Post 365.

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On Saturday from 2pm, all of the nation is invited to the Annual Women’s Rights Rally & March at the Queen’s Park Savannah. There, Trinidad and Tobago will join the world in commemorating International Women’s Day, officially marked on March 8th every year.

International Women’s Day cannot be reduced to activism against violence against women and girls, but women are being killed by men, mostly their partners, at shocking rates across the region and the world, and public affirmation that their right to life matters and that such violence has no tolerance in our society should bring us all out of our homes.

The other issues that impact women’s lives also remain; from work-family balance and unequal responsibility for care of children, the aged and the ill to the fact that choice to access safe and legal termination of pregnancy is still denied by the Trinidad and Tobago state to the reality of women’s vastly unequal representation at the highest levels of political decision-making.

However, International Women’s Day is about much more than acknowledging continuing injustices in the lives of women and girls. It is also about affirming centuries of struggle by women to secure their rights. This year, it is also about remembering the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This was a resolution adopted by the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, China in 1995. The conference was a global gathering of tens of thousands and created one of the most progressive blueprints for advancing the rights of women and girls. It aimed to remove obstacles women face in their public and private lives through ensuring their equal share in economic, cultural, political, and social decision-making.

25 years after the Beijing conference, we must now define our own vision for the next 25 years. The “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” global campaign expresses just this, demanding equal pay and equal sharing of unpaid domestic labour, an end to gender based violence, better health-care services and access to such services, and women’s equal participation in politics and decision making.

The campaign has six major demands: justice and peace for all, environmental justice, equal participation in politics and decision-making, freedom from violence and discrimination, economic rights and opportunities for all, and access to sexual and reproductive rights. Each of these is inspired by the vision of our foremothers, as articulated in the Beijing Declaration, but each of these walks in the power, beauty and light of a another generation finding its fighting spirit.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we will also continue to rejuvenate our commitment as a nation to the theme and goal of “Power in Action”. This is the most fundamental of civil society calls, recognising that power is always with people, in our most collective movements, and in the difference each of us can make to the world.

On the ground here, International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to honour women, and the work they contribute to sustenance and transformation of communities the Caribbean. It is an opening to encourage another generation to bring their own issues, experiences, vision and peer communities to the most inclusive and fearless gathering that the nation can produce, and to play active roles for justice and change.

It is a reminder that we always can do better in including those whose rights get left behind, and taking into account that girls and women live multi-issue lives as persons with disabilities or from rural communities or as LBGTI+ citizens. Finally, it is an affirmation that the end to our social, environmental and economic crises can only come when we are prepared to act, not only for ourselves, but for each other. There could hardly be a more fundamental message to us at this time in history.

Some may say they are tired of marches and skeptical of what they achieve. However, this isn’t a protest march with a single specific aim. It is a symbol of a nation’s recognition of the rights of women and girls. It is a moment when men and boys can affirm their solidarity with diverse communities of women seeking justice. It is simply a gathering which exuberantly and inter-generationally brings together history, tolerance and aspiration in our own words and with our very bodies.

Bring your drums and tambourines. Bring your placards and banners. Bring water in reusable containers. The march starts at 3pm outside of Whitehall. See you there on Saturday at the Savannah in Port of Spain.

Post 233.

Adults, including Ministers of Health and Education, political party representatives, religious leaders, police and doctors, are screwing adolescent girls. Check your dictionary for a fuller definition, but here I’ll define screw as ‘to mess someone up’ or ‘to cheat someone out of something’.

Imagine you are an adolescent girl in Trinidad and Tobago who becomes pregnant and decides you cannot manage pregnancy or parenthood. First, what is happening within your body is completely separated from ideas such as consent, choice and rights, as if T and T is not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Second, you have been denied proper education about sexuality in schools, though it has been established for decades that this is one of the state’s best tools in tackling vulnerability to forced sex including child sexual abuse, high risk of HIV and STDs, early pregnancy, and difficulty negotiating contraception in sexual relations. You also face stigmatization buying contraception, making it less likely that you will do so.

Third, if you become pregnant, you will be prevented from staying in school with your community of peers, and will be sent elsewhere, as if your pregnant body is a source of contamination. Nurses will treat you like pregnancy is your punishment for having sex or having it forced on you. And, indeed pregnancy is your cross to bear regardless of your economic or psychological ability to cope. At least when a house burns down with a baby inside or when the newspaper says your murdered son had turned gangsta, everyone is clear who to blame.

Fourth, if you decide your mental health cannot cope and seek to procure a safe termination, rest assured that the best gynecologists in the country will not to help you, as they consider their own reputations, job security and freedom from criminalisation, rather than advocate for the law to be changed. When you find a good doctor, who bless her or his heart, will help you rather than judge you, you risk being charged by the police, and condemned by religious people more concerned about their beliefs than your care or welfare.

And, if you cannot find a gynecologist who will safely perform a procedure that women have sought for millennia, you can always bleed your way to the nation’s hospitals where about 3000 women a year will end up as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. Or, possibly, become a statistic: 10% of maternal deaths are the result of illegal abortions in Latin American and Caribbean.

For this reason, important clarifications are required.

Pro-choice policy isn’t pro-abortion. It is pro-women-not-dying, and pro-fetuses-not-being-found-buried-in-the-backyard. Fully legalising abortion does not escalate its numbers. Countries where abortion is legal generally have lower rates than those that don’t. Abortion is not a religious issue, unless the woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy is religious and this shapes her decision. It is not a ‘sensitive topic’ unless you are intimately connected to the pregnancy. Then, sensitivity is definitely required.

A referendum is not the way to secure safer and better-managed terminations; it’s a way to play politics and crush its possibility, for religious folk who are also pro-choice will be made to choose a side by opportunistic, patriarchal leadership. Charging women, including minors, and doctors will not stop abortions, it simply makes them more risky.

Abortion is, in fact, not illegal in our Common Law when it preserves a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health, preventing her from becoming a “physical and mental wreck”. Doctors should know this. More than half of the population supports expanded legalization, e.g. in cases of rape and incest. Calls for more discussion will not help mothers seeking terminations, decriminalizing abortion will.

Finally, important clarification is required of the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association, and its PRO Dr Liane Conyette who is quoted as saying, “As doctors we are charged with protecting the life of all our patients, mothers and their unborn children alike, both of whom have rights that must be considered”. It is unclear where the TTMA sourced its position on the rights of unborn children. Do those rights begin at conception or later? What are those rights? Was this position collectively agreed on? Where is it written? What are the costs of this position for teenage girls?

Girls are cheated out of public education they need; public health procedures that should be safe; public programmes to empower them in the face of sexual violence and sexual exploitation by adults; public legislation that seeks to support their choices and needs; and a public that values girls and women’s lives, especially those who are poor.

The details of this week’s news of a sixteen year old who sought an abortion shouldn’t occupy us as much as the fact that there are many other minors in such precarious situations, and no end in sight. This is what it means to be screwed by adults and authorities, none of whom are publicly on their side.

Click to access IB_AWW-Latin-America.pdf

http://newsday.co.tt/news/0,226655.html

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20160418/news/time-to-talk-about-abortion

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,19661.html

 

 

Post 231.

On Wednesday, SALISES at UWI held a forum on participatory governance. With the opening line, “Let’s do this together” replacing the usual national sentiment of “Who we go put?”, the intention was to explore the best way to get state accountability, responsiveness and inclusion. Maximum leadership can screw with your constitution, institutions and political directorate for several generations, and this discussion wouldn’t be dogging us today had Williams himself been more democratic and less tolerant of corruption.

The audience suggested pushing for the right of referendum, indeed making it so through a referendum. A network of citizens was formed to create an alternative, people-driven ‘Green Paper’ on Local Government Reform based on the idea that neither had the government process adequately referenced past reform reports nor adequately involved another round of true consultation. The Constitutional Reform Forum has been at this for about 15 years. Still, no point getting mad and marching in the streets, said Michael Harris, the only lasting revolutionary accomplishments are ones that entrench institutional change.

The pervading atmosphere was one of intellectual-elite cynicism about positive developments within officialdom. Indeed, speaker Reginald Dumas noted that he received no response to his offers to advise current bureaucrats and permanent secretaries about what public service professionalism required.

In the past few years, anyone watching Caribbean countries at international negotiations would have seen Foreign Affairs officials championing their own bias, for example against reproductive rights, rather than international conventions which determined the official position. And, if a PS decides homophobia will never be challenged in policy, with no accountability to civil society, the status quo shall be so.

On the other hand, there was passion, driven by painful love for this place and its people. Kirk Waithe, Head of Fixin’ T and T argued that we have failed to demand the government we deserve, reproduce white collar crime and petty corruption to oil the workings of the business community, and have created an environment where you can justify earning $34 million for nothing, because of a technicality, and walk around as brazen as Adolphus Daniell, while small time ganja smokers turn hardened criminals in jail.

He’s right of course. You want change, target the mismanagement, payments and losses happening by the millions, and force disclosure of information.

Remember how Bhoe Tewarie fought the JCC over development of Invader’s Bay, arguing that the state had a right to withhold legal opinion from the nation, despite representing ‘we the people’, and paying for those opinions with our money. Remember it took the Freedom of Information Act to publicise Marlene McDonald’s ongoings, because the PM was willing to overlook what he knew we had not yet proved. Remember how those vacuous ‘Happiness’ campaigns netted Ross Advertising 20 mil. in 2014 alone, although in 2012 and 2013, there was no provision for such expenditure in the company’s corporate communications budget.

Every lost dollar becomes a missing hospital bed, a potholed road or an under-equipped school, while somebody either becomes or can now command ‘Benz Punany’.

As a feminist advocating for issues which will not get mass support in protests, letters or votes in any near decade, all this talk of local government reform and referenda seems necessary, but far removed. Kamla Persad-Bissessar resorted to referendum talk, though human rights should not be determined by a popularity contest. In Bahamas’ referendum in 2002, citizens voted against giving women’s spouses the same right to citizenship as men’s spouses. This was changed by legislators, finally, last month.

We need institutional and constitutional change, and to be corruption watchdogs. Even parliamentary Joint Select Committees need more teeth, observed Ashaki Scott. Yet, we also need to challenge the invisibility or illegitimacy of some issues, or a hierarchy amongst them.

‘Women’s issues’ are citizenship issues central to any politics of inclusion, and their effects filter through the economy, politics and family. LGBT issues are not special interest issues once you understand how constructions of gender and sexuality harm all our lives. To ‘do this together’ is first about widespread justice in village councils, religious communities, health centers and police stations, for  all who, as Lloyd Best describes, wish to become proprietors of our landscape and governors of the dew.

 

Post 210.

Those very struggles established in slavery and indentureship have not yet been won for all Caribbean women. Sisterhood and empowerment are a commitment to their individual and collective achievement, and that commitment is the fire and hope of Caribbean feminism.

Let us take the words offered by this movement while also embracing Caribbean feminism’s radical history and intent, its lessons and wisdom, its analyses and aims. Let us love ourselves and each other, building community in ways that claim our place in continuing its legacy. When it comes to hundreds of years of our region’s women desiring and labouring for change, let us feel no fear or shame.

The feminist movement still keeps this controversial label because this is the only movement in all of modern time that has unapologetically placed  women’s real issues first, not because addressing them helps to improve the economy, the family or the nation, but to make the world right for women.

Advocating for maternity leave, domestic violence, anti-discrimination or sexual assault legislation. Challenging sexism in school curricula. Recognising housework’s economic value. Creating global agreement that women and girls can achieve any aspiration. Insisting that femininity isn’t about lack or weakness, but about women’s own definitions and embodiment of power.

Feminism in the Caribbean wasn’t imported, it emerged from the conditions of our lives and our dreams for equality and rights. It was never built on hatred or discrimination, but on the long struggle for true emancipation. It never aimed to make women superior to men, rather it aims to enable women to live on terms not defined by male superiority. It challenges racism as it is knotted with sexism, distorting women’s and men’s experiences of their bodies. It seeks a world in which all women can be who they are, and be valued simply because they are, regardless of their sexual choices.

Caribbean feminism gives us words to describe realities and resistances that are only ours, to describe a movement led by everyday women for every woman, without apology. Let’s not forget those foremothers as we also enjoy the rewards of looking good, having disposable income, networking within rather than across class, and improving our individual capacities to earn more money. Let us not forget the implications of a Beyonce brand of sexy feminism in heels and on fleek in bright lights and big stage, for women who refuse sexiness, but still wish to be seen as beautiful.

Reproductive rights, safety from sexual violence and exploitation, equal pay for equal work, fair sharing of family responsibilities, a right to independence and decision-making, and a sense of self free of racist ideals regarding our beauty are the roots of Caribbean feminism today. If you are a woman who believes any of these are important, then you believe in feminist ideals which centuries of struggle have made more legitimate and worth fighting for. Disown stereotypes and misrecognition, and fearlessly tell them that this is what a Caribbean feminist looks like. And, then, however it feels right, rock this politics’ insights and inspiration in your unique contribution.

Sisterhood. Empowerment. Financial independence. A supportive community of women. Sexual freedom. Fearlessness. Equality. Choice. Self-acceptance, self-determination and self-care. As we invest in these in our lives, let’s also connect to and celebrate the Caribbean women whose feminism gave us these words to make ours and to confidently share.

Post 170.

After rainy season, Ziya, her Amerindian godmother and I are going to roam the country taking selfies. Also taking the practice of being ‘independent ladies’ seriously, we are stopping at sites where colonial names replaced Amerindian ones and bad ass posing next to those signs with the little remembered Amerindian ones held high. Why?

I had wanted to give Zi a map of the country with as many of the original names as possible, replacing the Spanish, French, British and other names that were imposed through conquest. I wanted her to see her belonging beyond its colonial representation. To understand that this place where the contemporary meaning of ‘dougla’ was invented and could be positively claimed, only existed through the historical meeting of Indians and Africans on once indigenous people’s lands.

That those names have disappeared from our knowledge remains a colonizing act, one claimed as our right at the birth of our independent nation, one for which we remain responsible today.

Because that map doesn’t exist, Zi, her godmother and I were going to make it ourselves, not as a flat, sepia etching as if Amerindians only existed in the past, but as if they continue to live and breathe in the making of Zi’s own memories. For how does teaching an Indian-African mixed girl to connect her navel string to the Mother Trinidad and Tobago of her indigenous godmother enable her to love here differently?

If she became Prime Minister, might she value Parliament’s grounds more for its Amerindian rather than Westminster heritage? If she became a judge, how would she adjudicate future Warao land claims?  As a citizen thinking about highway development, how would she understand the significance of the skeleton found in Banwari Trace being known as the “Mother of the Caribbean”?

Planning this decolonizing adventure, I’ve been reflecting on Eric William’s words that there is no Mother Africa nor India, England, China, Syria or Lebanon, only Mother Trinidad and Tobago, an Amerindian Mother still not called by her original woman’s name.

And, in questioning Mother Trinidad and Tobago’s genesis as conceived by the men who doctored her birth, I’ve also been reflecting on who Mother Trinidad and Tobago has been allowed to be by those who since ruled.

Independent Mother Trinidad and Tobago hasn’t been allowed to be lesbian, for example, which is why women’s desire for other women is criminalized, not since colonial times, but from as late as 1986 when the jackets in Parliament decided that the sole purpose of this Mother’s sexuality was to service a mister or face a jail.

And, except for between 2010 and the present, Mother Trinidad and Tobago has been dominated by men, mostly elite, mostly African and Indian, mostly against their Mother championing too much feminism. So, from 1956 to today, Mother Trinidad and Tobago continues to end up in public hospitals from unsafe abortions along with thousands of other women.  Even with a grandmother holding prime ministerial power, Mother Trinidad and Tobago can’t yet get a gender policy approved or sexual orientation explicitly protected in the Equal Opportunities Act or reproductive rights.

In a little girl’s reconceiving of Mother Trinidad and Tobago on more feminist, more indigenous terms, for she may have only one mother, but she has a godmother too, in telling her that being an independent lady isn’t about your relationship to men and money, but to emancipation, and in making selfies that frame all this in Ziya’s inherited mix, you’ll be surprised at the political potential for the young to imaginatively play with the power of self-definition, even in relation to citizenship.