Post 396.

I’ve struggled with what to express other than haunting sadness at the killing of Tenil Cupid, and my condolences to her family and her children. I’ve wanted to write a column printed with blank space, where words would otherwise fill the page, to compel a pause, a moment of quiet, when we all still our steps, as we do for the national anthem, to remember that she was just 23 years old. We are a nation where young women are not safe, where they cannot love and choose to leave, and where men’s lethal violence produces generational trauma, pulling both boys and girls into its cycle.

I’ve struggled because statistics predict such pain and loss. All the recent studies of violence prevalence in the Caribbean, from Guyana to Jamaica to Grenada to TT, point to established risk factors in young Tenil Cupid’s life.

First, entering intimate relationships before 18 years old, particularly with much older male partners (who are legally sexual predators committing the crime of rape and child sexual abuse).

Second, motherhood and, especially, adolescent motherhood, for example, beginning at 15 years old and continuing through teenage years with multiple births.

Third, limited education, as well as relatively low school achievement of male partners.

Fourth, insufficient income and economic dependency on partners with low income, particularly when children must be fed and schooled. Keep in mind that young women under 24 have higher rates of unemployment than young men, suggesting complex power relations which they must negotiate to be secure and survive.

Fifth, the decision to end a relationship and to escape a male partner’s controlling behaviours and dominance. These behaviours are an absolute key red flag for femicide, whether the triggers are substance abuse or a new relationship or financial crisis and conflict.

There are hundreds each year who enter young womanhood in these circumstances, and additional experiences of child abuse and neglect. These are girls raised without sufficient information and support to make healthier decisions, and in circumstances that increase their vulnerability to much of what Tenil Cupid lived.

In the women’s movement, we worry whether women are being killed at younger ages, at the increase in such killing and at the state’s inadequate response in terms of having social welfare workers go to vulnerable homes in communities as they used to; appropriate psychosocial intervention for children at an age when it can still make a difference; and a serious national campaign against male predation as an accepted social norm.

As the Coalition Against Domestic Violence cautioned, after the murder of 29-year-old Reshma Kanchan, “we cannot run away from the intersecting relationship of domestic murders with gender inequality and harmful masculinities.”

That this intersection affects women everywhere was poignantly shown in Womantra’s Silent Silhouettes short documentary where murdered women and their children were shown in everyday places, their absence marked by the dark space and shape left by their missing bodies.

Conceptualised around 2006, by the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, to encourage us to emotionally connect to lost lives such as Tenil Cupid’s, these silhouettes also represent Jezelle Phillip Fournillier, Gabriella Dubarry, Naiee Singh, Trisha Ramsaran-Ramdass, Adanna Dick, Vera Golabie, Sherian Huggins, Joanna Diaz Sanchez, and Reshma Kanhan; all murdered by (mostly former) partners this year.

To better understand femicide prevention, the coalition has called for “comprehensive and multidisciplinary investigation into domestic murders” to assess the circumstances of both victim and perpetrator, whether a history of abuse was known to family and community, whether actions were taken to protect the victim, and whether any services were sought from state institutions. It also continues to recommend “school and out of school-based interventions, gender sensitive parenting programmes, and programmes engaging men including perpetrator/batterer interventions.”

The GBV Unit has responded, citing 220 arrests and 290 charges since January. However, convictions are beyond the unit’s ambit, and in TT are notoriously low, signalling how the judicial system slowly but surely reproduces impunity.

As Conflict Women urged this week, the Government must make “prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for covid19,” and men and citizens must “speak out, report and act against violence against women and girls,” perhaps saving another woman and her children from becoming statistics.

Meanwhile, at the end of this sentence, please stay with me for a moment of stillness, silence and sadness, for loss of words, for Tenil Cupid, just 23 years old, and taken too soon.

Post 379.

When a woman experiences partner violence, her neighbours, friends and family can report even if she does not. Often, neighbours and families witness or experience violence or its threat because of their relationship or proximity to a victim. The more we all report is the more we empower police to respond and can hold them accountable for doing so.  

Reports of domestic violence do not require women to seek a protection order to ensure their safety. Threats and violence by partners and relatives are also criminal offenses, and police can immediately investigate and charge perpetrators.  

As the Coalition Against Domestic Violence has stated, “It is time that the police develop and implement a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence. If a serious offense has been committed or is threatened, the police must act independently, whether the victim cooperates or not”. 

Proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act include provisions for undertaking risk assessments. Upon reports being made, a risk assessment should be undertaken so that police can predict whether lethal harm is likely. A protocol should then be in place which connects with the courts, psychiatric intervention, and social services.  Police should also check perpetrators’ history of violence.

As Conflict Women’s recent press release reminded, Michael Maynard was charged with rape and released on bail in 2018. In February this year, after a history of violence, he killed his 8-year old daughter, Makeisha.  In response to a report by her mother, police were willing to go with Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass to remove her belongings from the house. The TTPS press release states, “She never did, but instead, moved back into the same home with her spouse until her death on June 9th”. 

Perpetrators, not victims, should be removed from a home. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that leaving a home does not guarantee that violence will end. Women are at greater risk when they begin to leave or have left, and threats and intimidation continue long after they attempt to end relationships. 

In the case of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, she was fearful of a partner who killed one woman already. It had been years of torture. Her family was also vulnerable. Such terror can lead women to return to abusive partners repeatedly. 

Love, hope, forgiveness, guilt, loss of self and self-blame are always enmeshed in such decisions, but such complexity should never distract from the fact that responsibility for violence always lies with the perpetrator and, in many cases, his controlling practices, his beliefs in traditional gender roles and male dominance, his history of witnessing, experiencing or expressing violence, and triggers such as substance abuse.  

The proposed amendments also allow police to seek emergency protection orders electronically through judicial officers, enabling them to be granted quickly. They allow Interim Orders to be granted after the second hearing where adjournments are being sought by the court and/or respondent.  In 2017-2018, over one-third of more than 9000 applications were dismissed, 72% of adjournments were related to the unavailability of the magistrate, and only 29% resulted in a protection order. 

The amendments address the needs of victims who appear repeatedly at court and leave without even protection on paper. Expanded beyond cohabitation and marriage, the amended legislation will enable some persons in visiting and dating relationships to seek protection orders.

There are expanded protections for children, including those who are witnesses to domestic violence. Mandatory reporting to police is now required if domestic violence is being perpetrated against vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or persons with disabilities. Such reports should also be able to be made to the Division of Family Services and Children’s Authority. 

The Alliance for State Action to End Gender-based Violence, comprising over 20 civil society organisations, including The UWI, continues to call for the amendments to protect all persons who experience violence in a domestic context, regardless of family status or gender. To continue to exclude some from protection is to define who can share domestic space or have relationships. That is not the point of the DV Act. It should provide protection without discrimination. 

My condolences to the family of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, 37 years old and mother of one. We should all commit to preventing such violence in whatever way we can. These amendments will be debated in Parliament next week.

The GBV Unit and Special Victims Department are important, but as yet underfunded, steps in the right direction. Where police and judiciary can improve, the only headlines should be about how much is possible and how soon.

Post 368.

Name any number of stresses and you would find most of us are now dodging several of them daily. What are the implications of such higher stress when we are locked inside together? On the other hand, what are the implications for so many people who are living alone, and now without options for human contact?

Having rightly closed down bars and other public recreation spaces, mostly frequented by men, how will they cope? Men dominate public spaces, whether playfields, streets or rum shops, which are also spaces for establishing masculine identity and camraderie, and setting boundaries on the spheres of men’s lives within women’s control.

What happens to men, women and families when such spatial distinctions collapse and men are locked indoors? What new conflicts over time, power and decision-making are emerging, which we should publicly talk about and protect ourselves from inside our homes?

In a region where men, particularly older men, may also be among the higher numbers of those living alone, do we understand the realities of our different needs, coping strategies and levels of risk?

Behind our closed doors has become more complex than ever in a world where home may already have been lonely or unsafe, or a rest stop between places where one would rather be. Some may have already begun to lose income and are tense, with nowhere to turn.

Some are beginning to feel trapped or out of control. In response, they may turn to threatening and controlling behaviours as part of expressing frustration. Cases of abuse and the severity of violence in families might increase while options for running to family or friends are closed. For those victims, physical distancing can occur even while those around them help prevent the greater dangers of social isolation.

As with any crisis, women remain particularly vulnerable, whether because they dominate the service and retail industry as workers, and are at risk of losing those jobs, or because they predominate as nurses, and are taking risks that leave them distanced from their families, or because there is deepening isolation for those already being separated from friends and family by abusive partners, or who have been isolating themselves because of shame.

Girls’ risk of sexual abuse is especially high now that uncles, step-fathers, cousins and other men are more present and difficult to escape. The vulnerability we are all feeling right now can make victims feel even less able to report or leave, particularly if they are also women and girls with mental or physical disabilities. Many women in the Caribbean are also primary breadwinners and single parents, and the impossibility of balancing parenting and their profession will fall on them unequally.

Ziya’s school has shown a model response this past week – ‘live’ online sessions every day, three a day over the next two weeks on both mornings and afternoons, and assignments every day, but there’s no chance that, as a working mother and primary breadwinner, I could match their expectations and also accomplish my job.

It’s felt like going insane. The assignments come through a non-child friendly system where they must be downloaded, completed as word files or printed as PDFs, and then photos taken and uploaded. All week, I’ve wondered why primary schools don’t adopt a more empathic approach to learning, think about the child friendliness of the software, consider the realities of the learning environment children are in, send a package of material that could simply be done in the afternoons when office work is completed and two hours can be found to do assignments, and encourage home schooling approaches that don’t require a stay-at-home parent attentive to curriculum throughout the day.

While my mother is concerned about surviving, my friends reach out across their feelings of disconnection and my family panics about declining income, I worry about the implications of opting out of Zi’s school’s zealous teaching strategy or the implications of barely doing my job, when the days seem to demand one or the other.

Many people are protecting their health, but are deeply affected by the psychological and familial challenges of this time. Addressing them is as important as the health and financial responses.

Schools should remain closed after April 20th or we risk an infection spike that could particularly put the elderly at risk, for many of us can only work because grandparents provide after-school care. In the meantime, we need to rethink our assumptions about parents and homes, and our educational philosophy. We need to emerge, not only alive, but intact emotionally.

Post 360.

In the wake of the murder of Naiee Singh, Gabriella Du Barry, Pollyann Khan (and her family) and Jezelle Phillip, it’s important to counter misinformation.

First, men’s rights representatives have been spreading misguided analyses that create public confusion. Postings on their Facebook page repeatedly highlight videos of women physically beating men and loudly quarrelling with them to emphasise “the drama, the trauma, the stress, the pressure, the abuse, the patience exercised, the humility applied” by men, which – the argument goes – no one sees when focus is on femicide.

Amidst poverty and depression, men’s rights representatives’ position is that men turn to murder because “when they getting home is stress again”. Media portrays the man as the “bad guy” and the woman the victim, but, according to them, it’s really the opposite – men’s killing of women is merely a “reaction” to the wrongs which broke their stability. Thus, men’s rights advocates’ essential message is that women are toxic and men behave as they do because they suffered silently and invisibly while women destroy them through abuse, infidelity and the courts.

Their key recommendation is that “better behaviour” by both wives and husbands needs to be created to stop the lethal stabbing, shooting and beating of women by their partners and ex-partners. This language echoes the AG’s statement a few weeks earlier that, “it’s true to say that both sexes have trouble with rejection”. It also reflects state agencies’ apolitical attention to “family violence”, an apparently gender-neutral problem perpetrated by both women and men with equivalent frequency and severity.

All these create resounding lack of clarity. The murders of women this year alone show us why. In contrast to the argument of provocation being spuriously promoted, none of these women was having an argument, being violent or abusing the men who killed them. They were only attempting to get up in the morning, go to work and move on.

Posting videos of women being violent to their partners when women are being slain for the crime of merely wanting to live their lives not only shows disturbing lack of compassion, it also dangerously misleads. It excuses homicide by men on the basis of supposed relationship conflict between women and men. It fails to concede that women have no responsibility for a partner capable of premeditated killing in cold blood.

Second, it is statistically untrue to say that both sexes respond to “rejection” with deadly violence , so why erase the fact that homicidal responses are deeply connected to widely shared ideals of masculine authority, control and power? These very ideals fuel men’s killing of other men by the hundreds per year. Indeed, male suicide, male partner violence, and violence among men form a well-established “triad of violence” grounded in these ideals.

Therefore, men’s killing of women is not a response to relationship rejection. These women endured and escaped chronic threat and abuse, in forms which are criminal offences. They didn’t “jilt” a lover. They rejected terror and harm. They left a crime scene. Call it for what it is.

Women can be violent and both partners in relationships must choose to resolve conflict and communicate in non-violent ways, particularly if there are children who will suffer the inter-generational trauma of witnessing abuse between adults.

However, the killing of women, just like rape and sexual assault by male non-partners (affecting one in ten women) and like male sexual abuse of girls (affecting one in five women) will not end because of women’s improved behaviour. Express’ Tuesday headline, “She was the perfect wife” should convince us of that. It should also remind us of the risks of public confusion such that, even in death, the media reckoned with the extent to which Naiee Singh was or was not at fault.

We need men in a broad national effort to stop men’s killing of women. We don’t need men to enter a well-informed, global movement to oppose, simplify or sound clever in ways which, somehow, women never thought of all this time. There’s a reason for the focus on perpetration rather than mainly telling victims to leave. There’s a reason for attention on transforming masculinity and power and not only addressing emotions and mental health. Poverty, depression and suicidal feelings are all triggers of men’s violence against women, but they are not the cause. There’s a reason martial arts isn’t a national solution. Such murder has no excuse. The AG, like all men, must simply, unreservedly amplify women’s right to live and leave in peace.

 

 

 

Post 359.

A gender-based violence (GBV) unit is being established by the TTPS. Expectations are high and likely beyond what police response can provide, because real solutions require that policing be integrated with legal amendments, social services, NGO partnerships, data-driven strategies, community buy-in, and cultural change.

Hope is that the unit can coordinate TTPS approaches to intimate partner violence, domestic violence and sexual violence in order to, among other goals, reduce the number of women killed.

Only about 7% of women report intimate partner violence (IPV) to the police. Of those that report experiencing partner violence in their lifetime, about 25% do not report. If the TTPS implements measures to make reporting easier, kinder and safer, such as through taking reports from victims at their homes rather than at a station, those numbers could increase. What happens then?

The whole system, from hotlines to victim and witness support services to shelters to the magistrate and family courts, will have to be prepared for a surge in demand when women believe that reporting could lead to real protection and conviction. We won’t be sure if increased numbers reflect a rise in violence or a decrease in fear and silence, but forecasting these scenarios by the GBV unit is necessary.

It’s the same with orders of protection. If around 10 000 are sought every year, what happens when better policing means they become easier to secure and more likely to be enforced through better record keeping of women’s reports, timely serving of summons, lethality assessments, and other follow up?

There were 579 breaches of protection orders in five years, 174 breaches in 2019 alone. If these men are going to end up in jail, and they should – for breaching a protection order is a deliberate crime, are we prepared to provide mandatory counselling for perpetrators, to implement a restorative approach, and to find ways of making these repeat offenders less likely to get back out of jail and kill? Women report fear for their lives when perpetrators are released, particularly when women are not informed by the prison system. Better policing is also going to require forecasting implications in relation to perpetrators.

The GBV Unit can do a number of things: continue to clarify the law for all police officers, not just those with oversight of GBV or DV crimes; continue to educate all police about established protocols with regard to domestic violence reports; recognize that police may be friendly with perpetrators, may be perpetrators and may discourage reporting; and include outreach to migrant women so they know that they can safely report GBV crimes, which are a violation of their human rights, without fear of deportation or greater vulnerability to traffickers.

The unit can also establish a case study approach to better understand how to reduce men’s killing of women who have applied for orders of protection, and make sure the Domestic Violence Register is being actively engaged. It should work closely with the Child Protection Unit, Victim and Witness Support Unit, and Family Court to share rather than duplicate data. It’s also possible that DV reports can anticipate child sexual abuse reports, and the Unit will need to understand the intersection of different forms of GBV in this way.

CAPA doesn’t currently make perpetrator data easily accessible. As we continue to emphasise understanding and ending perpetration, and not only telling women to recognize “red flags”, sex-disaggregated data that supports this advocacy is also necessary.

The Unit should not start from scratch. The Coalition Against Domestic Violence has already been working with TTUTA to develop and implement the school programme, “Education for Empathy and Equality”. The Sexual Culture of Justice project is producing a toolkit for the Police Academy with protocols for training new police officers on issues of LGBTI bias and gender based violence. It also highlights the particular vulnerability of transgender persons, which is part of the problem of under-reporting.

Caricom recently published procedures for collecting data on domestic violence which may eliminate some obstacles to filling out report forms. CAFRA has been undertaking gender sensitization with police for decades, and the Network of Rural Women Producers has been working with youth and police in the police youth clubs, using the UN He For She Campaign and the Foundations Programme, to promote gender equality.

A civil society advisory committee to provide guidance and ensure accountability is key. The Unit has the opportunity to get things right before getting them wrong. Women’s lives are at stake. Fear and outrage demand urgency.

Post 354.

Yesterday was December 10th, Human Rights Day, and the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. I’ve used these weeks to share statistics, but also emphasize that real women’s lives are at stake. I’ve highlighted youthful student activism so that we acknowledge that violence, such as sexual harassment, persists in the lives of another generation, including in the educational spaces where girls have supposedly taken over.

In this final column marking 16 days of advocacy, I want to amplify the call, made by domestic violence shelters, for sufficient state support.

Within these sixteen days of activism alone, a woman battered by her former partner could find no room at any shelter. She and her children were traumatized and had nowhere to go on the night they fled. Following this, Conflict Women and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence organized a forum to assess the state of shelters.

The forum confirmed that Trinidad and Tobago currently has seven shelters. The oldest shelter is closed for renovations, and is still fundraising in order to open again. Right now, it receives a government subvention enabling it to offer counseling and other services, but no crisis refuge.

Two shelters closed over this year due to lack to financial capacity. One of these closed its doors for the first time in twenty years because it too has to fund raise for renovations as well as daily costs of running both services and a shelter. In these 20 years, it received a government subvention twice, both more than five years ago. It too now provides reduced counseling, medical, legal, transportation, educational and other support, but no shelter.

Among the four shelters still open, one has scaled down to 50% of its intake of survivors, from 25 women to 12, because of financial constraints. It receives no government subvention and is entirely community-supported. This is not a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, it’s a sign of its perpetual state of crisis.

Even with subventions, over 90% of operational costs to run a shelter (building maintenance, security, food, counseling, legal aid, and transportation) must be raised through continual fundraising efforts. By contrast, 1 million dollars would cover all operational costs for the 3 shelters for 1 year.

To put this in perspective, 1 million dollars is only five times more than Minister Colm Imbert spent on confetti to open the Uriah Butler/Churchill Roosevelt Highway Interchange. Just 5 times the cost of Colm’s confetti, which was immediately blown away, would enable three shelters to provide emergency accommodation for more than forty women survivors and their families for an entire year.

And, even that isn’t enough. Roberta Clarke, President of the CADV, has pointed out that, by some international standards of one family space per 10 000 persons, Trinidad and Tobago should have at least 130 family spaces provided by shelters. The proposed government-run shelters, promised but not yet operational, can accommodate up to 18 women and their families. One is targeted toward men.

Even with these shelters opened in Trinidad, they would not meet these standards or women’s needs for emergency safe housing or subsidized transitional housing. They may not adequately meet disabled women’s needs, and will still not enable enough women to keep their families together when fleeing with boy children over 12 years old.

Finally, though a single shelter in Tobago is finally being planned in conjunction with the state and the NGO, Women of Substance, even that will not be enough. Across the country, more than 10 000 DV protection orders are sought each year, 11 000 women are estimated to be living with violent partners, and 1 in 10 women cite “nowhere to go” as a reason they stay. It’s also a reason they return.

Shelters are absolutely essential for women and their children fleeing for their safety and lives. They protect against immediate homelessness. They provide traumatized women and children with safety for up to six months, and continued care long after.

Just 1 million dollars and more coordinated formal arrangements with state ministries that provide essential services could save women from repeated violence, and improve children’s life chances for generations. Understanding this reality, shelters are urgently calling for adequate and consistent state resourcing as we move into another year in which we can expect there will be male partners who batter and kill women.

As shelters close their doors or open their doors to fewer women, women could die for lack of options to escape. Political will can change this fate.

Post 351.

Monday 25 November was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It begins what is globally known as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. The 16 Days Campaign ends on December 10th, which is Human Rights Day.

On Monday night itself, I got a late call about a woman, 30 years old and mother to two boys who are five and six. On Sunday, her boys’ father severely beat her and stabbed her in the head, violating a protection order, and almost killing her. His premeditated goal was to leave her dead. She’s now critical, in hospital, and will struggle with brain injury, physical injury and psychological injury for a very long time.

The call was to ask me for help. Was there subsidized housing available for this hard-working mother? Did I know anyone that could donate enough to pay her rent for the months of rehabilitation when she cannot work? Would anyone donate toward family therapy, or her single-handed financial responsibility for her boys? Was any system in place that could meet her needs in a timely, just, sufficient and realistic way?

I said I would see what I could do. Looking after her $3000 of monthly rent for a year isn’t an inconceivable donation and it could make the difference for generations. Please contact me if you are willing to help.

The problem of men killing women and mothers is real, with a face, a family and a cost. This horrific story is repeated again and again across the country. We can put a number to women murdered by their partners this year, but how many women have barely lived? To understand the relevance of this question, here are the facts.

One in three women in Trinidad and Tobago report experiencing physical or sexual violence from their partner in their lifetime. The majority of these women report experiencing violence “many times”.

In the 15 to 64 age bracket, over 100,000 women in Trinidad and Tobago are estimated to have experienced one or more acts of physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by male partners. Approximately 11,000 are likely to still be in abusive relationships.

Understand that women are most vulnerable after they end a relationship, are no longer so easily controlled or threatened, have turned to the state for protection, and have tried to move on with their lives. Keep in mind that women take as long to leave as they do for many reasons. For example, 39% of women who stayed in violent relationships did not want to leave their children, 12% could not support themselves, and 11% had nowhere to go.

Women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) are more likely to have problems: 40% report poor general health (vs. 28% for non-survivors), 24% report chronic body pain (vs. 11% for non-survivors), and 13% report difficulty performing usual activities (vs. 7% for non-survivors). Also among survivors, 31% are unable to concentrate, 9% need sick leave, and 10% lose self-confidence.

Survivors of intimate partner violence report greater trauma among their children. Signs of this include: 18% poor school performance i.e. having to repeat school years (vs. 9% for non-survivors), 14% incidence of bed-wetting (vs. 8% for non-survivors), and social behavior such as aggression among 10% (vs. 3% for non-survivors).

Young women and mothers are more vulnerable. Women whose partners are unemployed or have only primary school education are more vulnerable. Women with disabilities are more vulnerable. Shockingly, seven percent of women who have been pregnant experienced physical partner violence during a pregnancy. More than half reported being punched or kicked in the abdomen. Two in five experienced worse violence during that time than otherwise.

If you are a radio host, religious leader, politician, union leader or head of the maxi-taxi association, use these facts to call for accountability instead of impunity.

Your message is that perpetration of such violence must stop. Men have a role in ending the societal problem of male violence against girls and women. The government must immediately approve a comprehensive national prevention strategy. Each of us can change social norms that reproduce violence, and demand state systems that address harm and trauma in ways that bring justice and healing. Most of all, men must stop murdering women.

This message is urgent and necessary. Helping even this one woman is urgent and necessary. If you have a platform, use it. If you can, contact me to donate. Over these 16 days, commit to whatever individual and collective difference you can make.

Post 342.

It seems an ability to identify true love will best protect women from murder. It doesn’t matter that women don’t smother or chop themselves, and that the only one responsible for their death, as a result of partner violence, is the man himself.

His responsibility for his own actions is irrelevant. It appears nowhere in the story. We focus on Mary the battered woman, and conversation becomes about her, her choices and her mistakes. In this case, her failure at one thing at which women should be best, which is love.

As Jackson Katz outlines, John kills Mary gets represented as Mary was killed by John. Mary becomes the subject and poor John becomes a passive character with no power who was merely responding to Mary’s provocation or trying to restore a lost sense of order and control or couldn’t help himself when he felt sad and angry or was the victim of Mary’s disrespect when she exercised her right to find a better man.

Then, it simply becomes Mary was killed (because of some mysterious sequence of events for which she holds responsibility). John as the problem, along with the other Johns who cause so much harm and fear that thousands of protection orders are sought each year, becomes invisible entirely. So do the social beliefs and state failures that produce them in the first place. Finally, in the public eye, Mary becomes remembered as an abused woman who got and kept herself in this situation when she should have known better.

John, who killed Mary, escapes analysis and blame. Did he have a history of violence? He did stop her or promise to change when she tried to leave? Did he refuse advice and help? Did he stalk and harass? Did he coldly choose violence and homicide when he didn’t get his way? Why did John feel any right to so dominate another person? Did he also dominate other men or was this a sense of power he only wanted to wield over women?

Shouldn’t John have avoided getting into a relationship or left when he became violent, knowing he was putting a woman and mother he supposedly loved at risk? John chose to show his ultimate control over Mary by killing her. Is it considered a right of manhood to kill those women who men cannot control? These and other questions about domination and violence, and even masculinity, require critical spotlight on John.

Yet, public talk about women’s murder misses this mark. On Monday, an Express piece titled, “Where is Susan’s killer?’, interviewed Susan Ramphal’s brother. He described his sister, mother of a seven-year-old girl at the time of her death, as “unable to identify true love”. Ramphal was being compared to Neisha Cyleane Sanker.

Neisha Sankar, only 20 years old when she had her son, had been preyed on as a teenager by a violent man fifteen years older who became her husband and killer. The Express story on Neisha Sankar, on September 6, 2019, had drawn the quote and headline from her eulogy: “She couldn’t identify true love”. Also drawing from the eulogy, Guardian’s headline added, “Let Cyleane’s life be a lesson”.

A lesson to whom? To Mary or to John? Should some men exercise greater care and responsibility in their relationships? Should all men collectively change the masculine ideals that produce such deaths worldwide? Whose choices and behavior are meant to improve? Our daughters or controlling men? Is the lesson that men are violent, and like the National Security Minister laments, there is nothing we can do?

In a third story, the Express headline, “Fatal Love”, documented the Florida killing of twenty-year-old Kiara Alleyne, mother of a one-year-old girl, at the hands of her partner and baby’s father. She too was trying to leave. Was it Mary’s love that was fatal? Or was it John’s? And, if it was ultimately John’s, is such homicidal behaviour really love at all?

From the press to the Prime Minister who infamously said, “I am not in your bed­room, I am not in your choice of men“, we must stop blaming both women and love for men’s murder of women.

Women die for loving, for standing up for themselves, for staying, for leaving, and for just being. One out of five women in Trinidad and Tobago report one experience of non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Ironically, this is predominantly male violence from men they didn’t even choose.

Make John visible and accountable when women’s murder makes news.

 

Post 330.

There are women in every neighbourhood in Trinidad and Tobago who have terminated a pregnancy at least once. From here, our support to current efforts to decriminalize abortion in Jamaica should be clear.

In T and T, women can risk jail and pay for a private medical procedure. If they cannot pay or because poverty, age, lack of information and partner violence prevented them from being supported enough in this life decision, they could end up in hospital with various harms caused from unsafe options, as more than two thousand woman do here every year.

Illegal terminations can also result in long-term risks to reproductive health. They can be so unsafe that they result in women’s death.

The World Health Organisation estimates that twenty-two thousand abortions are performed in Jamaica every year. Additionally, the Partnership for Women’s Health and Well-being highlights that, “Complications arising from unsafe abortion are among the top 10 causes of maternal mortality in Jamaica, especially among teenagers”.

Banning abortion has never stopped the practice. However, it endangers women. It is a human rights violation which mothers negotiate without recourse to a public health policy that meets their needs.

Illegality also discriminates against poor women, whose right to equal medical treatment, privacy, integrity of the person, and access to sexual and reproductive health services is threatened by a combination of economic and social injustice, and arbitrary and archaic law.

Although women across religion, race, class, educational level and relationship status seek terminations by the tens of thousands under conditions not of their own choosing, poor and young women remain most vulnerable. In the Caribbean. 70% of all unsafe abortions are carried out on women below 30 years old and women 15-49 years old have the highest rate of unsafe abortions globally.

Prevalence of partner and non-partner violence in women’s lives is high, and pregnant women and mothers are at highest risk. Women do not always ‘choose’ to get pregnant when surviving conditions of physical and sexual violence, including forced sex, and such violence may leave them further unable to cope with children.

We fail to provide effective, national sex education. We let women ketch with employers who won’t hire them in case they get pregnant. We turn our heads at self-employed women who have no access to paid maternity leave. We blame poor women for having children they cannot cope with and for terminating pregnancies because they cannot cope. Is this an approach grounded in care, justice and respect?

Women often know they are making the best decision they can at the time, yet criminalization keeps them in fear, shame and silence when they most our need compassion, support and courage. In Jamaica, a woman can be sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to terminate a pregnancy, and accomplices or facilitators up to three years.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Offences Against the Person Act similarly makes abortion illegal except in cases of risk to the health and life of a woman. In both countries, many doctors are unwilling to take the risk of interpreting the law, also leaving women vulnerable to doctors’ personal biases.

Jamaican Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn has bravely presented a Motion to the Parliament proposing de-criminalisation of abortion and its replacement by a civil law setting out conditions under which women would be able to access legal and safe termination of pregnancies. The call is to create a Woman’s Right to Pregnancy Act that allows a woman, after appropriate counselling, the right of termination within the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter, if necessary, to preserve her life.

This is necessary because it is just. At 12 weeks, a foetus is four inches long and weighs one ounce. It has all its organs, but none are functioning. It is not able to function fully independently outside the womb until 23 weeks. Aborting an embryo up to 12 weeks is not murdering a baby. In Jamaica, committed Christians have been speaking out in recognition of this call to recognize a mother as a human being with an inalienable right to decide what happens to her body.

This amendment could follow Barbados and Guyana where abortion was decriminalized in 1983 and 1995. Belize, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also expanded exceptions that allow for abortion. Jamaican parliamentarians and social justice advocates are to be congratulated for putting this issue on the legislative agenda.

Trinidad and Tobago can show solidarity with such leadership on behalf of women and families. Meanwhile, we watch Jamaica, expectantly.

 

Post 292.

Imagine your little one in a pre-school graduation. The room is decorated with sparkly “congratulations” signs and balloons. The children are fresh-faced and lovely.

Reading Rainbow Preschool from San Fernando has been doing this for 23 years. Ziya had a school celebration when she moved on, but it wasn’t Americanized, as is fashionable now, with gowns and caps and all.

Here, at my first time attending a formal ‘graduation’ of this kind, there weren’t any gowns, just lacy white dresses, socks and shoes for girls, and little boys in crisp white shirts, black pants and black ties. It was classic Caribbean propriety for children, the kind that makes respectable grandparents feel all is still right with the world.

I was there as a guest speaker, following in the footsteps of school principals Patricia Ramgoolam and Dr. Michael Dowlath, politicians such as Razia Ahmed and Gillian Lucky, and past Mayor Gerald Ferreira.

Sitting to my left was Reverend Joy Abdul-Mohan, who not only spoke at the first graduation, but who suggested the school motto: Do the best…to be the best.

On my right was boxing world champion Ria Ramnarine. Her story of pursuing martial arts as a young girl, despite family wishes, is legendary. In an excellent skit, little Ria pretended to knock out her opponent in the cutest way imaginable, with the whole room of parents beaming with pride and laughter. Later, her biography was recited while she received her gold belt.

One scene depicted a courthouse where lawyer Kamla Persad Bissessar, dressed in yellow, and Justice Paula Mae-Weekes, in robes, disciplined bad driver ‘Motilal Baboolal’. In other scenes, Shanntol Ince, paraolympic swimmer, and Jean Pierre, acted out their winning athletics, receiving awards while tiny presenters described their achievements.

For the past two years, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) has helped organize a march for International Women’s Day. Scene Three was this march for women’s rights, gender equality and an end to violence against women. There were about eight children who all received placards handed out by a teacher, encouraging their learning about protest for peace and justice.

The first march took place exactly sixty years ago in San Fernando. I knew that we were continuing its legacy, but I didn’t believe I’d ever see feminist struggles taught in pre-school. Tears kind of came to my eyes.

On stage, Reverend Joy and two IGDS faculty, Professor Rhoda Reddock and myself, were interviewed by, of course, little Akash Samaroo and Khamal Georges.

The children’s lines consisted of actual text from the press. The little girl, whose costuming made her look uncannily like me, recited March 2018 data on one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetime. She provided accurate analysis, focusing on gender and economic inequality and failure of services.

On stage, little Joy was dressed in her make-believe priest’s collar. Humorously, Reverend Joy herself looked exactly the same. I was won over by the idea of a preschool graduation all at once, if this is what they would be.

Children portrayed beauty queens, and iconic singers such as Daisy Voisin, Drupatee Ramgoonai and Calypso Rose. Impressively, ignoring homophobia, Michelle Lee Ahye was also honoured and adorably displayed by a girl with braids, and a flag for a cape, highlighting that women’s achievements really can most matter.

In my talk, I celebrated five other women whose steps we should also follow.

First, Anacoana. Haitian Taino queen and mother who fought the Spanish to her death. She was only 29 years old. Second, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, an Asante who escaped plantation slavery and is considered to have freed another thousand enslaved Africans in colonial Jamaica. Third, Claudia Jones, born in Belmont, the mother of Notting Hill Carnival, and so influential in the international Communist Party that she’s buried to immediately left of Karl Marx, Communism’s founder.

Fourth, Dr. Stella Abidh, the first Indo-Trinidadian woman to become a doctor despite Presbyterian clergy’s protestations against women’s advanced education. Her father was a unionist and County Council representative who supported her dream. Fifth, Ruth Seukeran, former San Fernando Councilor and political organizer whom few know was one of the speakers at the first international women’s day march, oranised by Christina Lewis and the Caribbean Women’s National Assembly, in 1958.

Pre-school education is more powerful than I credited, and the ideas more progressive than I’d ever hoped. Sparkly congratulations to pre-schools who put such love and commitment to making not only children and parents, but path-breaking women, honoured and proud.