Post 411.

ALTHOUGH I am home with Ziya, there are days when she barely sees me. It’s hard to imagine as I make meals, wash dishes, sweep up her pencil and eraser shavings on evenings, supervise homework, and sort out ten-year-old difficulties. Yet it’s not quality time and I fear that this rare opportunity to be together, brought on by the pandemic, will soon pass, and I will have missed moments we could have had. As for so many parents, long hours of work and then exhaustion are like the flow of high tide, taking over time.

When you are not there, you don’t even know what you miss or what you should have been there for, and I think about the sacrifices Ziya makes for my life. I spend so much time preoccupied with violence or other issues, sometimes I can’t switch off early enough to give an hour for us, not to rush her through dinner or to bed, but to listen, counsel and give caring the priority it deserves. She appears quite independent, but needs me more than I may recognise. For those giving to their communities or contributing to social change, there are costs to their families that no one sees.

I had spent International Women’s Day focused on the facts of women’s lives, glad to engage the public in ways I hope helped to inform and inspire. IWD is such an important date for women; we commemorate the history of women’s struggle, the successes of their achievements, the world created through their labour, and the injustices still to transform.

It’s a day when my family shouldn’t expect me to be present, given its usual manic pace. However, events ran late and I missed the Walk Out for Women, an action organised in Port of Spain by Act for T and T, Conflict Women, Womantra, CAISO, Network of NGOs and other organisations to highlight calls for safer transport, a national plan to address gender-based violence, and greater emphasis on peace-building strategies to counter our increasingly violent society.

From the Caribbean Women’s National Assembly in 1958 to the Network of NGOs and CAFRA in the 1990s, each year, women carry the baton.

Whereas I would have rushed into town, everything slowed down. Instead of hustling up Zi as I usually do, I had time to hear her practise piano and see her delightedly play, fleeting gifts I would have otherwise missed. I chided myself that she’s my most important work because she’s a girl growing in a world in which gender equality does not exist.

Changing that world matters; raising a girl to navigate its harms and deceptions, emerge with confidence, and feel connection to her potential as much as to her feelings matters just as much. I suppose I’m better at the first than the second, though finding the right balance takes hourly intention and self-forgiveness. It was a reminder to value, not just public leadership work, but the loving labour of the private sphere, where gender socialisation can be challenged, where social norms are changed, where girls will find their greatest safety and be guided through to resilience.

At home instead of marching to Woodford Square, I found Zi in a home-made scrub extravaganza sourced through the internet. Her latest jar, a green concoction of sugar, salt, food colouring and essential oils, was filled with even greener glitter, the kind that washes down drains and rivers, and into the ocean, killing fish who think it’s food.

Parents can monitor viewing hours and block content, but won’t see every video their child watches. So we sat down and had a long conversation about the internet; how it presents dangers without providing warnings, how children don’t yet have the capacity to sort its good and bad messages, how it doesn’t show the potential harms and consequences of what others present, how adults will deliberately or irresponsibly mislead children, how content isn’t monitored for age appropriateness the way it used to be for television, how anyone can post anything, however fake or predatory, and how she shouldn’t believe or follow whatever she sees.

It was nearly an hour of serious reasoning with a little girl who thinks she knows what America is like from Youtube. It left her better able to protect herself from immensely perilous online and offline worlds she hasn’t begun to understand.

I fell asleep thinking about activism, mothering, costs and priorities. Another March 8 spent dreaming of a different world, and recognition of women’s rights and responsibilities.

Post 402.

Sometimes, when I’m quietly at my desk, the media calls for a statement on another murdered woman, and I haven’t yet heard the news, and my instinct is to just sit silently in shock despite demands to respond immediately. Quite often, despite having so many recommendations at my fingertips, I’m at a loss for words. It’s regret that we couldn’t do enough to save another child from abuse or another girl from disappearing or another woman from death.

Sometimes, I send the media to other advocates, from Women of Substance or the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals or the Coalition Against Domestic Violence or CreateFutureGood or Womantra, and I wonder if their heart will sink the way mine does when they get that call.

Sometimes, I’m just tired thinking and talking about violence. It feels never-ending, like waiting for the next story, or knowing that so much harm to women and girls is occurring in the peacefulness of each night and remaining unreported. Despite the need to be aware, there are mornings when I can’t read the news. As a nation, we are so traumatised by stories we hear. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like for victims, and the cost they pay for our slowness to change hangs heavy in my chest.

It must be like this for so many who are addressing violence in a sustained way: social workers, counsellors, service providers, police officers, shelter managers, those working in child protection, those providing victim and witness support, media workers, advocates and activists. I think about the trauma they carry, as we all do, with each story. I think about how much I have to stay abreast of interviews, opinion pieces, political leaders’ statements, and debates about violence against women and girls, and it makes me very tired. Sometimes, I close my eyes and wish it was easy to not care.

Violence doesn’t only traumatise victims and families, its harm spreads wide for it also brings feelings of fear and powerlessness, injustice and sadness. People want more guns. I want more social workers. More of those healing rather than harming communities everywhere.

Sometimes, I think I’m not very good for my family, for I’m hardly present enough, and I often miss the chance to take a walk with Ziya or have breakfast together or spend time with her while she falls asleep at night. There are costs to this commitment; costs to time, energy, and mental and physical health. I wonder if I’m failing to make memories with her, for I seem to always be working, in some way, to make a difference. I wonder how much women have to give before they burn out. I wonder how everyone else does it. I dream of a month where there are no reports of abuse so I could spend more time with my family, set aside advocacy, and pretend injustice doesn’t exist.

I didn’t want to leave this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence without thinking of all those giving as much as they can to end violence in families and against children, to help victims secure justice and find healing, and to improve state response. I know they are tired. They were tired when young Shannon Banfield was killed in December four years ago. In the wake of Ashanti Riley’s killing, they are even more tired today.

We think about victims and families, and distressed communities, but we don’t often understand the impact on those responding, the care and understanding they need from their partners, and the exhaustion they carry. Sometimes, I know that they return home at the end of the day as emptied individuals with nothing more to give even to those they love.

To those that are doing this work, I wish you rejuvenation. I wish you time with loved ones. I wish you a sea bath to wash away the pain you encounter daily. I know you have dedicated your life to a better world. I know weariness will not stop your commitment. In my last words on violence for this year, I honour your contribution and impact, however incremental. I write to thank you for the work that you do.

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.

Entry 384.

Gender and sexuality often become weaponised in electoral campaigns, providing a chance to observe contesting values in democratic life.

Women, and particularly young women, remain vulnerable to attacks on the basis of their bodies, dress, marital and parental status, and sexuality. One man, in the year 2020, thought it appropriate to ask on Facebook, “Should unmarried women with children be allowed to contest the general elections?”

This highlights how much patriarchal conjugality, and wifehood, police women’s citizenship. Such a question is not innocent. Women were once considered to be unfit for employment if unmarried mothers. They had to fight to vote, and run for office, because they were considered to be represented by their husband, as his subordinate whose responsibility was to rock the cradle, not rule the world.

Take the social media attack on UNC’s Toco/Sangre Grande candidate, Nabila Greene. It’s actually irrelevant what women, and young women, do in private, legal and consensual entanglements. It’s irrelevant whether they do it married or unmarried, with same-sex partners, naked or covered in money.

Undermining women’s aspirations for political leadership, through breaking their trust and violating their privacy, is a deliberate containment of their democratic participation. And, it works. It’s one disturbing reason why there are fewer women in political leadership today.

Decades of feminist activism, against sexism in leadership, double standards regarding respectability and “slut” shaming, has enabled a generation of young women and men to grow up aware that shame should be placed on perpetrators of “revenge pornography” and those who turn to personal attacks on women’s gender and sexuality to win.

UNC PRO, and herself a young woman, Anita Haynes was “on the money” when she responded, “What I have seen is that for female candidates, in particular, the attacks are always personal. They always attempt to put us in positions to have us confirm or deny things from what could be from your private life.” There was “nothing in the video that debars someone from holding office. The goal there is to shame someone…And that shame will prevent you from running and will prevent you from representing your people.”

By contrast, Camille Robinson-Regis, playing old-school marm, described the video as raising questions about the moral compass of a person who engages in this kind of conduct and as raising “serious questions about the person’s ability to exercise sound judgment.” The chairman of the PNM’s Women’s League missed the opportunity for a non-partisan message, to all young women entering politics, that women should be judged by their qualifications, contribution, capacity and potential, and that all parties should hold to this standard. Isn’t this precisely what a Women’s League should stand for?

In other lead-up moments, there were two instances of homophobic electioneering, first in San Juan/Barataria, and then in the recirculation of an old Jack Warner diatribe from 2015. The less said about Warner, the better.

In response to the first instance, PrideTT called on all parties to refrain from personal attacks based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, asserting that these have “no bearing on their ability and qualifications to do any job in T&T.” Homophobia is widespread and real, yet I was impressed by the Nur E Islam’s disavowal of its power to exclude good citizens from office, particularly if they are practising Muslims. These are the community-level nuances of democracy in action, not captured by polls.

Two final examples highlight continued tolerance for gender-based and sexual violence, which are not yet considered so abhorrent that they deny men political legitimacy. An interim protection order was granted against candidate Winston Peters by a woman who publicly stated she feared for her life and has made a report to the GBV Unit. This time, PNM’s Robinson-Regis defended Gypsy, saying the allegations were not an election issue. Then, there are Watson Duke’s charges of rape and sexual assault.

Weighing in, Womantra and allied feminist organisations called on “all political parties to give an undertaking that persons who are accused of domestic violence and sexual offences, including sexual harassment, will not be nominated as candidates pending their exoneration by the relevant authorities.” If nothing else, understand young women’s fear that these could be the men who hold power over them and to whom they must pay respect, like those abusive uncles who somehow retain their place and authority in the family.

Elections provide historic ground for struggles over citizenship and democracy. Such struggles are always interwoven with public deliberation and negotiation over gender and sexuality.

Post 325.

YOUNG PEOPLE were the most joyous part of Saturday’s International Women’s Day march. Many were university students bringing their friends, their homemade posters, their radiant energy, and their sense of participating in their moment in history.

The goal was always to provide a space in our nation for younger generations to experience the safety and inclusiveness, yet fearless politics, of a global feminist movement long challenging violence, gendered divisions of labour, homophobia, and domination of women and nature. It was to carry a legacy, begun in San Fernando in 1958, just long enough and lovingly enough to hand it on.

It was to provide an example of wide public representation, creative expression, diverse concerns, and intimacy with the dreams and labour of home-grown Caribbean feminisms. It was to bring young women and men together at a time when we already know men can be feminist. Finally, it was to remind about the humbling lessons of cross-class solidarity, for we march without registration, without ropes, and always mindful of women workers’ realities. Just bring your message and come.

Riffling through our visual archives, young people’s posters show them far ahead of the ruling generation of obsolete men and complicit women, together holding back on their promise of equal and inclusive citizenship, and holding onto an old order that upcoming ages have already transcended.

In the decades of the IWD march, the issues have expanded from a focus on girls and women’s rights to include those of transgender persons – those who dis-identify with the dominant expectations of masculinity and femininity or the identities of male and female or the category of heterosexual.

Sounds like they just want to be human, observed my eight-year-old, something a parliament of representatives isn’t brave enough to see. Meanwhile, we too must keep learning to challenge our privileges in our leadership, improving our accountability to people with disabilities, First Nations’ Peoples and refugees.

Caribbean feminism was always the region’s most radical struggle to recognise us as human beings, however we choose to live and love as families, neighbours and citizens consenting and contributing to a greater good. And, some moments, it seems like that message rings clear.

Though today only a few hundred, in a decade there may be thousands marching. Just enough to open the corridors of power in our homes, schools, corporate boardrooms and Cabinet.

Nurtured amongst those who have come of age in TT’s most progressive big tent where Soroptomists march with ASJA Ladies who march with the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ Women’s Executive Council who march with Womantra who march with CAISO who march with the Breastfeeding Association of TT who march with the UWI Guild of Students who march with the Silver Lining Foundation who march with the Single Mothers’ Association of TT who march with TTUTA, all carrying flags that call for gender justice.

The full list of organisations is much longer, showing a feminist movement that endures despite the precariousness of NGO survival. The Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, Women Working for Social Progress, the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Conflict Women, Mamatoto, the CEDAW Committee of TT, the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, the Family Planning Association of TT, the Association of Female Executives of TT, and more were all there.

These long-established women’s organisations held on through the decades to see another generation, that doesn’t even know their history or their name, spring fresh, certain and strong.

Women’s inter-generational mentoring of civic challenge to all the harms of patriarchal power, and radical impatience for a world already possible can be seen in those youthful posters.

There are many reasons to march. To protest or to add public power to public outcry. To build a movement. To inspire those who didn’t know they were imaginable and their dreams realisable.

To make our numbers a source of strength for when we return to everyday struggle. To simply take up public space. To find that woven into the labour, despair, risk, exhaustion and hard lessons are also community, hope, successes and joy.

When students come, on their own, it is a sign of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. They marched for better for themselves and each other, for better without violence or silence, fear or favour. The struggle continues. Next year, we will be here so they grow stronger.

 

 

Post 279.

An attuned ear hears a shackle when it falls. It’s a surreal sound, when an instrument of inhumanity hits the ground broken, clanging with its iron weight of history. Instinctively listen for the heart-piercing exultations of emotion that echo out powerfully. Also be stopped still by a black hole of quiet horror that you may yet again hear that shackle clink close around a human body.

If the pores on your skin raised, as did mine when I heard Justice Devindra Rampersad’s judgment on Thursday, it’s because I never anticipated that a shackle’s fall could sound and feel like the force of a supernova when it collapses, its vibration sheer disintegrating your heart, leaving you in breathless tremors and shaking tears.

The boldness of the judgment and the interval of freedom it created for the first time in hundreds of years, like a slash in colonial space-time continuum, can’t be anything but celebrated.

There are thousands of bodies in the nation which had been existing in fear, shame and silence and which, for the first time, felt included, protected and free. It is like the future time-traveled and arrived to rock the vibrational field of the present, in a way so many citizens dared to dream, but despaired they wouldn’t live to see.

Justice Rampersad’s judgment in Jones v TT ruled that Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalize buggery, or acts of anal sex, and same-sex genital touching, are unconstitutional. He held that the “savings clause”, which retains the legality of colonial law despite our republican status, doesn’t apply. This is because, in 1986, the Sexual Offences Act was repealed and “replaced”, thus creating new, post-1976 law.

Also new law was created with the unprecedented extension of penalties for buggery from 5 years to 25 years and creation of a new prohibition, titled “serious indecency”, and explicitly meant to criminalise lesbianism for the first time (by legislating that only men could have sexual access to women). In other words, this is new law, not simply a re-enactment and continuity from 1925.

Second, he argued that even if the savings clause could hold, its intention was to continue and preserve protections of citizens’ rights in the move from colonial subjection to independent nationhood, not deny rights, discriminate or victimize. In this case, relying on the savings clause as justification goes against its spirit.

Additionally, he agreed that Jason Jones’ right to privacy was denied, observing that such privacy had not been conceptualized in early colonial law, but was now an accepted ideal. Use of the savings clause to deny that right again defies its intention.

Regarding the Act itself, its violation of Sections 4 and 5 of the constitution were already acknowledged by parliament in 1986. It is possible to infringe upon individuals’ constitutional rights, under Section 13 of the constitution, but the burden is on the parliament to fully justify its necessity, which it has not done. Passage of legislation by 3/5 majority, however procedurally legitimate, isn’t enough.  Religious or majority view and public opinion isn’t enough. Political expediency is far short of enough in the face of signed international conventions and global and liberalizing standards of dignity, decency, equality and human rights. Claiming parliamentary prerogative isn’t enough, or might be enough in Britain where no constitution exists so parliamentary law is highest authority, but not in Trinidad and Tobago where the constitution should be supreme.

In other words, Jah bless our republican status and the possibilities for future-facing Caribbean jurisprudence. Why rely on British law when we have our own constitution? Why still carry habits of prisoners when we are freed from such imprisonment?

Without the savings clause as a defense, the 1986 Act was always unconstitutional and unjustified, and unreasonably and arbitrarily denied rights to privacy, family, intimacy and equality to all citizens and couples. Its legitimacy was founded on its own fiction and presumptions, like the emperor with no clothes.

To write that race, colour, gender, age or sexual orientation is not all that encompasses a person’s soul nor their value to society or themselves is to wield something other than the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. This is the ultimate dream of Caribbean emancipation.

For this to occur in real life and in our generation is overwhelmingly beautiful, and feels cosmically huge. On appeal, we hope the disturbing metallic edge of manacles, re-clasped on those who call for our love, is not something we have to hear. To them, do not turn a deaf ear.

Post 273.

Minshall mas was an iconic meeting of national colours, the red confined to the band’s massive banners while all else was the white of sailor mas combined with deep blackness of God’s omniscient eye. Who knew that white and black pared down to absolute essentials could feel so epic in a sea of multi-colour? Who knew a Burroquite, derived from the Spanish word burroquito, could play the immortal, winged Pegasus from Greek mythology, as if the little donkey of traditional mas could aspire to be a stallion, like Aldrick and his dragon, just to cross the stage?

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Hurrying from a fete to the Savannah to see Exodus competing at pan finals with moko jumbies and Minshall’s banners hovering overhead, I thought about the headiness of the stage. Hard to define, but like music, when its vortex envelopes you and that wind coming down from the Northern Range hits your skin, it’s like you feel no pain.

If you don’t play Carnival, you don’t realize how much beauty there is to miss. The heart of the moment remains with traditional mas and with small brilliantly creative bands. Like with pan, our best cultural values are practiced in traditional mas making, their outcomes worn on the body like sacred thread.

Mas making involves intense commitment to long hours of hard work, community-building and collective happiness. It involves grounded theorizing as highfalutin as anything found in a museum, and political clap back through direct satire or alternate envisioning for nation, history, ecology and dignity.

It involves immense skill. You might think the same thing is being repeated every year and fail to see the nuanced experiments with weight, beadwork, painting, colour, rope-making, wire and cloth that characterize a lifetime of work with art.

Besides sacred threads, the high mass of jouvay brought its ethereal bliss right when the sun begins to rise over the hills and your pores raise with indescribable gratitude that religious orthodoxy doesn’t have a stranglehold on all that is holy, for the separation between the sacred and profane is merely one form of social order, and it’s possible to feel fully alive and free and God-given while dutty and in old clothes and keenly aware of how much of the world is a hell we should turn upside down. So much is going on as you move through town, you can see how Lovelace couldn’t limit himself to short sentences for a spirit seems to fill the streets like words jumbieing a full stop.

With 3 Canal, and against the backdrop of the Laventille Rhythm Section, there’s a haute couture that you’ll never see on any Vogue runway. People paint, weave and sew masks, veils, jackets, dresses, headdresses and produce home-made devil horns of every beautiful kind. Someday someone’s going to build a career on documenting the specific aesthetic of jouvay high fashion.

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Photo: Elliot Francois

As he does every year, Stone made me a standard, this time with the Eye of God, to play a Monday mas, to ironically position it watching police as they watched me, and to remind that mas doesn’t have to be a big production. Just a bamboo stick, box for cardboard and some paint.

Review of the road this year must mention the power of messaging about a culture of consent. I saw the women of Womantra with their signs. I saw a renegotiation of body politics and permission, significant considering how many men come to town ‘for woman’. I watched ‘Bishops’ girls’, sing their school song, now as hardback, jamette-style flag women. Profound shifts everywhere.

Finally, Ziya’s calypso competition song, which earned second place, “Pencil cases in the air!” gave Stone and I chance to experiment; going full Iwer, throwing in a Destra-style bridge and adding memorable hooks for school children everywhere. Calypso will only survive if people can’t stop singing its refrain. Tents may be dying, but in children, calypso traditions may rise again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post 271.

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Painting by Susan Mains           

Justice for Yugge!

There are some ways of wielding power that should end a political dynasty, for they are so cynical, manipulative and unethical that collective disgust should rise up with toppling momentum. The injustice experienced by 22-year-old Yugge Farrell in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a blatent example of such advantageousness in our midst, and we should not let it occur without consequences.

Yugge was charged for using abusive language to Karen Duncan-Gonsalves, wife of Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, daughter in law of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, and Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney General’s office. After Yugge pleaded not guilty, the prosecutor requested that she be sent to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. The magistrate agreed without any evidence of mental health issues presented to justify court-ordered evaluation and confinement. Indeed, if Yugge’s mental health were an issue, the charge and court process should not have proceeded as it did in the first place.

Yugge spent three weeks in a mental health centre. According to newspapers reports, she was administered a cocktail of medication outside of the court order and against her will, without proper or independent evaluation, without trained psychiatrists on staff, and despite the fact that the Mental Health Act only speaks to observation and evaluation and not to involuntary admission and treatment.

The St. Vincent and Grenadines Human Rights Association, a petition hosted online by Code Red for Gender Justice and continuing to be signed by hundreds across the region, and a collective statement created by Womantra in Trinidad and Tobago all point to misuse of political power, questionable judicial process and integrity, and human rights violation in this situation.

The petition asks whether commitment to a mental institution for use of insulting language is a regular occurrence or, instead, irresponsible and heavy-handed state force. Yugge has publicly claimed she was in a romantic relationship with Minister Gonsalves up to 2016, but as the petition points out, “state entities can easily use the excuse of mental instability to vilify, discredit, and institutionalize any critic or person(s) deemed a threat or embarrassment to the established political order”.

Regional calls are therefore for a formal investigation into the decision to detain and medicate Yugge Farrell, an immediate review of the Mental Health Act in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the dropping of all charges, and public resistance to such state persecution to silence truth.

Shockingly, Prime Minister and Minister of Legal Affairs Ralph Gonsalves, despite his clear conflict of interest in protecting his political heir, has been brazenly commenting on the case in media. On January 24th, SVG’s iWitness News described him as arguing that “a magistrate can decide to commit someone to the psychiatric hospital based on information that the prosecutor gives the magistrate outside of the court proceedings and which is not disclosed to either the defendant or to their lawyer”.

Ralph Gonsalves is no neutral bystander here and himself has been accused of sexual predation and harassment. What we are seeing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is another cover-up strategy to hide sexual impropriety by powerful men in government.

As Leave out Violence in SVG (LOVNSVG), a group which focuses on gender-based violence and violence against women has put it, “Yugge’s story highlights the subjection of the poor and those on the margins to the whims and fancies of the political elite and ruling class”.

If the region had not been horrified and acted in solidarity, Yugge’s experience and confinement may have passed with impunity. Now that Yugge has been released on bail, her defense, protection and wellness are priorities. Additionally, as Womantra put it, we are “closely watching the further conduct of this case and stand ready to speak out against the slightest hint of malfeasance by any agent of the state”.

Find and sign the petition on the Code Red for Gender Justice webpage. Support the fundraising campaign for Yugge at: https://www.gofundme.com/justiceforyugge.

https://www.facebook.com/justiceforyugge

http://www.looptt.com/content/update-yugge-farrell-relieved-be-granted-bail-2

https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/1 /24/the_dark_side_of_the_sunny_caribbean.html

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/opinion/st-vincent-jamaica-and-a-tale-of-two-entitled-families-in-politics

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/17/ralph-is-wrong/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/25/yugge-could-spend-years-in-psychiatric-hospital-lawyer/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/23/former-model-yugge-farrell-screams-as-she-is-sent-back-to-psych-hospital-videos/

https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/01/23/farrell-given-antipsychotic-drugs-against-lawyers-advice-video/

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/opinion/st-vincent-jamaica-and-a-tale-of-two-entitled-families-in-politics_123551?profile=1444%3Fprofile%3D1444

Post 252.

An historic victory was won last week when child marriage was prohibited by amendments to the marriage laws of Trinidad and Tobago. This was a victory for the women’s movement, supported by male allies and working across race, class and religion, despite how fraught that can be. I was relieved both PNM and UNC MPs voted for an amended law. I was sorry the change failed to happen under Kamla Persad-Bissessar as early as 2010.

The call first came from the Hindu Women’s Organisation (HWO) more than six years ago. Organisations such as the IGDS and FPATT became involved by 2013. Lobbying expanded over the last two years, as a coalition of civil society organizations, including Womantra, CAISO, the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT), the YMCA, CAFRA and more, was brought together by Folade Mutota and WINAD.

It was discriminatory for girls to be marriageable earlier than boys. There was no contemporary reason for this other than girls’ sexual vulnerability at a younger age. The solution isn’t marriage, it’s transforming such vulnerability to older male sexual predation. That this was overwhelmingly an issue affecting adolescent girls points squarely to how gender inequality leads to denial of full self-determination at a much younger age for girls than boys.

The majority of these marriages were between girls under sixteen, and boys and men who were, at times, much older.  This is not the Ram and Sita or Romeo and Juliet story of two teen secret lovers nor of their unwed adolescent sexual experimentation nor of family protection of two secondary students supported to finish both this and tertiary schooling.

Largely working class girls, perhaps with limited educational support or options, and definitely limited prospects for occupational advancement, were experiencing the greatest vulnerability to early sexual initiation by adult men, who usually also had low educational or occupational achievement.

Marriage may have seemed like a secure economic option because an older man promised to look after them. Perhaps, they were seduced by a feeling of adulthood that sexual relationships bring. Maybe they were in love or escaping oppressive and insecure family conditions, or they got pregnant and marriage seemed the next step. It’s likely they didn’t have a clue about the compromises, conflicts and responsibilities that come with partnership with a hardback man.

Rather than “the destruction of family life”, what was destroyed was the legal access of adult men to teen girls. This was necessary if we recognize how gender, religion and class unequally impacted thousands from lower-income families.

There were recommendations that teenagers over sixteen, but within three years of age, be allowed to marry. Such an exception had merit. That the exception didn’t make it to the legislation is a complicated story about the AG vs the HWO and the coalition.

What happens to the babies of unwed mothers? Families and partners can still love and support them such that teenage girls finish schooling, can secure their own income and can decide what they want out of their lives. A change to the marriage law in no way affects this.

If lack of respectability associated with unwed pregnancy is a major fear, then the solution is to give girls knowledge, support and access to contraception.

Adult hypocrisy, rather than “strict family values”, is at stake here for no one wants to girls to have sex, whether by choice and desire or by grooming and predation, without the threat and likelihood of dire consequences. So no one wants to prepare them to protect themselves if they do. When they are made pregnant, everyone can treat them as if they are responsible for the shame. The solution can’t be marriage to the same adult man who didn’t know or care enough to use condoms or protect a teenage girl’s future freedom in the first place.

Too early pregnancy isn’t a more important issue than too early marriage. Like child sexual abuse, they are consequences of adult failures to acknowledge girls’ sexual vulnerability and empower even poor girls to secure better options. If we care as much as we say, all the other work must now gain momentum.

 

Post 239.

Organised by Christina Lewis, the first International Women’s Day march in Trinidad was held in 1958 . This year’s IWD march, which will be held tomorrow, almost sixty years later, speaks to continued work over these decades to make gender equality and equity, and women’s rights, a reality.

Come to the Savannah, opposite Whitehall, from 3pm tomorrow, and see a new generation of young women and men, from organisations as diverse as Womantra and the National Council of Indian Culture Youth Arm, take their turn in this long history.

The years between 1958 and now were not perfect for the women’s movement, and the women who continued the struggle were their own fallible and imperfect beings, but their commitment to a vision for the world, that was larger than the ups and downs of both patriarchy and collective efforts to resist it, was real.

Roberta Clarke, a feminist foremother to this younger generation, like so many other women, observed: “I remember when IWD was a handful of women marching (single file) in Woodford Square in Trinidad. We felt compelled to be visibly commemorating the day though we perhaps internally and silently wondered at its impact. Praises to CAFRA (the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action), Working Women, WINAD, DAWN (Development Alternatives for a New Era), the National Union of Domestic Employees and so many others”.

Many won’t know of or remember these organisations, but without them we wouldn’t be marching tomorrow, because, for a baton to be passed on, it has to be carried. We are supported by the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs), which is the legacy of a global women’s movement pressing states to create a bureau that would advance gender justice, with the first being established in Jamaica in 1975. And, help coordinating simultaneous marches on Saturday across five Caribbean countries was provided by the Caribbean office of UN Women, itself a creation of a visionary women’s movement. Even the IGDS, which could bring the kind of support that universities should provide to social movements, is a result of twenty four years of feminist women and men labouring so we could have the resources, experience and fearlessness we do today.

My first IWD March was in the mid-1990s, just when the world and its governments were being galvanized by the Beijing World Conference on Women. There were hundreds in the marches in those years, with state branches such as the police and defense force represented, Muslim women’s associations and women leaders in their communities; men against violence against women (MAVAW); and towering figures such as Joan Yuille-Williams marching right next to Hazel Brown and the women of the ‘Network’.

I was younger and more fiery then, always buffing the gender bureau for doing too little. Time has taught me greater appreciation for those years, and the challenges which ministries of gender across the region face in being a feminist voice within the state, actively pressing against the status quo to end gender-based violence, transform our notions of manhood and womanhood, and insist there cannot be development for all, while sexism, homophobia and their dehumanizing effects on women and men persist.

This year’s march is in solidarity with the Life in Leggings movement, started by two young Barbadian women, to break silences around sexual violence. It is in solidarity with the goal of  equal pay for work of equal value, equity in terms of women and men’s participation and leadership in business and politics, and women’s economic empowerment. It is also in solidarity with the issues each of us sees as a denial of women’s rights and the solutions we want to see implemented.

We are inviting the nation’s religious, sports, youth, school, cultural and other groups; families and communities traumatized by the murder of girls and women in their midst; and individuals, who want to add to the people power we need, to “bring your message and come!” Women’s rights are everyone’s responsibility and this march is to gather our strength to boldly pursue changes we need.

Over years, I’ve learned that every effort does count, and you will be surprised who notices and feels less alone. I’ve learned to work across our differences, including with the state, for we need every ally we can get.

Tomorrow, a coalition of almost twenty organisations is giving momentum to another generation. Join us from across the nation. Together, we can make the future better for girls and women.