Post 346.

Finance Minister Imbert caught my attention at the words “gender issues” in the 2020 Budget Speech.

Over the last three years, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, UWI has been amplifying the women’s movement’s call for gender-responsive budgeting (GRB). We’ve been collaborating with state agencies, and hoped that the Ministry of Finance would step up to lead this process. Leading from the top is absolutely essential for nothing happens in fiscal policy-making, good idea or not, unless the Finance Minister says so.

So, Mr. Imbert got me excited. Thus far, he didn’t seem to understand gender or its relevance to budgeting, throwing responsibility over to Planning, and making fiscal decisions about cuts to tertiary education or spending on construction as if these wouldn’t differently affect women and men’s access to income and opportunity, or at least as if he didn’t care to know what their impact was.

A turn to gender responsive budgeting could put Trinidad and Tobago on the map with countries such as India, Austria, Canada, and the Ukraine. I was almost ready to congratulate the Minister as much as he congratulates himself.

Alas, not a word about GRB.

Rather, what followed in the speech is a good example of superficial take up of “gender issues”, which reduces gender to women and women to welfare, and provokes both backlash to feminism and misrecognition of valid women’s needs.

Following his speech, commentators felt compelled to champion the fact that “single fathers” and men need access to daycare facilities too. Implicit in this is the assumption that men need champions of “men’s rights” the way that the women’s movement appears to have successfully fought for recognition of women’s issues. Implicit in the public emphasis on exclusion of men’s issues is the assumption that the vast range of women’s issues were wholly solved in two meagre proposals.

In contrast, the fact is that Caribbean feminists have always argued that safe and affordable daycare facilities need to be available for poor families and “single” parents. They have also, always, followed data on experience on the ground when making recommendations regarding the different needs of girls, boys, women and men.

If you jump up clutching straws without knowing this, however, you’ll get headlines for appearing to right a wrong against men, rather than wrongful take up of what the women’s movement has instead been advocating all along.

It’s so ironic, even the invisibility of women’s issues and advocacy remains invisible. The role of male allies in highlighting this – rather than a separatist male-centred politics – remains as urgent and necessary as ever.

However, hastiness to give primacy to “discrimination” against men means that the much sought after “male voice” is unlikely to use his widening platform as an opportunity to insist on solidarity with and greater visibility for women’s historical call to count and value the work of raising families, to support low-income homes with accessible day cares and after-school centres, to think about the economy in terms of work-family balance, and to find solutions that encourage men and women to more equally share the labour of family and community care.

“Single mothers” carry an unequal burden of time, care, educational, emotional and financial responsibility for children, and are the poorest and most vulnerable category of families in the region. Providing free or affordable daycare would profoundly impact their lives by enabling them to earn a living or pursue additional education knowing that their children are safe. It would profoundly protect children too, as children’s risk to child sexual abuse and neglect is made worse by being left in the wrong hands when better options are unavailable.

However, such day care should be available to all low-income families. Low-income couples may also need such support, particularly if they have elderly or ill parents they are also looking after. Even poor women in partnerships may stay home with their children, partly because child care is so risky and unaffordable, ultimately undermining their own earning power in the future. Fathers with primary responsibility also face challenges to their ability to work while securing reliable child-care.

This has been the women’s movement’s position all along. Men may feel they are excluded in the budget, but the reality is that women’s issues have never received sufficient recognition in state policy and budgets and still do not today. A gender responsive budgeting approach would solve this problem and build solidarity. Truth is, when it came to gender, disappointment soon replaced excitement as I listened to the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

 

 

 

Post 102.

Having not grown up in a two parent household, it’s a whole new experience for me to reflect on Ziya’s experience of living with both her mother and father. Understandings of how children connect to their fathers, which should be obvious to me, are only now part of my own learning as I observe the ways she relates to her parents and constructs her idea of family.

Her connection to me as her mother is intense and intimate, even overwhelming for us both. That has resulted not only from the kind of quality time I’ve consciously devoted, but also to from more than two years of continuous breast-feeding and, therefore, physical attachment. Yet, when we are reading books, and I point out the mummy lion or hippo, or when I tell her about my plans to take her on an outing, she’ll insist on looking for the daddy lion or asking whether daddy will be going on the outing too.

In her world, both mummy and daddy are present and necessary, and they are together. While she loves spending time with each of us, she loves spending time with both of us more. This isn’t the kind of daddy-struck adoration that seems to characterize girlhood. She’s invested in our nuclear family beyond the influence of socialization and even my own expectations of her capacity at two years old.

Dads are a vital and irreplaceable part of children’s lives, but some part of me thought that mummies could also be enough if they gave their all. Politically, I also don’t want to reproduce anti-woman views that argue that all families should have a mother and father living together, and that each must be playing some rightful role, for children to grow up fulfilled and functional. Heading their own household by choice or necessity, and with dads participating to various degrees, women have raised happy, productive and contributing members of our Caribbean. Dads can do the same too, on their own if they have to. Moms and dads don’t have to live in the same house to wisely cooperate for their children’s best interest. Even daddy-struck girls can figure out how to get on with life in the midst of separations, and how to renegotiate love across new family formations. Don’t doubt that they, we, survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, I see how Ziya would be confused, unsettled and heart-broken at the loss of having both parents with her. It makes me think back to myself at two and the complex, formative emotions that I forgot existed in me then. It makes me realise, not that break-ups are bad, because they can definitely be for the best, but how much adult partnerships define children’s sense of self, safety, stability and social space. When Ziya wants to know where the daddy hippo is or decides that two of any animal represents a mummy and a daddy, it’s a visceral statement that your relationship profoundly matters and is accountable to someone else besides the two of you.

Seeing us through her eyes has made me more greatly appreciate the role Stone has to play, whether we stay together forever or go separate ways. That role and its significance is his responsibility, not mine, to treasure, nurture and ensure. Still, I mature as a mother from recognizing that Ziya will have different feelings about and experiences of motherhood than I did. I improve as a partner from openness to learning anew about fatherhood and its value. Ziya is not the only one growing. She’s making us, as individuals and as a family, grow too.