Post 410.

IN THE hope that you reach out to support, I’m beginning to focus on violence prevention by organisations in our communities and nation. My mantra in this series, over the next weeks, is that we should first strengthen the work of those groups with long experience in gender-based violence prevention, amplifying the leadership and impact they have been making over these decades.

New groups have a real contribution to make, but also a lot to learn in terms of analyses and strategies. That’s okay too, movements are meant to be inclusive and evolving, bringing in new ideas, voices and leaders and connecting them with the expertise and knowledge generated by those speaking out and organising for a longer time.

We always have an opportunity to make a difference, and this series points you to some ways we can. If you recently attended a vigil or a march, walked with your placard, or called for solutions, you may now have a greater connection to your power to create change. Know that you can do more than cry out on social media, and there are organisations that can help turn frustration into ongoing action that heals, helps and provides hope.

So many groups are now providing charity, helping to secure housing or even providing tech-solutions for transportation. Nonetheless, the core work of ending violence against women and girls also always changes our beliefs and values about manhood and womanhood, addresses the vulnerabilities and traumas created by those beliefs, differently socialises girls and boys, and holds states accountable for socio-economic decisions that promote equality, meet family needs, and build paths to peace.

This week, I’m first highlighting the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, a network of women’s groups that has taught me so much since the mid-1990s. Over the years, I’d have an idea and asked Hazel Brown and others about it, only to find out it had been tried and there were already important lessons learned, that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel and could get excellent wisdom to guide my own approach. For those even wanting to chart a path for their own newly-formed group, the Network is a resource. Reach out for mentorship.

Currently, the Network is trying to estimate the economic cost of violence to women and girls, and to get help for a project that measures those costs. As convenor Jacquie Burgess says, “Measuring the costs of VAWG (violence against women and girls) enables policymakers to make data-driven decisions about resource allocations, test effectiveness of various strategies and provide a rationale for private sector involvement. It also strengthens the argument for ending VAWG because it is a violation of women’s human rights which we can show sets back society both socially and economically.” (Contact Jacquie Burgess at 678-7549.)

“Girl Power” is another Network project which was rolled out in one urban and two rural districts in Trinidad, targeting adolescents and young adults. This project provided a safe space where young women and girls could develop into citizens safe from sexual and physical violence, and the burden of unwanted pregnancies. Participants benefitted from sex and sexuality, and physical security modules which were incorporated into sports and physical activity along with a module on financial literacy and empowerment. Network plans to adapt that project to target girls ten years old over the next year, as a prevention measure. For this work in the area of violence against women and girls, your help is needed.

Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen), another stalwart women’s organisation established in the 1980s, with a focus on cross-race and cross-class solidarity, has a drop-in centre. Insufficient human and financial resources have left it unable to be fully operational for over two years. The centre once provided a space where families found solace and remedies for their problems in a community setting. The drop-in centre is located along the east-west corridor, which may better meet the needs of those for whom reaching Port of Spain is a challenge.

Workingwomen takes the kind of whole family approach in which so many believe, so while primary focus is on women and girls, their model also engages boys and men as allies. It also identifies where boys and men are hurting so healing can reduce harmful behaviours that perpetuate violence. Those of you interested in creating spaces for healing among men and boys may find a home with the non-judgmental approach of Workingwomen.

To maintain momentum, let’s put our desires for change where our energies can make a transformation.

Post 409.

SOCIAL movements always need both action and reflection. The protests and vigils of the past two weeks have been immense. It was unbelievably powerful to see thousands take to the streets to express their horror at continued violence against women. This was a landmark moment in Trinidad and Tobago history, one which we should take some time to understand.

Many ideas mixed in those crowds, from those who believe mothers have primary responsibility for whom sons become to those who think that boys need strong male role models to become better men. Looking on, the confluence of views and messages was complex, and at times problematic.

I was intrigued by women and men’s hope that such public outcry, including businesses closing or women staying home, would result in real change. I was hopeful too, but more focused on the work that would continue after everyone went home. Would our advocacy be more immediately effective following these massive numbers? Would the Government make soothing pronouncements on which it didn’t follow up? Would those who came out also try to make a difference in the long term, and in what ways? What opportunities had we gained for systemic change?

Men joined with signs and statements in numbers I’ve never seen, organising rallies and sharing their solutions as citizens, police, business leaders, and poets. Others became women’s-rights activists overnight, leaving us to hope they understand the painstaking work it takes to shift gender socialisation, ensure women’s reproductive rights, end homophobia, reduce male domination in leadership, and orient state policy and action toward advancing gender equality and social justice, for that is what it will actually take to end gender-based violence.

Machel put out a song about protecting women, despite the fact that women don’t want protection. What we want are rights, justice and freedom.

It was amazing how many ideas people had. We found taxi drivers leading in creating safer transport for women and girls, through their own self-organisation. Others recommended finally filling vacant positions in social services and policing, which can help improve state response. Some recommended mandatory mediation between victims seeking protection orders and abusers, despite the fact that this potentially further endangers individuals who fear for their life.

The State approved pepper spray, now putting women’s protection even more in their own terrified hands. There was no promise of a gender-sensitive transport policy, though measures such as a mobile app, lights which would be fixed to hired vehicles, a QR code which could be scanned, and a renewed registration exercise for all drivers were announced.

Fascinatingly, the PNM used the moment to reintroduce the old idea of a monorail, even though that wouldn’t help women get to the far reaches of the country where transportation is most insecure.

Andrea Bharatt’s casting as a “perfect victim” perhaps also allowed us to cross a line forever in victim-blaming, but it saddened me that 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, going to her grandmother’s on a Sunday, was not equally considered to have been perfect or a tipping point for us all.

These weeks achieved something, perhaps many things, but we are not entirely sure what.

Varying agendas gained ground. It’s clear that there has been some social-norm change. It was heartening to see feminist language about women’s rights and transformation of masculinities on placards across the country. State language may become more careful, for what prime minister will again tell women that he is “not in their choice of men,” given how many girls go missing, how many serial rapists roam, the increase in women’s reports of domestic violence since March last year, and state culpability in failing to adequately resource any real prevention strategy thus far?

What is not clear is whether our society is actually any safer. I’d be surprised if anyone thinks it is. There were attempted kidnappings of women travelling by taxi last week alone.

Our challenge now is not about ideas, but implementation and accountability. Rather than mushrooming into disparate initiatives, we need to partner with core groups working on these issues for decades. There is more work going on than most realise and this is the moment to build impact and reach.

Over the next weeks, I will be highlighting such work, and invite groups pursuing solutions to share them with me. If we agree that our society is no safer than before, what are our next steps?

We need to know what each other is doing, share our analyses, strengthen our collaboration, and agree on effective strategies.