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 334.

“Vote for we and we will set you free”, sings David Rudder in the Madman’s Rant, parodying election-time sloganeering.

So said, so done. The campaign trail keeps it simple and typical: promises of more police car, to take the country far, to put the bandits away, to make criminals damn well pay, to abolish the tax, and to give we the facts.

It’s an easy myth to swallow because the alternative requires more of our attention and responsibility. We show up at rallies to nod at our heads at good speech, but don’t follow a story far enough to know when we are being hoodwinked, when we need to intervene, or when not everybody will be set free.

Take the National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment in Trinidad and Tobago. Symbolically laid in Parliament on International Women’s Day 2019, Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste Primus stated, “For far too long, victims of Sexual Harassment in the workplace have borne pain and suffering in silence as the perpetrators of this disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour have utilised intimidation, victim shaming and abuse of power to get away with it, without facing any sanction or penalty. However, Madam Speaker those days are over”.

There’s much to celebrate about a policy, long called for by feminist activists, finally being drafted and publicized, but what about the details? Employers must keep a sexual harassment log documenting all incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace. The grievance procedure guidelines emphasise the role of a complaints committee and change management teams.

Now think of all the low-income women – young women, mothers, primary breadwinners, those supporting aged parents, illegal migrants – working in shops, restaurants and malls in Port of Spain, Chaguanas and San Fernando, or working as domestics cleaning and providing child care in homes, for whom the employer is the real perpetrator, as is so common.

To whom do they turn without losing their job? In this precarious economy, Madame Speaker, are their days of sexual harassment really over? Keep in mind that, despite parliamentary speeches, this policy is not yet approved by Cabinet, constituting more smoke than fire.

Take the recent legislation for the Sex Offenders Registry. Containing much that is useful for protecting society from specific kinds of sexual offenders, the Registry as it currently stands could further stigmatize groups of women, such as sex workers, who already come from the most vulnerable categories of women: the young, poor, sexually abused, under-educated, migrant and trafficked. Civil society groups made this otherwise overlooked and undervalued point to Honourable AG Al-Rawi.

Should good legislation do harm? When the bill becomes an Act, we will see whether this group is liable to further long-term penalty, entirely defying the purpose of a register, which is to protect the vulnerable, in the first place. Organisations such as CAISO have also pointed out that if the buggery law is upheld by the Privy Council, which the state is seeking, consensual anal sex would also not only remain a crime, but absurdly require such criminalized citizens also be registered.

Take the 2012 Children’s Act. As the age of consent to sexual relations is now set at eighteen years old, sexual and reproductive health service providers, such as the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago, now have to report incidents of penetration of minors sixteen and seventeen years old, even by others within three years of their age, even when it occurs by consent.

This means that providing confidential counselling services to teens over sixteen without reporting those cases to the police can now be a crime. This risk to service providers means that FPATT no longer provides the youth counselling it once used to, leaving a vast need now unmet. This same act, it should be noted, also decriminalized heterosexual penetration between minors while extending the punishment for such same-sex sexual relations among minors to, of all things, life imprisonment. So much for child rights.

NGOs will tell you that real transformations, rather than empty slogans, most matter. When politicians hit the platform to wax about their accomplishments, remember it’s easy to convince a population of a government’s successes when we are not bothered to follow details and when headlines are all corner block-talk seems to need.

Political participation and power mean paying attention to the fine-print of legislation, policies or budgets even when splashy campaigns deliberately distract. Vote for them, by all means, but know that only a madman would believe anyone but yourself is going to set you free.