Post 407.

“WE WANT justice!” is the powerful cry echoing across the country, and one can’t help but think that political elites are watching from behind security protection, waiting for gatherings to die down so that we can be thrown scraps of disconnected reform.

When citizens take to the streets in these numbers, it is a sign of widespread desperation, of a system so failed that people feel they must shout to be heard, of trust so broken that people will gather in anger outside of our institutions, believing justice cannot be found inside.

I keep wondering if we will see continued protest, knowing that we can expect dozens of women and girls to be killed or go missing this year. When will numbness or a sense of powerlessness set in? Or, as I hope, will feelings of horror, trauma, fear and anger continue to build with each report that confirms men’s war against women, prompting more to the streets?

This is not the time for men to say, “Not me.” Not when grandfathers, uncles, fathers, cousins, neighbours, maxi drivers, teachers, pastors, bandits and other forms of predators roam with impunity in our families and communities, or are on extended bail, or are freed by a court system that appears corrupt, inefficient and haphazard, in which it takes years to start a trial. Women’s and girls’ right to justice is not and has never been anyone’s priority.

To this day, we blame women. To this day, we do not yet hold men, including at all levels of leadership, sufficiently accountable for a world in which they are dominant. Men must make this change, without taking over or speaking instead of women or trivialising decades of ongoing feminist advocacy. Certainly, our investment in patriarchal power must be destroyed, despite all the discomfort that may bring. Women cannot continue to be fodder for this violent monster.

Young women are living in terror; nowhere safe. They are panicked about using public transport, as they long have been. They feel abandoned by state and society, as they should, for they face the greatest risk of daily harm in homes, on streets, in taxis and at school, by any or possibly every man. They are growing up in a state of perpetual self-defence, and even that offers no real protection. Women are driving with a weapon in one hand. Women and girls are under greater surveillance from brothers, fathers and boyfriends than ever before, further sacrificing freedom. We can do everything right and still be killed.

Amidst these disappearances and deaths, we struggle, as we have and as we will for real solutions. “No bail for rapists” is one call, but the bail amendments proposed holding suspects without charge for 120 days. What happens when they must be released if no charges are laid? What happens when court delays, magistrates’ decisions, and police absenteeism lead to rapists being freed, as with Andrea Bharatt’s alleged kidnapper?

Even if we make rape a non-bailable offence –, because who doesn’t want to get rapists off the streets – keep in mind that murder is non-bailable, and killings continue unabated. Hanging has remained legal, but has not been a deterrent. Neither are stand-alone solutions.

The AG has blamed women’s groups for the Sex Offenders Registry not being public. We recommended the registry not be public because its use is for an integrated police and court response, because the public would run perpetrators from one community to a next, and because the majority of sex crimes remain unreported and committed by male family and friends.

We already know so many sexual abusers. We tolerate and protect them for the sake of family name, respectability and survival. We don’t need a registry to tell us who they are, some of us always know. Again, it is one strategy for protection, not a solution.

The AG is also aware that vigilantism is a likely outcome. Sex offenders might get community licks, and maybe even dumped for dead in the places women are. That is a dangerous road he now seems prepared to go.

There are many other necessary paths. Vision 2030 promised a National Transportation Policy. It should treat women and girls’ risk, as we saw with Ashanti Riley, as a national emergency. There must be co-ordinated transport-system solutions that urgently respond to women and girls’ needs. We will make and must back these demands with public pressure over future days and deaths.

We are deep in battle, and no shortcut will win this war.

Post 401.

When will it be safe to travel by taxi? When will no one get raped in church? When will fathers not rape daughters in a security booth? When will a ten-year-old girl never again have to survive being smothered while molested repeatedly by a man the family trusted? When will we be safe in our bedrooms?

When will killers stop stuffing women into a barrel or leaving them dead on a river bank or beaten bloody on a forest floor or beheaded in front of their families? When will women never again be bludgeoned outside their work or set on fire in their home or stabbed to death outside of a school?

When will men no longer drug girls and drag them home claiming they are their daughters? When will adolescent girls no longer disappear at rates higher than any other group in our society? When will migrant girls stop being the most vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation?

When will the threat and fear of sexual violence not define the lives of girls and women from birth to death? When will a baby always be free from rape and incest? When will there be sufficient safe houses? When will perpetrators be put out by police so that families can be safe in their homes?

When will male partners, husbands, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, police officers, church elders, teachers, taxi drivers, bandits, businessmen and traffickers stop sexually violating, raping and beating women, girls and boys?

When will we acknowledge how many pregnancies result from unwanted sex, forced sex, and rape? When will we acknowledge how many miscarriages result from women being beaten while pregnant? When will we be honest that women are raped by their partners in front of their children because making children witness violence is a known and common practice to instill silence, compliance and fear?

When will the media not describe a man’s sexual assault of a mother with the headline that she was smoking ganja as if that was an invitation to rape, when he pointed a gun at her head and at her baby? When will we no longer say a woman was raped or beaten or killed and instead report that another man beat, raped and killed, putting attention and responsibility on those committing acts of violence?

When will state officials stop speaking as if women choose violence by wearing a skirt, going to lime, agreeing to a relationship, playing mas, or wanting to keep their job?

When will more men hold their bredren accountable for their violence? When will they stop men from preying on young girls as happens every day? When will the majority of men stop staying silent? When will they only show boys to obey women and girls’ right to be free and safe? When will someone always intervene?

When will we realise women stay because they can’t financially afford to leave, they fear the licks they’ll get if they do or they believe they or their children will be murdered if they go? Don’t we see that women are at greatest risk of being murdered when they try to leave? How can we blame women when perpetrators leave a trail of victims as they go from relationship to relationship?

When will churches and mosques and temples acknowledge that women are deathly afraid and may have nowhere to turn because families send them back and religious leaders advise women to stay, to keep trying, to be forgiving and to be more submissive? When will religious leaders stop telling men that their rightful role is to lead women when these very beliefs are the root cause of so many women’s vulnerability?

When will mothers never again be complicit in the abuse and prostitution of their children? For no children should be sacrificed by adults, regardless of their own fear and trauma or need to survive.

When will every perpetrator be named by those who know them? When will there be programmes targeted at perpetrators?

When will we stop being asked for solutions after repeating the solutions again and again year after year amidst political lip service, state under-resourcing, and leaders’ misguided admonitions of women? When will one little girl or boy be too many? When will one more woman killed be considered a reason for a national emergency? When will Ashanti Riley’s horrific murder become a wake-up call for action and measurable results that create transformation? When will we finally do enough?

If not today, if not now, when? When?

Post 10

yesterday I read the most horrific story. one I couldn’t even imagine. one more common than i can contemplate. a young ugandan woman, Ester, was abducted by warring men who gang raped her and forced her to kill her 1 year old baby girl. you need to read about this survivor’s experience yourself because it will never make the newspapers or the tv.

in gender studies, one constantly comes across stories of violence, abuse, death, discrimination, exploitation – you name it – faced by women, everywhere in the world. the majority of the time, women’s hell comes at the hands of men, in charge in politics, religion, business and in the home. that’s not an ideological view, that’s the unfortunate reality. there is no country in the world where women are safe from physical or sexual threat and economic inequality. none.

in the midst of that noise, comes a story like this. since i’ve read it, i’ve been unable to get it out of my mind. its made me wonder about what i’m doing with life and why i’m not doing more. it’s made me feel angry and sad and ill. it’s made me feel helpless and overwhelmed and sorry for everything that happens to women that i should prevent, but cannot or have not.

i can’t actually get my head around this woman’s body, reality, past, future, relationships, thoughts, hopes, fears and strengths. i’m just simply in shock.

Ester’s story struck me as a human and as a woman. but i think it was my new knowledge as a mother that really has me shaken.

a year is so long in the life of a child. so many hours, so much milk, so much togetherness and so much emotion. so much labour of love goes into getting a child to one year old. they are so vulnerable, so much outpouring of energy, self and will is needed just to keep them healthy and alive. a friend told me the story of her eldest sibling dying from crib death after one year and the effect on her mother. the possiblity of losing one’s baby so quietly and subtlty – as simply the stopping of breath – is inconceivable for me. i would never recover if something happened to ziya. like many mothers i often check to make sure she is breathing when she sleeps and lie awake listening to her next to me at night.

such a loss is something my mind refuses to process. but now this? if i wasn’t already an atheist, i’d question the existence of god. if i didn’t already hate when people say ‘god gives you only what you could bear’, i’d start now. if i wasn’t already wondering how long men were going to let others of their sex, and the sysytems they control, destroy so many women, i’d start now. if i wasn’t already done with ‘revolutionary’ men who refuse to actively overturn male domination, i’d be done.

i’m going to show Ester’s story to my first year women’s studies class on our first day and take up a collection to send. it isn’t enough, but i don’t know what i can do that is. all i know is that having brought a baby girl to the age of nine months through blood, tears, sweat, milk and many, many, many hours of everything i possibly have to give, this story leaves me disturbed and distraught. not only because of Ester’s sheer pain, but because her story is similar to too many women’s. women who have had their bodies, children, work, health and lives taken – here in Trinidad and Tobago and there in Uganda.

this isn’t an entry whose words aim at good writing. this is just writing to stop my fists from balling together in expression of the knot in my chest. this is writing to ask the world: what i can do? what can we do? how can we just go on?

i’m going to ask my class this question, knowing it will mean so little but hoping it adds a small part of what is needed, so that stories like Ester’s need never be told again. the human, woman and now mother in me thinks of myself having her experience, and knows she has a powerful spirit that i must humbly honour in my life and work.

Ester, tonight I am thinking of you, sister human, woman, mother…and I am thinking of your family and children and, especially, your little girl. i’ve never met her, but i will never never never forget her story.