysts highlight how much money is lost to procurement corruption, people bemoan the low priority given to agriculture, and nothing seems to change.

Other oil-rich countries are sitting on a generation’s worth of savings in their heritage and stabilisation funds. We are not.

It’s politically macho to hit back at the unions and easy to demonise them as greedy or self-serving at a time when tens of thousands have lost their incomes, but this is exactly when and why governments should be held accountable by workers, when and why we should not lose sight of the macro-level.

Those with lower incomes and increasing scarcity must now bear the burden of a state creaking along on rusty wheels, with the PM at the helm for the past seven years and the PNM in power for the majority of this history.

To that end, I want to remind the PM, who is senior to the Finance Minister, of calls by the women’s movement for gender-responsive budgeting. Parliamentarians have been trained, as have those in the Ministry of Finance, but the minister himself seems to have no clue or care about why such a fiscal approach is essential and why other countries have adopted it already.

Again, this is an example of how the macro is failing the society, and how solutions are recommended and ignored.

Regarding labour issues, there’s also a category of public servants whose working conditions may be invisible to others. These are employees on short-term contracts of anywhere between one and six months; professionals with experience and qualifications, but no job security.

Historically, women entered the public service because it offered stable employment which was good for raising stable families. Now, there is an entire tier of mostly women who cannot access vacation leave, sick leave or maternity leave, nor loans for a car or house. Precarious labour conditions are everywhere.

In terms of women, the PM must be aware of the long struggle by domestic workers to have ILO Convention 189 on decent work ratified so that unionised domestic workers can take their disputes to the Industrial Court.

This is another group of mostly women whose cry could be heard and whose legitimate call to be fully recognised as workers could be met by a government that had care and respect for women, including those who are working-class, labouring in the informal sector, and probably working in ministers’ own homes.

The State’s approach to understanding and addressing women has historically been welfarist, with women being seen as a beneficiary (or burden) on the State, rather than as economically contributing citizens, whether through their unequal responsibility for care of children, the ill and the elderly (which is not counted in GDP) or through their productive contribution to national income.

It’s like casting women as a vulnerable group. Women are not themselves vulnerable; the social, political, economic and gendered organisation of the society puts them at greater risk of violence and poverty.

Similarly, women don’t want to be protected, they want rights, equity, non-violence and freedom. The solution is not more cash transfers nor the ambiguity of more “respect.” The issues are more complex, and require meeting women’s movement recommendations, and state commitments and responsibilities.

To this day, there is no Cabinet-approved National Policy on Gender so we can’t hold the State accountable to its own policy for advancing women’s rights and gender equality.

Women would welcome being part of the PM’s suggested public discussion. We continue to need improvements to laws and policies (and their implementation), fiscal planning, and social protection.

Meanwhile, care and respect require acknowledgement that the PM vs Michael Annisette muscle-flexing ironically leaves women unheard, like a stereotypical trophy in a battle between men.

Post 440.

WEARY CITIZENS are weathering a seemingly biblical combination of flood, locusts and plague. All, including the pandemic, are linked to climate change in some way. 

COP26, happening now in Glasgow, Scotland, might feel far away, but it connects directly to these realities at home.

This is the United Nations’ annual climate change conference and COP stands for Conference of Parties, which refers to the signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a 1994 treaty which includes TT among its 197 parties. 

Activists of many kinds, from indigenous communities to vulnerable nations, use the conference as a chance to push governments beyond talk to action through marches, protests and building of massive citizen demand.

Climate-justice activists are continuing to call for reduced fossil dependence and carbon-dioxide emissions, conservation of forests and oceans, protection of biodiversity, and transformation of our global economy from one that relies on growth through excessive and environmentally harmful production and consumption. 

Farmers, fisherfolk, those in the tourist industry, those living in flood-prone areas, the poor and hungry, women, students and youth of another generation in our region are facing an “existential threat.” This is the one issue around which billions of us could rally because we depend on an Earth in balance for our very lives.

Governments, such as our own, which is why PM Rowley is there, are more concerned about money. Barbados’s PM Mia Mottley declared the Earth in a state of “code red,” warning of the decimation of islands such as Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and low-lying Barbados if global temperatures and, therefore, sea levels (from melting glaciers) continue to rise. She called their impact on the region a “dreaded death sentence.”

The money, described as climate finance, is to come from the richer nations responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse-gas emissions heating the planet and should help poorer nations to cut their own emissions and adapt to the losses from catastrophes predicted from global warming. 

Those bigger, wealthy countries have failed to contribute what they promised – US$100 billion a year from 2009-2020. They have also mainly promised to cut to zero net carbon emissions between 2050 and 2070; too little, too late. 

TT’s promise is to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions in three sectors by 15 per cent, and by 30 per cent in the transportation sector, by 2030. This is unambitious, at odds with activist hopes and the planet’s needs, but not much worse than those from governments elsewhere. 

Our own PM’s speech highlighted establishment of a solar renewable-energy project to provide 30 per cent of our power needs by 2030. Barbados plans to have 100 per cent of its energy consumption come from renewable sources by the same date. Barbados also plans to stop the sale of petrol and diesel by 2030, replacing them with electric power, biofuels and better mass transport. That’s ambitious. 

We are slowly phasing to electric vehicles and there is a policy for transitioning the workforce to a low-carbon economy, and investments in green hydrogen to provide feedstock for the petrochemical sector. There is also a state committee to increase oil revenue as well as explore carbon capture and sequestration of industry-generated carbon dioxide. 

Carbon sequestration is considered valuable because there is too much in our atmosphere, but there’s significant debate about this strategy. Some activists argue that it’s a technique for continuing to burn fossil fuels, not reduce overall use. As a polluter-based economy, it’s the State’s technical solution for the fix we are in. 

Following his speech, the PM is meeting with Shell and BP in London on development of the Manatee gas field, highlighting the irony of our fossil-fuel dependence, dire failure to imagine alternatives to a near-obsolete economic model, and committed drop into the CO2 bucket. 

Anyone interested in survival should be prepared to support what climate-justice activists continue to do. Question government plans. Demand transparency and participation. Present alternatives. Refuse to be fooled by policies on paper. Draw attention to endemic poor implementation. Protest. 

Challenge a leader who lambasts those refusing an aluminium smelter or seeking to preserve a coastline in Tobago or Toco. Those are exactly the moments that count on the ground, showing how little the government sees these as popular struggles to protect coastlines, air and water for our future generations. 

COP 26 reminds that there is one message for us. Before it’s too late, defend the planet at all costs, whether politicians like it or not.

Post 438.

AMONG our political elites, man, woman and dog attacking man, woman and dog.

It’s remarkable to see how gender and womanhood have been being flung in this fight. Let’s start with Dr Rowley.

“The way she loves the accolade of being the first woman prime minister, one would think that she would behave properly and with a modicum of respect for the first female President, her superior,” he lambasted, invoking the Opposition Leader and the President’s womanhood as definitive of their public identities, roles and relationship.

For Persad-Bissessar, this gendered accolade was always a double-edged sword.

Rowley could have said the Opposition leader was being disrespectful or any of his usual litany of insults.

However, he highlighted her sex and the sex of the President as a disciplinary tactic. It is one thing to fail as a politician and a next to fail as a woman, and to be the first woman in the nation to do so.

The PM deliberately tapped into debasement of females who don’t know how to behave with deference and propriety in public. When schoolboys fight, we shake our heads. When schoolgirls fight, we bawl that all broughtupcy in the world has collapsed.

When two public officials, one already “inferior,” are pitted against each other and their sex is made the basis of comparison, it’s a gendered weapon in a war of words.

PNM PRO Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing called the Opposition Leader “an embarrassment to women,” again invoking her womanhood and expanding the wielding of gender by referencing all other women in the nation, who may have been foolishly considering an issue of how today we have no Commissioner of Police, for the first time in our history, and missed the relevance of femininity to the public call for answers.

The PM’s “imps, pimps and chimps” line again brought both gender and sexuality into political mud-slinging. Pimps are usually (but not only) men who (sometimes violently) force women to have sex for their profit. But what does prostitution have to do with 19 parliamentarians? Who is or are the whores? Aspersions of licentiousness and immorality land implicitly.

In his latest salvo, the PM described the Opposition Leader as an “abusive man,” continuing, “It’s like some of them fellas outside there…if I can’t get you I go mash it up. If I can’t get you I go kill you. I will mark your face with a knife…I go throw acid on you. That is what you are seeing there.”

This was a move from womanhood in disrepute to the kind of violent and depraved manhood that brought historic crowds to the streets in protest just earlier this year. This was highly cynical from a man who has blamed women for their choice of men, without apology.

It was also highly consistent in its blame on the population and women, and a warning against choosing someone who will kill you, stab you and throw acid on you, politically speaking.

It’s like we are all, or perhaps just us women, witnessing a woman being battered for being a woman, rather than pressured because of a brouhaha. The violence of the analogy was desperate, even for Dr Rowley.

The reference to “domestic” abuse is again deliberate, for this is the domain of women and one we are called on to protect. In such times, the solidarity of women against degeneracy and abuse is necessary to save us all.

It makes sense, then, for him to urge women to “stand up and support their female counterparts instead of bringing each other down,” like Persad-Bissessar.

We all know that women who bring each other down are “our own worst enemy.” The PM even brought up her failure to protect young girls from child marriage, throwing in the whole kitchen sink. But what does that have to do with the CoP?

Finally, Nizam Mohammed described the President, who is not a mother and was not appointed because of her representation of or identification with mothering or reproductive issues, as expected to connect with the public in a “motherly and exalted” fashion.

Idealisation of “good motherhood” here is bizarre to say the least.

I’m not defending the Opposition Leader or the UNC. There’s atrociousness on all sides. Rather, I’m observing how sex, gender (often femininity), and sexuality are being politically mobilised.

Such logic, like much of what I have highlighted, reveals the labels and stereotypes still targeted at and governing women in political life.

Post 431.

IT’S WELL recognised that Trinidadians/Tobagonians are natural innovators. Diversification is what we do. We play it, sing it, bottle it, photograph it, lyrics it, design it, craft it, mix it, name it, plant it and sell it every day, everywhere, across the country and internationally. 

In that context, it’s bizarre that the PM would have blamed citizens for the Government’s failure to sufficiently diversify the economy, a failure that has defined much of the PNM’s decades of rule. 

I’m not being anti-PNM, I’m describing a reality where agriculture has been systematically undervalued, where “downstream” is as much as diversification is imagined to be, and where the environment, including our marine ecosystems, and their value mean nearly nothing. 

The PM’s attack shows deep disconnect between those holding power and those surviving, even in a pandemic, in the most creative ways. It shows vast misdiagnosis of why we are in the economic collapse we find ourselves, which predated the pandemic. It shows sheer irresponsibility, for clearly we are not all in this together when there are only others to blame. It shows a dangerous and deliberate willingness to misrepresent the truth, which is exactly why citizens are as sceptical as they are, and so easy to throw back words full of disrespect. 

Finally, it shows how quickly deep authoritarianism reveals itself, for the only message could be that it is wrong and foolish to question a government, and should you suffer for it, that’s on you. 

First, the Alcoa and Alutrint smelters. If anyone remembers 2009, Calder Hart was in (and out of) control. Riot police in military gear would show up at any citizen gathering. PM Manning had lost touch, particularly with another generation. As Williams did in 1970. As is happening now. 

Widespread citizen challenge to the smelters was a powerful example of ordinary people demanding a government speak with them in a way they deserve.

The High Court ruled that the decision of the Environmental Management Authority to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was illegal. Other aspects of the project – such as the port – had not been included in the application. No one could present a cost-benefit analysis. 

It was unclear what would happen with the solid waste and waste water generated or the implications for the aquifer on which the Alcoa smelter would be built. Remember, we are a country that is abysmal about waste disposal and hazardous leaks that contaminate the environment. 

There was a debate about health concerns, and Alcoa itself had a history of environmental violations. It was also part of a US war machine with close ties to the Republican Party. Pentagon contracts for combat vehicles and missiles were fuelling its search for aluminium and its outsourcing to countries with poor environmental standards.

Add to that secrecy about the selling price for the natural gas that would be required to produce electricity to run Alcoa’s smelting process. Economists at the time talked endlessly about the smelters as another example of the offshore economy; in other words, yet more dependence on heavy industrialisation and non-renewable fossil fuels. 

What was the plan for sustainable onshore economic activity including livestock (buffalypso) rearing, honey production, IT services, light manufacturing, ship repair, pan building and so much more?

These were legitimate questions to ask and it’s to the credit of the nation that answers were demanded, and high-handed buff-up rejected. 

The truth is that insufficient transparency and accountability, and ignoring of citizens’ real concerns, destroyed support for those smelters, and that’s on the party that rules us today. 

It wasn’t so different with Sandals, a more recent example for those of a younger generation who don’t remember 2009. Stuart Young described bad publicity by a “handful of people.” 

More untruth. A claim had to be filed to challenge the secrecy involved. Sandals Resort had squabbled with Antigua and Barbuda over agreements for 25-year tax holidays. Here, questions about economic feasibility and tax concessions were insufficiently answered, particularly as the costs would have been borne by taxpayers. There were environmental concerns regarding the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.

As an aside, all-inclusive resorts are renowned for contributing less to economies than they gain, for bringing dead-end, low-wage jobs, and for intensifying sex tourism. 

We have never been against diversification. We are against poor governance and questionable decisions. That’s a strength that a national leader should champion, not impugn. It’s one we should defend without apology. 

Instead of gaslighting, the PM needed to set an example of taking responsibility.

Post 388.

New MP to the House, Vandana Mohit, shouldn’t have posted about covid19, the PNM and karma. She should also have been sensitive to the fact when you are an Indian woman making such statements about the PNM, those statements will be critiqued for their implicit targeting and alienating of Afro-Trinidadians/Tobagonians. Her use of religious language unmistakably played to Hindu nationalism, and her statement would have been received by a UNC base as politically deploying both racial and religious code. In such a tense post-election national context and at a time when mortality rates will rise, kuchoor was bound to result from such a message and its cheap political scoring.

That said, Senator Laurel Lezama-Lee-Sing also left my eyebrows raised. In response to then sitting PNM MP Maxie Cuffie’s atrocious and unrepentant framing of the UNC in terms of homicidal anti-blackness, with his reference to the party keeping the “knees of the UNC off our throats,” the PNM PRO’s entire response was, “The letter is under the hand of Mr Cuffie and therefore is not an official position of the People’s National Movement.” Nothing else came from the party, despite public backlash about its highly divisive and insulting contents. No apology, no recognition of hurt caused.

In comparison, Lezama-Lee Sing went to town on Mohit’s Facebook post, which was not an official position of the party, calling on her to “apologise to the nation for this nonsense, to recognise the error of her ways, and to commit…she will do better, that she will give more thought before spewing hatred and discord.” She continued, “The oath to which she will subscribe when Parliament convenes demands so much more…and we the people will accept nothing less.”

Both Mohit’s and Cuffie’s statements played on divisiveness and stoked a base. The response to them should not have rolled out a double standard, or impunity for one and blame for poor race relations on the other. It’s like playing a game you are pretending you are not playing, and we the people deserve better.

I think about this especially because Lezama-Lee Sing and Mohit are smart, articulate, hard-working, and ambitious young women with brilliant political lives ahead of them. By brilliant I don’t mean only in terms of their own career path, I mean in terms of their capacity as a younger generation less poisoned by the implicit biases entrenched in their political elders. I mean in terms of their potential to not just follow their parties’ bad habits, but to transform them.

These two, and the other young women (and young men) that are the bright stars of succession planning, hold our fate in their hands. Imagine if we could entrust them to not play the game so cynically and willingly, and rather play on their strengths and their genuine desire to see the country improve. They could usher in a shift from racial codes and logics that harm and dehumanise as part of normal political campaigning.

I admire both these young women. I want to see them, and others whose parliamentary record will emerge over these next five years, do well. Not simply on terms set by their parties, but on terms set by non-partisan hopes of “we the people.” Across race, class, dis/ability and sexuality, we need more of a generation willing to do better than those who came before so their transformational possibilities shine. Low voter turn-out and significant disillusion tell us this plainly. Mauvais langue cannot continue as our rallying go-to.

Thinking further about women in politics, I noted the PM’s swearing-in ceremony comments on August 19. Referring to Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Lisa Morris-Julian, Dr Rowley championed putting the nation’s children “in the hands of two mothers.” As Newsday quoted, “They are responsible now, not just for their own family, but the family of the children of TT.”

Motherhood requires an immense skill-set, which usually can never be cited on a resume, so it was intriguing to see it drawn into public life, and the nation cast as a matrifocal family; woman-headed though patriarchal.

But, Ashlee Burnett, young chair of the TT chapter of CIWiL, put it best, “The notion of linking women’s capabilities to serve by how well they can manage the home, not only reinforces a stereotype of traditional gender norms but it also takes away from the years of hard work and effort put into ensuring that they are both competent and the best for the job.”

The double-standard here again signals transformation much-needed by another generation.

Post 387.

There’s much to say about debates over race and ethnicity in Trinidad. What’s clear is the extent to which ideas circulating in our society take on a life of their own. They speak not only to the power of old, pervasive stereotypes, but the bed of trauma on which such views land, making their harm even more painful, and making conversations difficult unless there is mutual acknowledgement of such pain. 

For example, in her racist response to the UNC’s loss, Naila Ramsaran said “I hope Rowley starts putting contraceptives in their water supply”. Her comments echoed eugenist ideas of population control of the poor, primarily because of additional stereotypes of their burden on the state. These have been racialized in terms of Afro-Caribbean family systems and sexual practices since British colonial response to labour resistances of the 1930s, and the emergence of an idea of a state welfare. 

Contraceptives are not poison, and she didn’t threaten to put any in company products, but public condemnation justifiably moved from disgust at her demeaning of PNM supporters to fears regarding public health and the risk of genocide that deliberately poisoned products could pose to Afro-Trinidadian people’s lives. 

The problem isn’t only the racism of individuals on social media today, it’s the ease with which these racist logics circulate, appearing as accessible truths to understand others, but also to undermine them, and it’s their power to take on a life of their own.  

I don’t think the UNC intended its ad, for example, with a poor African child to be racist. I think the UNC was targeting poor Afro-Trinidadian voters who have been abandoned by the PNM, those willing to kick floodwater at Fitzgerald Hinds, those living in the marginalized communities of Chaguaramas and Sea Lots, and those who are the targets of the PM’s committee established after the protests in July.

They were not wrong to target these voters, in fact it’s necessary, but their targeting took up widely available narratives that are reductionist and misleading, and become racist representations. The same emphasis on poor Afro-Trinidadians at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy comes from some local Black Lives Matter voices, and from those calling for an end to the Concordat because schooling disparities leave young Afro-Trinidadians poor and excluded. 

The idea of Africans at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder is an Afro-Trinidadian discourse that non-Africans hear, and may also believe, and it combusts into a life of its own as it moves across ethnicity and when it is then taken up in simplistic or opportunistic ways or should not be taken up at all.

So, the conversation isn’t whether the UNC or PNM, or Indians or Africans or anyone else, is totally racist. It’s not about a contest to list offensive political advertisements or statements, or post social media screenshots. 

Both parties have played on racial logics for decades, and swathes of the population heard and felt echoes of these logics as, at best, race-baiting and, at worst, as deliberate racism. These perceptions are the reality we have to unpack and confront, for it is here that layers of historical narratives, stereotypes, fictions and exclusions step in, creating disagreement over both history and the present, and a sense that the other does not prioritize our hurt or healing. 

What is critical is that different groups may hear these logics differently, sometimes may not hear them at all, sometimes may not consider them valid perceptions, or may see them as inconvenient but historically-accurate truths. 

Ideas we hold and convey about ourselves and each other are filled with dangerous myths, which at some times are expediently wielded and at others deeply wounding, bringing many to conversations about race with deep sense of pain. Political parties will play all this as long as it exists. We will have solid bases for accusing each other of racism, and blindness to it, as long as such logics live and breathe in our shared terrain.

There are continuous examples of victimhood because racial, gendered and classed ideas determine our grasp of history, validate shortcuts for explaining distrust and inequities, create both platforms and silences, and establish group identities and boundaries that can be conveniently exploited for political power.   

Where these discourses come from, when they can be drawn upon, why they remain effective, what truths they capture and hide, and what harms they continue to enact are necessary conversations to have as people making one nation out of the challenges of such complexity and contradiction.  

Post 349.

The Darryl Smith fiasco seems like a model example of cover up after cover up. The fact that there’s still no commitment on behalf of state officials or political leadership to provide the truth of the matter, leaving more questions than answers, signals lack of commitment to ensuring that sexual harassment is a form of injustice that will not be tolerated or excused.

This is not surprising, if this was an issue taken seriously, political parties would all have their own sexual harassment policies, but the fact that these are as far away as legislation glaringly shows exactly how much impunity is an accepted reality.

We’ve heard about faults in the process of producing the report, but not that we can rely on the government and ministry to ensure that the public knows what really happened. It’s like the apparent faultiness of the report, which is based on the argument that Mr. Smith wasn’t given fair hearing, is more important than whether an employee of the ministry experienced sexual violence, which is what sexual harassment is, at the hands of a still-sitting Member of Parliament.

It’s like the lack of clarity about whether Michael Quamina was advising Mr. Smith or the ministry is as excusable as the $150 000 of public funds spent without accountability for the correctness of the process or its outcome. Who will ensure that the public knows the truth?

At this point, the hope seems to be that the whole thing will blow over and no answers will ever have to be provided. Sexual harassment legislation, if it ever comes, will not address this present injustice so the call should be for immediate answers as much as for longer term solutions. Those solutions include legislation, but require much more.

As the Equal Opportunity Commission, in its Guidelines on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, has rightly stated, “It should be noted that criminalising sexual harassment does not address the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace as it does not speak clearly to employers, does not advise them of their duties, nor does it provide recourse to the victims.The criminal law does not achieve these goals”.

The public service now has a sexual harassment policy which requires the state to embark on widespread effort to create buy-in so that state agencies understand their responsibility, not only to victims, but also for creating workplace cultures that prevent such sexual violence in the first place. The key to preventing sexual harassment is for employers and managers to adopt a zero-tolerance position. This position is represented by having trained harassment response teams, inclusion of sexual harassment protections in collective labour agreements, informal and formal grievance procedures, and counselling support.

All these are necessary, but still not sufficient. While sexual harassment may be committed by an individual of any sex, largely it is a form of gender-based violence perpetrated by men, whether in workplaces or on the street. Primarily, it’s what Jackson Katz would refer to as male violence against women, often younger or more vulnerable or with fewer economic options. Ultimately tackling this issue requires change in men’s engagement with gender-based violence – whether as perpetrators or as allies in creating change.

The Prime Minister should have used this moment to explicitly state that sexual harassment is a form of labour exploitation that his government is committed to preventing, and can be held accountable for in terms of its leadership on this issue. The AG should have committed to legislation that doesn’t leave women mired in the limitations of a whistle-blower process.

I was surprised at accusations of women’s complicity in this injustice, and would like to instead take a break from demanding women’s responsibility for fixing everything and welcome men’s role in speaking out and taking action on these issues in a way that sees real, measurable change.

Post 343.

Our current problems, from last week’s heatwave to this week’s flooding, are created by us – globally, regionally and nationally. Hurricanes and flooding are natural processes in our part of the hemisphere. Even with the expected increase in storms, it is poor land planning and development which really put us at risk.

The solution to this is public vigilance. We must pull ourselves together to insist on the information and power needed for our new reality. Citizens have to start developing an expertise on their watershed: where the rivers flow, how to prevent garbage clogging them, what settlements are planned, what inequalities exist, and how to reduce neighbourhood footprint. It’s like every community and local government needs an environmental impact assessment to operate from a plan.

I think of how no one cared when the mangroves were razed for Movietowne, but when the ocean washes over it all, we will act surprised. Or maybe, we can wake up and insist on changing what we can now.

I think of when activists stage sit-ins in the EMA to get social and environmental impact analyses, and people call them crazy. Every one of us should be insisting on those analyses for housing settlements and highways, for when the impacts hit us, does it help to hold our heads and bawl?

The area by Grand Bazaar flooded exactly as expected. If the engineers knew this, why didn’t we? Greenvale was always going to flood. Town and Country planners told the PM so when he was Minister of Housing, and he went ahead because regulatory agencies and people’s lives be damned.

There’s a reason why people used to build their houses on stilts through the Caroni plains. This should have been insisted on for all housing developments, and would have spared ordinary, hard-working people endless loss. It should be insisted on now.

The loss from floods is only part natural disaster, the other part is wholly man-made. It’s convenient when we can cut whichever hillside we want or fill in whatever watercourse or throw away a stove in the river or build our house where and however we choose. It’s agony when our folly comes back to us. We are being told to pay attention. Take responsibility.

Forget whether the Prime Minister wades through water in his boots, it’s not the political leadership we should be looking to for empathy and compensation. Rowley or whoever replaces him is irrelevant. Instead, we have to take ownership of the institutions and regulations meant to protect us.

We’ve been inattentive for too long because we can’t be bothered with rules or stopping corruption when it’s our friends or mobilizing across race and party. Institutions that tell us what we can and can’t do to land and watercourses are treated as an inconvenience to be ignored.

While the terrible devastation of people’s homes, cars and livelihoods grabs headlines and hearts, we have to use this moment to demand a different kind of news and public life even after rainy, and hurricane, season passes.

In her Tedx speech last year, Greta Thunberg makes the point that, though the climate is in crisis, we hardly hear anything about it in the press and from political and economic leaders.

If it mattered, if it was understood to be a war against all living species, our countries and our children, from a global economy driven by consumption, growth and fossil extraction, the solutions would dominate all our news.

They would dominate every political platform in every election with parties competing to convince voters they have the most commitment to the best plan for both preventing and addressing climate-related disasters. Will that happen? Only if we demand it.

What we need is a news cycle that doesn’t focus on the crisis, but on prevention and protection, making them the most important story of our time. Citizen oversight of land use planning, new housing specifications, the start of national recycling collection, a near ban on plastic or insistence on the polluter pays principle for importers and producers, a demand for clean, drinkable water as a public right, replanting of mangroves, and more. Our public institutions should be flooded by citizens wanting oversight and say over the plans and the books.

All of this is possible, making the man-made part of our crises preventable. If hope is what we think we need to weather this new normal, Thunberg says, “The one thing we need more than hope is action…once we start to act, hope is everywhere”.

Post 342.

It seems an ability to identify true love will best protect women from murder. It doesn’t matter that women don’t smother or chop themselves, and that the only one responsible for their death, as a result of partner violence, is the man himself.

His responsibility for his own actions is irrelevant. It appears nowhere in the story. We focus on Mary the battered woman, and conversation becomes about her, her choices and her mistakes. In this case, her failure at one thing at which women should be best, which is love.

As Jackson Katz outlines, John kills Mary gets represented as Mary was killed by John. Mary becomes the subject and poor John becomes a passive character with no power who was merely responding to Mary’s provocation or trying to restore a lost sense of order and control or couldn’t help himself when he felt sad and angry or was the victim of Mary’s disrespect when she exercised her right to find a better man.

Then, it simply becomes Mary was killed (because of some mysterious sequence of events for which she holds responsibility). John as the problem, along with the other Johns who cause so much harm and fear that thousands of protection orders are sought each year, becomes invisible entirely. So do the social beliefs and state failures that produce them in the first place. Finally, in the public eye, Mary becomes remembered as an abused woman who got and kept herself in this situation when she should have known better.

John, who killed Mary, escapes analysis and blame. Did he have a history of violence? He did stop her or promise to change when she tried to leave? Did he refuse advice and help? Did he stalk and harass? Did he coldly choose violence and homicide when he didn’t get his way? Why did John feel any right to so dominate another person? Did he also dominate other men or was this a sense of power he only wanted to wield over women?

Shouldn’t John have avoided getting into a relationship or left when he became violent, knowing he was putting a woman and mother he supposedly loved at risk? John chose to show his ultimate control over Mary by killing her. Is it considered a right of manhood to kill those women who men cannot control? These and other questions about domination and violence, and even masculinity, require critical spotlight on John.

Yet, public talk about women’s murder misses this mark. On Monday, an Express piece titled, “Where is Susan’s killer?’, interviewed Susan Ramphal’s brother. He described his sister, mother of a seven-year-old girl at the time of her death, as “unable to identify true love”. Ramphal was being compared to Neisha Cyleane Sanker.

Neisha Sankar, only 20 years old when she had her son, had been preyed on as a teenager by a violent man fifteen years older who became her husband and killer. The Express story on Neisha Sankar, on September 6, 2019, had drawn the quote and headline from her eulogy: “She couldn’t identify true love”. Also drawing from the eulogy, Guardian’s headline added, “Let Cyleane’s life be a lesson”.

A lesson to whom? To Mary or to John? Should some men exercise greater care and responsibility in their relationships? Should all men collectively change the masculine ideals that produce such deaths worldwide? Whose choices and behavior are meant to improve? Our daughters or controlling men? Is the lesson that men are violent, and like the National Security Minister laments, there is nothing we can do?

In a third story, the Express headline, “Fatal Love”, documented the Florida killing of twenty-year-old Kiara Alleyne, mother of a one-year-old girl, at the hands of her partner and baby’s father. She too was trying to leave. Was it Mary’s love that was fatal? Or was it John’s? And, if it was ultimately John’s, is such homicidal behaviour really love at all?

From the press to the Prime Minister who infamously said, “I am not in your bed­room, I am not in your choice of men“, we must stop blaming both women and love for men’s murder of women.

Women die for loving, for standing up for themselves, for staying, for leaving, and for just being. One out of five women in Trinidad and Tobago report one experience of non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Ironically, this is predominantly male violence from men they didn’t even choose.

Make John visible and accountable when women’s murder makes news.