Post 385.

For three decades, there have been calls for more equal representation of women in Parliament, our nation’s highest decision-making body. This has never been taken seriously despite ritual lip service to women’s rights and gender equality.

Most citizens just want a leader, regardless of sex, who is committed to fairness and who won’t become corrupt. There’s also significant public scepticism about whether women improve the policies and legislation that are introduced.

We haven’t seen most elected women make transformational differences across the Caribbean. Some have. Billie Miller in Barbados and Gail Teixeira in Guyana fearlessly legalised women’s right to safe termination. Joan Yuille-Williams uniquely championed the draft National Gender Policy, before it was crushed by Patrick Manning, and left without approval to this day.

Often, people also want elected women to exercise greater independence in the face of their political leaders, other men, and the kinds of sexist and homophobic political culture they blithely entrench. Yet, from childhood, women are deeply socialised to conform to and uphold male power and patriarchal standards. They are demonised, stereotyped, discredited and sidelined when they don’t. This operates in Cabinet and Parliament just as much as it does every day in our families, workplaces, places of worship and communities.

Women and men are socialised by and often share the same beliefs, but face different and unequal risks for challenging them. Simply being a woman in public life is a risk, and given the authoritarian style of party leaders, women are much more likely to tow the party line and to prove their loyalty, a quality long associated with femininity.

Last week, I highlighted victim-blaming by the PNM Women’s League, and their defence of violent masculinity. As Colin Robinson pointed out on Sunday, such loyalty may also extend to being a “respectable” mouthpiece for sexist and homophobic politics on the hustings, rather than opting to “go high” as women across party divides.

Women are also likely to prioritise respectability that other powerful men, such as those controlling religious constituencies, will accept. For to do otherwise is peril. My deep disappointments about Kamla Persad-Bissessar were, among others, that she failed to end legal child marriage, approve a national gender policy, and create a Children’s Act that wasn’t discriminatory, all to keep patriarchal religious leadership on side the UNC.

Will this election bring any change? What do voter trends and predictions regarding “marginal” constituencies mean for women’s leadership and gender equality?

The PNM is fielding 14 women candidates. With expected wins in Arima, Arouca/Maloney, St Ann’s East, Tobago West and D’Abadie/O’Meara, they can count on five women on the PNM side. Tobago East is being contested by Watson Duke so Ayana Webster-Roy may or may not make the sixth.

None of these are Indian women, which speaks to this group’s lower inclusion in the party as well as the fact that five of them are being fielded in constituencies they can’t win: Siparia, Oropouche West, Fyzabad, St Augustine, Couva North, Chaguanas West, and Princes Town.

Of the 14 women candidates, eight are sacrificial lambs. Indeed, one can argue that women candidates were primarily placed in losing seats. This is typical globally, and is also one of the reasons for women’s lower levels of public office.

The UNC is fielding 12 women candidates. Of these, four are likely wins: Chaguanas East, Siparia, St Augustine and Tabaquite. Three are not clear: La Horquetta/Talparo, Moruga/Tableland, and Toco/Sangre Grande. There’s ethnic mix among those who can win. The five put in unwinnable seats are mainly non-Indian.

If these numbers hold, nine women will be in the Lower House, with possibly four more. Together, at the most, that makes 13 of 41, or 32 per cent. Of these, two will be Indian women, far fewer than either their numbers or qualifications deserve, suggesting a complex mix of racialised and gendered push-and-pull factors at play.

Increasing the numbers of women in politics remains a symbolic and substantive goal. Women, who are half of the population, deserve to be more than one-third of decision-makers, particularly in a country where they have dominated tertiary education for the last 20 years, and are certifiably more qualified by the thousands. If men historically hit this glass ceiling up to today, there would be a national outcry about entrenched male marginalisation.

For women to advance greater gender equality and social justice in policy, law and society, as we hope they will, Caribbean scholarship shows they need a critical mass of much more than 30 per cent, they need the freedom to vote by conscience rather than in ways beholden to a political leader, and they need a groundswell of citizens and male political allies, for whom equality, inclusion, non-discrimination and human rights matter, to be the wind beneath their wings. This election will not achieve that, illuminating the limits of our democracy.

Post 304.

The PNM’s Stuart Young appears more frightening than Monday’s call to block the nation’s roads.

The social media call tried to mobilise citizens fed up of “poor governance” and “secret deals” to “shut down the country” by shutting down their cars at major locations.

It’s a great idea, simple and potentially effective, if it actually reflected the emotions pulsing through the nation. But, it didn’t. Not yet.

School children and workers are already frayed on mornings by endless traffic, which reflects poor transportation planning, and poor governance of land use.

All this has been overseen by the PNM, which has governed for more than forty-five years, and has primary responsibility for our problems today.

Families just want to get where they are going and get on with making ends meet amidst increasing unemployment, crime and debt, all reflecting similar decades of poor diversification of a petro-economy, poor levels of crime convictions, and poor levels of savings in our Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

As both Minister of Communication and National Security, Young had zero sense of the nation’s pulse, and resorted to strong-arm state muscle to deal with a threat in which citizens had little investment. Too much sense of power and too little clue.

However, it gets worse than warning police would be out “in full force” to make arrests as if it was the water riots of 1903, which burned the Red House to the ground, for similar reasons of “poor governance”.

First, Young’s signature authorised government communication which declared the ‘gridlock’ call was the work of Opposition. When a government accuses the ruling party’s opponents without facts, on official letterhead, not only is there a disturbing mix up between state and party, but also worrisome use of state power for party politics.

Second, the public release unwisely confused ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unpatriotic’. Blocking the nation’s roads would have been irresponsible, but what would have made it unpatriotic? Is public protest against a government unpatriotic?

Our history is filled with pivotal illegal protests against inequity and unjust rule. Contemporary politicians mimicking colonial governors should note that the goal isn’t to repress such protests, but to prevent them with good governance in the first place.

Protesting can be necessary as is blocking tractors when they are razing mangroves without a proper certificate of environment clearance or without necessary social impact and cost-benefit analyses, even when Jack Warner illegally brings the army with him to intimidate you.

Patriotism means loyalty to one’s country and its people. This has been twisted to mean loyalty to the government and state, but don’t get chain up. It takes patriotic citizens to resist secret deals and government irresponsibility.

Third, CoP Griffith, who once recommended rolling military tanks into Laventille, also warned against communicating and publishing any statement with a seditious intention.

Under Section 3(1a) of the Sedition Act Chapter 11:04, “a seditious intention is an intention to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection against Government or Constitution.”

This 1920 law has long been wielded against labour leaders and workers. Maybe the ‘mother of all marches’ worried Minister Young, the way worker unity worried Dr. Williams.

Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler, hero of the masses, was charged with sedition in 1937. Colonial police attempted “full force” in Fyzabad and Corporal Charlie King, who misunderstood the mood of protesting oilfield workers and who wanted to be hero, was burnt to death.

Months later, Elma Francois, a labour and pan-African organizer, with only a primary school education, was also charged with sedition. The first woman in the country to be so accused, she defended herself, discussing workers’ poverty and increasing taxation in her speech, and was unanimously found not guilty.

“Not a damn dog bark” has defined a PNM approach to dissent. I remember PM Manning sending the riot squad, in full military war gear, to unarmed, peaceful, responsible, legal and patriotic civil society gatherings. It was dark and undemocratic, and not a damn dog in the party barked.

“I don’t know that my speeches create disaffection, I know that my speeches create a fire in the minds of the people so as to change the conditions which now exist”, said Elma Francois at her defense.

Both Minister and CoP should refrain from macho brandishing of law and police boots. Such authoritarianism is a red flag. It poorly chooses fear and obedience over mutual respect and trust.  Luckily, there’s time for both men to learn from history, for people are not ready to shut down the country.

Not yet.

Post 154.

Under Patrick Manning’s rule, I came to know the names of a few of the riot police that he’d send out at the slightest citizen gathering, having met them so many times as they and their sub-machine guns monitored us trying to monitor him, with only public debate, national laws and civic commitment for ammunition. Under Manning’s cyclop eye, big brotherly love for the nation combined with decisions for our own good which seemed beyond our right to question.

Even then, it was clear, whether to combat unruly civil society or dangerous criminality, there was going to be increasing state armament to secure peace by the gun.

Five years later, when people say that we are in an undeclared state of emergency that justifies militarized civilian zones and maximum leadership, I get that desperate times call for desperate measures. Where nobody obeys any rules, it seems that only fear of violence can manage a society where disorder and death prevail.

People have decided that it’s time to eliminate some of those who will not choose legal work over a gangster life, enabling soldiers to re-establish a sense of state control. In this de facto civil war, being soft is expected to fail so the solution is more power in fewer hands and more men with more firepower.

Feeling safer in chains, we are ready to give up on being free. Instead, imagine if, as the army went in to take down shotters, another army of teachers, health providers, social workers, NGOs and community police trained in emergency turn around of crisis-racked communities were just as empowered to take on schools, health provision, employment and families. Imagine if the National Security Council talked tough about emergency laws, emergency resources and emergency meetings on short to long term solutions premised on everything else but violence.

The problem isn’t just gangs and individual men who don’t care who dead, even if it’s themselves. It’s the almost complete failure and corruption of policing. It’s that the coast guard is letting the drugs and guns pass. It’s decades of political patronage that has fuelled turf wars. It’s inadequate social work provision for family violence and dysfunction. It’s schools, which men leave while still illiterate, heading en masse to prison, before leaving en masse for gangs.

As long as none of the causes of this problem are fixed with institutional, social service, family life and educational alternatives, and economic solutions besides handouts, the army will be permanently necessary. Peace will be continually deferred rather than actually achieved because we clamoured for dictatorial and military responses to social needs.

Growing up under a gun, even a friendly one, wrecks children, especially boys. Additionally, some communities and innocent individuals will pay the price for the erosion of justice with nowhere to turn, just as they are paying already, and at some point it will be hard to tell army from police from politician from badman and tief. At the end, most important will be that we learned not to ask too many questions in return for our safety.

We may learn to live with the army in our midst, getting to know their names as we grow familiar with sub-machine guns on the streets. Nonetheless, as a citizen, feminist, mother and worker, I can’t but question civil society militarization because it represses chaos, but cannot create order.

Maybe I’m being naïve. Too much highfalutin idealism about democracy, rights and civil society. Too much talk about top-down responsibility. Too much unrealistic focus on what will take a generation to achieve. Too little understanding until terror hits me.

Maybe.

Post 11

i’m happy for all i have because i believe i work for it. at the same time, i am terrified of chance, the random instant when it all changes. i love living in Trinidad but I feel terror of crime. Some men, and women, will do anything to get what they want. As I sit out in the simple beauty of a perfect night, i am edged by complete fear that our house could be fatally and violently attacked. i am sure a lot of other people are too, especially women. What kind of life is this?

i feel politically committed to work in my region, where i can make a difference. yet, i dream to live where i am not in fear, and yet migration is my last option. it is one thing to fear for your life, but another to also fear for your child and her father. i’ve seen the tragedy covering front pages too often.

i fear for my child. what to do? stone doesnt feel as i do, but he is also a man. we also live in a pastoral community, with less crime. but having been very close to criminal violence and male attack before, men attempting to kick in the bedroom door, trying to hang up my call at public telephone, mauling my family, i have learned that it can happen anytime. just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t. am i being paranoid? many many people i know have been robbed and there are many many more guns in circulation now. wtf.

i’m still uneasy from Ester’s Ugandan story of violence. that has me reflecting on just what can happen. the unbelievable. am i ready? what should i do?

i’ve thought about it many times. i’ve actually scripted it as a movie. i would do everything to get control of the situation and survive. i’d kill anyone without thinking if they attacked me and i feared for my body and life. seriously. a guy i knew once told me, you only have one chance. he was right.i’m that mother in defence of her cub. no wonder mothers are so territorial.

i’m also mourning the death of too many of my people in the last day alone. i am thinking of those mothers who have lost their children. death stalks the land like men in business suits and men with guns. i feel sadness at all our loss. how could we not?

i’m reading and thinking, recovering from a tiring day. safely and happily at home in domestic quiet. typing in joy. and i am glad for the world. for love and relationship and home, purpose and passion. i feel like this palace on the hill is this beautiful planet, with this starry night. whatever life’s challenges, i am lucky. here is where i am supposed to be. yet, amidst all this are shadows. i want to focus on the good. rather than worrying for my family, i wish them safety.

Activists, poets, robber-talk lyricists, conservationists, politicians, trees, fish and everyday peeps, i created this at a moment when the T and T state was spending somewhere between TT$200 000 000 and $500 000 000 (yep, millions) on hosting CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Govt meeting…at the same time when we – that is, ALL of us, really needed to get our act together on the Copenhagen conservation and climate change commitments…nuf said.

Pollsters, Peeps, Culture Jammers, Trinbagonians, Jokers and Unc Patos,