Post 320.

The Phillip Alexander ruckus this past week has made me descend to calling for what should be already agreed upon. If you missed his critique of Hema Ramkissoon’s interview of PEP party members, it included a threat “to drag you to hell and beat you among the flames” because he felt he and the party were attacked. It included bringing up her private life and her past, her appearance, and using words like “stink” and “dutty”. It’s almost as if ole mas reached the party too early in Carnival season.

The interview wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse from Fazeer Mohammed, and from radio hosts who thought sexist block talk was professional journalistic engagement.

I thought the women representing the party, Felicia Holder and Michelle Davis, were excellent. I’ve been on air and annoyed with media hosts for asking what I thought were baseless or biased questions, distracting the public from getting the point, and pressing me to justify my position in ways that I knew others would not have to fight for legitimacy.

Felicia Holder looked visibly annoyed at times, as I have, but also held her own, as one learns to. I liked her pitch and representation of principle, just like I like when citizens – including a younger generation – rise up and organize against those who have ruled far too long and overseen far too much injustice – and here I’m pointing all my fingers at both the PNM and UNC.

Over twenty years of observing elections, I’m not the cynic others have become. While one must always count polling divisions to calculate wins, losses and draws, I’m up for the role that third, fourth, and fifth parties play. They galvanise those who have stopped voting, represent those at the margins, raise outstanding issues, and remind parliamentarians that they do not have a sacrosanct hold on the great house. Such civic engagement makes the strongest form of democracy.

In such a democracy, violence of any kind, including in language, in images distributed, and in physical attacks, undermines broad participation. Across the world, women are notoriously more vulnerable in politics and particularly affected by such violence. They are inappropriately and unnecessarily sexualized. Their personal lives are targeted for public shame. They face sexist and threatening language to a greater extent.

Few women who have entered politics – whether as candidates or as public commentators – are unfamiliar with this, whether it’s in images of Marlene Macdonald, supposedly in lingerie, shared around the internet; or in endless totally hypocritical man-talk about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sex life; or in Keith Rowley’s many infamous double entendres – women as golf a course, a woman Prime Minister as a cat; or backlash gossip against women in media who say or write words others think they shouldn’t.

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) writes, “an often neglected form of violence to consider is political violence against women. Whether this is outright violence towards women running campaigns or sexist discourse undermining women’s political credibility”. Women face “literally twice as much psychological abuse/violence during elections than men”, and have “a starkly different experience of the political world”.

In a 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, involving 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries, the “findings reveal troubling levels of prevalence – particularly for psychological violence, the most widely spread form, affecting 81.8 per cent of the respondents from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44.4 per cent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term”.

Further, “65.5 per cent said they had been subjected several times, or often, to humiliating sexist remarks…on social media and, to a lesser extent, by telephone or e-mail, or during political meetings”. Their appearance, conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life were all subjects of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision.

In 2016, National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost campaign: “a global call to action to raise awareness to stop violence against women in politics. The campaign’s title reflects the fact that many women are told that harassment, threats, psychological abuse (in person and online), physical and sexual assault are “the cost of doing politics””. Key is holding perpetrators accountable.

Working in the media doesn’t justify women’s (or anyone’s) risk of violence. Elections don’t justify it either. Political non-violence should be a commitment printed in manifestos and promised on platforms. It should be ensured by ‘women’s arms’, ‘youth arms’, and all men ruling party hierarchies, including the blustering and agitated PEP.

 

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Post 281.

For all its imperfections, the Guardian has been good to me. In 2012, Editor Judy Raymond offered to publish my diary about working motherhood. Since then, I’ve encountered many, mostly mothers, who were emboldened by someone writing about the quiet, isolated experiences and emotions that they have, but feared weren’t important or collective enough for public print.

Grandmothers have seemed to be my most regular readers. This often left me negotiating badass with good beti even while the radical example and words of older, wiser feminist foot soldiers, including those in hijab and those leading domestic worker unions, emboldened me.

I began in Features, yet my sense of citizenship often led my diary to political analysis and advocacy. Slowly, as Ziya grew, I had space to think about more than sleeplessness, breastfeeding, baby steps and birthdays. Like most women, including ones whose educational and occupational empowerment seems to set them to achieve everything women could want, I worried about being a good mother, making ends meet and managing my career. This continues, even with just one child, having had to live with the loss of not having more.

Yet, I rebelled, writing in 2014, “Some days you spend whole conversations on love and sex. Other days you connect ethically and emotionally with other women over delays in passing procurement legislation, the state failure and corruption that has allowed illegal quarrying, and the social and economic costs of badly planned urban development. When women resist because representation remains our right and responsibility, some days our diaries will say nothing about husbands or babies”.

Still, the column wasn’t not focused enough on governance, in the style of my long-time UWI mentor Prof Selwyn Ryan. Indeed, I was composing fictional creation-stories, delving into the deeply emotional art of Jabs such as Ronald and Sherry Alfred, and Fancy Indians like Rose and Lionel Jagessar, and still mulling over marriage, fatherhood, primary schooling, connection to nature, and love.

I thought hard about genre and experimented with writing. The form of a diary is so often associated with women’s private thoughts and feelings, held close and secret with a small symbolic lock. Bringing this genre into the public domain was a deliberate act against male-defined Op-Ed expectations which position the oil sector, the constitution and politics as the serious topics of the nation.

For most people, managing family life, feeling safe in their homes, and negotiating aspirations and disappointments matter most and are the most pressing issues in their lives. The diary moved from Features, taking these concerns with it, and challenging divisions between public and private, and their unequal value.

The form also built on historical examples of colonial logs, and journals such as Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, which I read as a graduate student, but with substance grounded in emancipatory, Caribbean feminist observations and Political Leader-less, worker and citizen people-power.

Readers wrote to me, wondering if I was a PMN, a UNC, a COP, a knife and fork Indian, too Indian, and too feminist. Amidst calling for an end to child marriage, programmes to end violence against women, and policies to protect women workers from sexual harassment, I wrote twenty columns in which lesbians were named as part of the nation and region, precisely because no one else would, because every woman matters, not just the ones that meet patriarchal expectations, and because these women, who were not allowed to exist in law, would here defiantly exist in public record as having the right to be.

I learned that to write a diary, which wrestles with life, love, rights and justice, is to risk repetitive, aggressive attack. I owe Editor Shelly Dass public thanks for skillfully stopping Kevin Baldeosingh from using the Guardian to legitimize his bizarre and obsessive stalking of me in the press, always to harm.

I’ve grown, as has Ziya, in these pages. I’ve learned to look around the landscape, appreciating all its heartfelt and difficult growing pains, like my own, in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Diary of a Mothering Worker departs from the Guardian, but will continue to walk good, gratefully carrying the lessons from Guardian and its readers’ years of nurturing wrapped in its jahajin bundle.

 

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.