Post 414.

I WRITE ON a glistening wet morning in dry season, expecting flooding in some areas, thinking of farmers with crops at risk, wondering whether the poui trees which glory in hot, dry breezes are shaking their heads in confusion. 

The rain has been lulling, like a river flowing through the dawn and again rising in the afternoons over these past days. The Northern Range breathes cool air, perhaps in relief, as threatening fires are drenched. Held close indoors by the surrounding water, it’s a time to appreciate home and family, an opportunity already provided by covid19, once those spaces and relationships are safe. 

It’s hard to predict the direction our ecology is going to take, it could be extended dry seasons, it could be a heavy wet season. There hasn’t yet been an observed trend between 1900 and 2014 in the Caribbean, but longer dry spells and hotter days are predicted. Hard to imagine on such a rainy day. 

Climate change is hard to connect to precisely because such changes are hard to imagine. Yet, the science is clear. 

The Guardian Observer reports that 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2001. The Paris agreement set a target not to exceed 2C, with the ambition to remain below 1.5C. Temperatures have already risen above 1C. Levels of CO2, which contribute to warming of the atmosphere, are at the highest level for millions of years. 

Our neighbour, Guyana, which is set to extract more oil that we can imagine, is about to become one of the biggest contributors to the temperate rise in the southern part of the Americas. Wealth extraction at the bottom of the Caribbean chain will circle into wealth loss at the top, where Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Antilles lie. More severe hurricanes and sea-level rise are already realities. 

Last year’s State of the Caribbean Climate Report pointed to a long-term 80 per cent increase in storm strength and a potentially larger than 30 per cent increase in rainfall in the hurricane’s core by the end of the century. That feels far away, yet I find news reports on ice cracking apart hard to watch because that ice is unlikely to freeze again, and already we can see the difference on eastern and southern coasts of the country. 

Again, it’s hard for these connections to feel real or present on a regular, working Monday or at month-end when families may barely be making it to or past pay day. Except when heavier rains result in lost crops and higher food prices, the daily impact isn’t quite apparent. The changes are so expansive and yet feel remote; from the bleaching of coral reefs from warming sea temperatures or the food challenges for polar bears to the need for changed regional state policy and industrial practices as well as changed consumer demand. 

Of course, women, men, girls and boys will be differently affected by these changes, depending on their responsibilities to the family, the assets they can access, the decision-making power they have, and intersecting issues of age, class, gender expression, sexual orientation and disability. 

According to UN Women Watch (2011), women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of responsibility to secure water and food, unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, and limited mobility. Fewer women than men may be able to swim. In some countries, staying with the elderly or sick puts women at greater risk. Women may also be likely to face sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancies and vulnerability to diseases from their increased vulnerability.

In Grenada, following Hurricane Ivan, Grenadian women had more restricted skills, higher rates of poverty and less mobility due to the burdens of care-giving. They, therefore, took a longer time to economically recover. For example, Kambon et al (2005) point out that, within the nutmeg industry, female farmers took a longer time to come back to their income stream than the men because of these realities.

By contrast, men are at higher risk because they are more likely to be involved in dangerous rescue efforts, to take fewer precautions with their health (and therefore contract, for example, leptospirosis), and to be injured as they protect their homes, boats, farmlands and livestock. Men with disabilities, poor men, unemployed men, gay men, and transgender people have higher vulnerability.

Climate changes may seem far away, but that gives us a chance to address these inequalities. Even now, these rainy-day conversations are necessary, from regional corporations to community charities.

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 350.

As Carnival takes over airwaves, we can explore its representations of music, culture and sexual pleasure. These representations are often contradictory, drawing us into debate. They are sometimes more important than first appears, charting a historical moment, or highlighting generational change or US influence, or showing what adolescents, tuned in on Instagram and Youtube, are learning from us about empowerment and gender.

Destra’s recently released ‘Rum and Soca’ video is an intriguing mix of representations that signal much about our time. The video’s narrative is basically like the African-American movie, ‘Girls Trip’, which is a story of women’s friendship and a wild weekend of dancing, drinking, and romancing to excess.

This narrative is at home here in Trinidad and Tobago, with its long history of “girls’ limes”, and women drinking and wining with each other in fetes and on the road. It’s a welcome story as there are far too few videos of women enjoying themselves without performing at men’s command or for men’s pleasure or to attract men or as backdrop to a dominant male voice. “Party done” may have been the last time women were out like this on their own.

There are almost no men in Destra’s video and none on the mic. Those in the scenes are mere background to the social intimacy that affirms a right to woman-centred fun. The take up of a particular brand of consumer and celebrity feminism in Port of Spain is symbolized by the wealth and status of a limo, mansion, long blond wig and closet full of clothes combined with the Carnivalesque bacchanal of bam bam, and its emphasis on women’s licentious freedom as empowerment.

There’s much to say about such empowerment. It seems to be symbolized by drinking to excess, a privilege traditionally reserved for men. Destra herself has at least eight drinks, and I found myself wondering about the messages to adolescent girls. Such drinking has historically costed those who may find themselves assaulted and then blamed for getting to a point where they can’t remember their last name. Such risks of victim blaming are real and I wondered about the counter warning to young women that excessive alcohol consumption easily turns a sense of power into vulnerability.

The drunkenness is simply Destra keeping up. Men have been triumphing such excess for decades, from “Drunk and Disorderly” to “Rum till I Die”, and it’s debatable whether it’s fair to hold women to a higher standard. Indeed, one can argue that the video is also an Afro-creole version of a matikor, the Caribbean’s longest and most iconic historical expression of rum-drinking, women-only wining and queer potential in a safe space created by women themselves.

Yet, one can’t be naïve about alcohol marketing in the Caribbean. Only four brands are visible in the video. It’s almost blatantly an extended Angostura ad, following in the footsteps of Machel, who introduced advertising for his own rum into his repertoire of songs, because scraping the barrel in this way as an artist makes good business sense. Company branding conflated with cultural production should compel us to question the role that alcohol companies play in sponsoring and profiteering from fetes, bands, artists and videos, and encouraging young adults to become drinkers.

The video’s major intervention, however, is its erotic intimacy among women. Women’s same sex sexual attraction has been going mainstream with videos by Rihanna and Shakira, Shenseea, Rita Ora and Cardi B, Kehlani and Teyana Taylor, Janelle Monae, and more.

In these videos and in Destra’s, women are also holding hands, near kissing, and touching bodies in ways that blur the line between heterosexuality, bisexuality and lesbianism, or in ways that ‘queer’ being straight. Whether it’s alcohol, or sexual experimentation, or sexual fluidity, Destra’s video can be simultaneously read as straight and gay, as deliberately ambiguous, and as defying easy identity labels.

Such queering has a long history in the region. Yet, for lesbians in Trinidad and Tobago, same-sex desire isn’t something that happens when you’re drunk or that is about a night out. It’s an identity that isn’t taken on and off, and still carries great social stigma. One can only hope that women celebrities’ openness to ambiguity, play and enjoyment normalises challenges to homophobia and an inclusive world for women beyond its rules.

Cultural representations of empowerment, sexuality, womanhood and feminism in the Caribbean can be problematic as well as emancipatory, but shouldn’t simply be dismissed. Signs of our times, and their shifts and debates, continue to come in Carnival music.