For Bobby II

My father Bobby, died on Sunday. His was a full, turbulent and eventful life. He was, in the words of my son Aschille, gregarious. I have written about him here already but in July 2022, Athurine Reece organized a celebration of his life at UWI. This below were my reflections on his life as an activist.

In his 89th year, I asked Bobby about the most fulfilling moment of his life.

Without pause, he said it was the Grenada revolution. Bobby is a political person. He talks almost obsessively about how power is secured, and, in whose interests, it is used.

Bobby came of age in the colonial era. Growing up in unequal Barbados, his grandparents lived in Reed Street, and his mother, of the Miller clan, raised him and his 11 siblings in Jack Ma Nanny Gap, later unfortunately renamed Wavell Avenue.

At 16, his father withdrew him from Combermere to take up employment at Cable and Wireless. Yes, an interruption of his education, but with a white-collar job which meant that he could, along with his older siblings, contribute to his mother’s household. That job took him to Dominica.

I am thinking now that this action shaped Bobby and his future. Since then, he has walked his own rough and rocky path, swimming against the tides of respectability, rebelling with, and sometimes without, a cause, rejecting authority, and doing much of what he wanted, when he wanted.

Much of what he wanted, was to use his voice to help people.

He is a hyper-social, extroverted regionalist, committed to the idea of one Caribbean and to the politics of the left, which includes Pan-Africanism. He along with others, tried to make a tradition of commemorating African Liberation Day, to honour our connection to Africa and the common quest for freedom, equality and justice.

Bobby recognises that class and race inequalities keep families and countries in poverty. For him, the way out of economic underdevelopment is through an integrated use of our natural resources amongst Caribbean countries and through active connections between Caribbean peoples and Africa. He admires the Cuban revolution as an example of self-determination and scientific excellence, against the odds.

Bobby sought alliances with Caribbean men within the black power movement. He became an ally in the struggle against Eric Gairy and developed a friendship with Maurice Bishop and others like Kenrick Radix and Alan Alexander.

Because the Grenada revolution represented the best chance of the fulfilment of his dreams, its combusion and the murder of Maurice and the other comrades brought grief.

In the following years, Bobby was down, but not out. He engaged in trade unionism.  He was a candidate in elections. I think he understood that he had no real prospects of victory, but he had perspectives to share.

He continued to practice “justice” in courts as opposed to law, about which he can be quite disparaging.  He regularly interacts with whoever remains of the Caribbean left. And he remains fervently anti-imperialist in his positions (a rather favourite word of his).

I must acknowledge that Bobby has inhabited a very masculine space, with all its entitlements and consequential fragilities. Like most of his gender and generation, he is less concerned with challenging unequal power relations between women and men, whether in public spaces or in the family. Feminists insist that the personal is political.  By that we mean that personal experiences are the result of and contribute to social structures. If we want to disrupt inequalities, that works starts internally.

That too is a lesson from his life.

Now he wonders about the next generations of Caribbean activists. Who is promoting a culture of self-confidence, drawing on the lessons of our history and the resistance of our ancestors? He wonders what is to be done about fuel and food insecurity. He worries about people living in poverty where common resources are controlled for the benefit of the few. He is provoked by stories of corruption. And always, always, he is asking- “what is your position on what we should do for the people of the Caribbean?”

The answers seem elusive given the current triumph of globalised neoliberalism. This generation also does not have the mirage of an alternative which for Bobby’s generation the Eastern Bloc in the Cold war era represented. Social media bring fake news and wake news, non-stop. It is overwhelming. This generation faces existential crises. And it is very difficult to maintain idealism.

But we must practice optimism, believing that our social justice engagement can make a difference. That is one of the lessons of Bobby’s activism. Stay engaged, be outward looking and seek common cause.

That common cause he has made with many.

We all live in states of contradiction. Our lifetime task then is to seek coherence between what we believe in and how we treat ourselves and others.

Bobby has helped many people. And he has remained an advocate for a more just and secure Caribbean.

That after all is an activist life.

A first birthday

It was Friday night when Russell called me in that big brother voice, heavy and yet slightly breathless with hesitation and responsibility. I was already in bed, in a state of happy anticipation and willing the night hours to pass. You see, with my travel quarantine ending, I was going to be out of the house and be at the hospital by 6 am the next morning. Those were my plans. It was not to be.

Russell explained that whilst the doctors were preparing her for dialysis, our mother’s heart stopped. They had been working to revive her, for twenty minutes, he said. The silence between us echoed with the weight and meaning of this moment, with defeat.

Valerie had what seemed like a low grade and chronic stomach discomfort. She was enervated but not ominously so. We were able to see her on WhatsApp, laugh at and with her. She enjoyed us and we enjoyed her. As usual. And then, one trouble after the next, in what some say was a mercifully short time- fever, dehydration, diarrhea, kidney failure.

Our mother was well enough until she was not. She fell over the precipice from the undulating land of the living. I wonder if this is what is meant when people die ‘of old age’. There is a proximate cause. But the cause of that cause is the wearing away of the parts, the inability to regenerate and to cope with the internal assaults that come from daily living over the long haul.

We were not prepared, though the spectre of high probabilities hovered amongst us, her children, in wordless clouds. I expected that my presence at her bedside would have had magical properties and that by fervent hope she would be pulled back into life at Warner’s Woods. Or at least she would have had another of her children giving comfort and witness to her passage. I try not to dwell on it, this regret in the infinite universe of what ifs. But this is not what I imagined; that I would not be with her even after all the reports of parents dying in hospitals unaccompanied by loved ones – the long and isolating shadow of the pandemic.

I keep wondering if she was prepared for the end of her life in the moments before it happened. But I do not doubt that she was spiritually ready. She was a believer in a higher benevolent force and whilst she treasured her life amongst us, she was not a clinger. After all, post-death meant renewed life in another realm.

And so I find myself trying to summon her. Where has her energy gone? Is she in the firefly that found its way into my bedroom? Or the tourist hummingbird, out of place, inside the house? People assure me that she is happy, as if they can access her presence. It turns out that all of this is quite soothing.

I am not a clinger either. But I miss her in all sorts of ways, consciously and sub-consciously. When I am cooking coubouillon, I remember her saying, “thyme is the best herb”. And changing sheets, I hear her bubbling laughter as she observes the indentation in the mattress. “Roberta, you need to rotate that every six months.” I see her in the verandah, looking at the adjacent hill and recall her keen observation of life around her. “Roberta, whatever happened to the man who was growing cucumbers up there?” Or the time she was humorously shaming me to be more mindful, “Roberta you think that I might see more of Trinidad than the savannah this time around?” She knew about the stars, the moon, the trade winds and the earth’s movement around the sun. She just knew things. 

And I am quietly acquisitive about her stuff. I wear her nighties and her earrings. In my excursions to her room, I come back with a piece of crochet here, a sewing kit there. A scissors I do not need, a perfume I will never wear. Her funeral brochure is like a coffee table book on several surfaces. 

She did not habitually live with me as she did with all the others and especially Russell. But I did not feel left out. I was her last child.  Mostly I miss knowing that she is alive.

To confess that it is only in the recent past, like last 5 years or so, I disciplined myself to know with certainty Valli’s birthdate.  It is August 25th. And this year she would have been 89.  You see 26th August was her mother’s (Carmen) birthday. Oddly, in all these years, It did not matter to me to know whose birthday came first. Those two days were a bonanza of connection and love.

And this week, anticipating this first milestone without our mother, it occurs to me that her birth on the 25th August 1932 must have been experienced by my grandmother as a birthday gift. She was the first daughter after three sons.

She was indeed a gift to us, our Valli was. And I know that this first birthday without our mother we will be connected, her five children, with our partners, our children and the one great grandchild, appreciating her life, feeling somewhat bereft and giving thanks for each other.

We see them now all the time on social media, dogs behaving in ways we understand or rather in ways that seem understandable to us. Wagging tails signalling joy, pacing and agitated when in pain; tail between the legs and ears back as anxiety, when things seem strange; angry when sensing danger.

Yet my vet brother-in-law cautions against us ‘anthropomorphising’ dogs. He keeps reminding that dogs, indeed, are not humans and we should not be projecting feelings, especially when those projected emotions get in the way of proper dog and household management. Like being worried about how the dogs will react to being left behind when you have to be away for a period.

I am not a dog person. and I have been quite judgmental about those people, like my vivacious aunt, Wavel, (‘poor thing, she’s dead now” as her father would say about those who met their maker before him). She was chained to the house and locale because she just could not leave Sukie and Winston (her tiny dogs ) on their own. Her partner and she could not travel together unless the dogs were with them. And what about those people who let dogs lick them on their face? Let them sleep in the bed. Who grieve so hard when the pet dies? Like they have lost a very close family member?

If I am to be truthful, I would confess that there have been many, many times, I have looked on and thought, ‘Geez! Give some of that care to the great many children who need some love and joy’.

It was not always so and may also not be so in the future. As children we had several cats and two dogs. Che and Castro. What else! It was the 60’s. Che, a female, was mostly a dachshund and Castro, her son, well his father came from a good neighborhood. Those dogs gave us many a happy time and we played with and fed them. That for us was enough attention, I suppose. They were house dogs and had the run of everywhere. Yet the word I associate with dogs as a child was ‘mash!’. Dominican speak for ‘go away dog’.

In my own nuclear family, we have also had dogs , a parade of bull mastiff mixes. But I did not bond. Then came Nala and Julie. Unfortunately, Nala, a moody and most beautiful rottweiler(ish) died in June. She had been sick and despite enough vet visits, was not diagnosed until it was too late for meaningful intervention. Truth is, socialised by the experience of Che and Castro who, being pothounds, thrived (or survived) no matter how they were treated or otherwise neglected, I was discombobulated by Nala’s demise. And hurt for the family and curiously, most hurt for Julie. I imagined, because how else would I know, that she missed her garden buddy. I perceived that Julie was adrift and puzzled.

With her grief (I imagine), still quite fresh, we all left the house for weeks on end, leaving Julie more or less by herself. A family member was around and taking care, but really we were all gone. Yesterday we returned. Julie stood at the fence and dog-cried. She was beside herself. How do I know? She jumped, panted, ran, licked, circled on herself, sprang up and down and then followed us from door to door, keeping us in sight. I feel badly that we left her alone. This is me anthropomorphising Julie.

There are any number of articles online which try to suss out what dogs feel. In Psychology Today, one researcher concedes that dogs have the emotional awareness of a 2 1/2 year old human. By six months, they experience the emotions of love, joy, excitement but also distress, anger, fear and shyness. Unlike humans however, dogs do not do shame, pride, guilt or contempt. Lucky dogs.


Shame, guilt, contempt and pride are described as complex social emotions, all having elements that must be learned. In other words, we teach children, through our responses to them, or around them, all of this negativity. Several people commented on the article, describing it as ridiculous. They had examples of dogs showing jealousy, shame and contempt. One commentator thought that humans deny dogs these emotions because they imply that dogs have a sense of ‘self’ and therefore experience ‘consciousness’. Another writer considered the denial of a fuller range of emotions in dogs specious because the neurochemical system for all of mammals are nearly the same. It is just that “humans just have bigger brain to describe feelings in an abstract way.”

Who’s to know? Is this one of these essentially unknowables? An eternal mystery because, well, dogs cannot talk?

And does it matter? If you have consciousness, feel remorse and guilt about how you treat your dog, well perhaps that is enough to make sure of a good dog’s life.

Whatever dogs may or may not feel, I perceive that Julie experienced abandonment these last few weeks. Or at least, I know we left her alone! Next time, we will have to do better for taking care of poor Julie’s emotional life when we leave the house for an extended period.

I very much enjoy rites of passage, whether births, birthdays, retirements, weddings and yes, funerals when the deceased has lived a long and full life. On these occasions you get to know and perhaps understand better the people involved and their surrounding communities. Especially if in speaking to memories and future plans, there is attention to reality, honesty as well as aspirations.

Of all these rites though, I have ambivalent feelings about weddings. It is hard to get through a wedding without having to digest the ancient and modern meanings of all the symbols and traditions such as white gowns signifying purity; father giving; speech moments where the woman who is getting married stays silent; and the most cringey of all when the groom, says ‘On behalf of my wife and I”. The bride still voiceless, with all that implies for limited authority and self-determination.

Even now thinking of the word ‘groom’, there is no avoiding the symbolism of weddings to patriarchy’s maintenance. The Internet tells us that the word “Bride” derives from Proto-Indo European bru, – meaning “to cook, brew, make broth”. Yep. And groom means, the bride’s lord apparently. Well.

Many will argue that these are just meaningless remnants of an old and fading order. But since we are still living gender inequality, how can we ignore all the contributors to unequal social norms and roles. Just last week, a bank with which I have done business for over 20 years, refused to allow me to open a safety deposit box without a letter from my husband. He had to vouch for me that I could be maintained as I did not have a job. It was only when I used the D word (discrimination) that solutions were found. My sister in law tells the story of buying a car and in the registration process, the licencing office insisting that if she wanted her husband’s name on the certificate, his name would have to go first and then because of limited space (!), her name would be reflected by ‘et al’. And how many women do I know whose children, public servants determine, would carry their fathers’ names. And then of course we have all of that violence expressing power and control over women’s lives in unions. There is no place that women experience inequality more acutely than within the family. This experience also limits women’s capacities to resist inequality in the workplace and in public spaces.

So sisters and brothers, resist, always.

Back to the happy wedding story. I myself got married in City Hall in Canada. But I have to confess to looking forward to having celebrations for my young people. And so it happened for Safiya and Mohammed. It is their story to tell but what I can say is that they did put a lot of thought into the ceremony so that it would reflect their aspirations for themselves and each other and their union.

They walked in together. The wonderful woman priest, Dean Shelly Ann Tenia presented them as “partners in life’, and in their vows, one of things they said to each other is “I promise to take care of myself’. I had not heard that before, but they definitely are on to something there.

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It was a happy, loving, family and friendship filled moment.

Here too is a mural painted to mark the occasion by the talented Celine Choo Woon Chee and Safiya.


In far away places, when I say I come from the Caribbean, (for those who know where that is) the response is ‘well, life must be wonderful in beach paradise’. I should be more appreciative but usually I just find the implied exoticism misplaced.

We who live in these beautiful Caribbean places can and should find ourselves occupied by the corruption, inequalities, meaningless political polarization, unprincipled governance, inefficiencies and did I say corruption?

But the truth is, as Maurice White urges in All about Love, ‘Feel it. I’m talking about beauty.’

We are here in the land of beaches with our Antiguan family Linda and Dawn. Lots of flora also to make you stop and stare.

Yesterday on LIAT from Barbados to Antigua, I had the totally unexpected experience of being taken care of by two children, fellow travelers, both unknown to me.

The 9 year old girl from Guyana (JJ), full of cuteness and composure, put on the overhead light when she saw that I wanted to fill out my form. And within the same moment, the teenage boy from St. Vincent and the Grenadines across the aisle, lowered my table. I suppose he assumed that I did not know that this option was available to me.

JJ made sure that I could get a drink if I wanted. As the plane made its descent, she leaned over and whispered diplomatically to me, ‘Do you have your immigration form? Is it filled out?”

I left the plane joyfully. And don’t we get that feeling when people note our presence and are concerned, just as a matter of human interdependence, in our wellbeing.

With JJ who was an ‘unaccompanied minor’, I felt, across all the unknowns, the accomplishments of those who were raising such a confident, competent and thoughtful person.

We will probably never cross paths again, these two young people. But I am marked by the small exchanges that carry a weight of hopeful meaning about the Caribbean.

Attention really is the foundation of love.

Dear Readers of this unreliable blog, the news everywhere is terrible. You know what I mean. So I am going into escapism, and yes, I do so acknowledging that escape is a privilege.

For the next few weeks, I am only posting things that make me smile. My first escapist post is about music. This morning, YouTube spontaneously (or algorithmically) offered me up Al Jarreau’s ‘Morning’. It sent me straight back to 1983. I was in Toronto, snow storm blizzarding but found my way to a little record shop at Jane and Finch to secure a cassette. I played it over and over (rewind, rewind not easy), and this song and ‘Trouble in Paradise’ especially so. It also came out in the period of the murders of Maurice Bishop, Jackie Creft and the end of the Grenadian Revolution. At the time, this album was soothing. Music is so elemental.

So today, I want to share songs that I have probably played at least 200 times, sometimes a song for an entire five hour plane ride or a whole week on loop. They are in no particular order, except the last, which I have obsessed over. If you have songs like that in your life, do share.

The first is Don’t Ask my Neighbours by the Emotions. “Play it again Ed”, I would implore when I visited him in the dark room on our way to the beach. 1977?

Then what about Your Song by Billy Paul? There is not a bad version of this Elton John song. But this one, I love the best. Although the Al Jarreau comes close. Even now, if I play it, it has to be more than once.

Don’t Disturb This Groove by the one hit wonder The System. Around 1988, I was at Hugh Wooding Law School and killed that song at full volume on Hololo Road. Good thing, few neighbours.

Cherchez La Femme. I was introduced to by one of the Miller cousins (Susan who also gave me my first afro!) Just loved it. The song. Hair cut was dreadful. Also the song does not withstand the test of time. So not at all a classic but it was different for me at the time- growing up on a diet of Motown and the Sound of Philadelphia (O’Jays, Harold Melvin, Teddy Pendergrass etc)

A song my son Aschille introduced to me when he was a teenager: Kiss Me by Sixpence. It’s not really an equivalent to the others. But was the first song introduced to me by an offspring which I really liked.

Pan In A Minor by Kitchener. A piece of music that can only make you marvel at his musicality, the melody, my gosh.

And on soca, what about Shadow’s Dingolay. I spent almost an entire Carnival Monday under a speaker at the corner of Carlos Street and Ariapita taking this fab song into my spirit. It brings to mind two lost friendships (alas) but the music infuses the memories with delight.

Sunday Morning by Maroon Five. A song which would be perfect for driving along East Coast Road in Barbados in a car with the roof top down. I have not done that yet but you get the point – a lovely breezy, open hearted song.

Beyond the Sea by George Benson. I used to warn Douglas that if George Benson ever sang that song to me, it would be a pied piper scenario… sorry Douglas.

And on George Benson, the remake of the Beatles Here, There and Everywhere. Just perfect!

What list could be complete without Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley

So Waiting In Vain. Such sweet longing. I always hoped that he was thinking about Rita when he wrote that. Don’t think so though. These men.

For Steve Wonder, I want to say Superwoman because it was my first and enduring favorite circa 1972. But Knocks Me Off My feet from what must be in the top ten albums of all time- Songs in the Key of Life

And whilst we are with a list that seems to have no end. Earth Wind and Fire, ‘All About Love’. Oh Maurice… rap to us! “Feel it. I’m talking about beauty”.

I Want You by Marvin Gaye. Could here be a MORE PERFECT song??? He recorded that song lying down on a couch. You should not look for back stories though. I found out that he wrote this whilst infatuated with a much younger woman, and he was already married. Well Marvin came to a sorry end. The song endures. Whenever I hear it, I feel like i am swimming inside and among notes, chords, lines, instruments. It is totally immersive.

The songs I repeat, they have a hold over me. They do not leave me alone. It is the best kind of haunting.

We met Andaiye at the launch of the Caribbean Association for Research and Action in 1988. Part of us, she was also apart from us. She was questioning. Would we embrace a politics that included class and race analysis? Would we have an understanding of the connections between global capitalist economic systems and Caribbean under-development? While she may not always have described herself as a CAFRA kind of feminist, we certainly claimed her and all her wisdoms. Her frame was our frame. Women’s rights could not be achieved if we did not address the legacies of race and class oppressions and the inequalities wrought by contemporary neoliberalism.

And to do this work well required having women across their diversities in all rooms.  When we were planning the regional meeting of social justice and feminist activists in March 2018, although she could not attend, Andaiye kept a close watch. “It have (she asked) any Indigenous women? How you doing for Indo Caribbean women?” “You know me”, she wrote, “I will ask the same questions even after I die”.

Although committed to inclusiveactivism, Andaiye she wasn’t about ‘wash your foot and come’ as the Triniswould say. She cautioned us to work with people with common principles. Sheunderstood, to be effective in organizing there had to be a strong foundationof shared world views on elemental matters.

Andaiye made an entrance just with that way of gliding into aroom. When she spoke, we hushed and waited expectantly. And surely it wouldcome, that piercing and succinct analysis bursting our self-satisfied bubble. Shewas fascinating and enigmatic. She was politically wise. She was alsoemotionally sensible.

Thestory of Andaiye is not complete without the story of the Guyanese sisterhood.They sustain each other, these generous, committed and unpretentious women,including those in Red Thread and Help and Shelter. These women share withAndaiye that hope which she defined as ‘solidly-based expectation (from experience,history and necessity) that we can make change’.  And to make change, Andaiye counselled wouldrequire “determination which comes from a reading of history and of the worldaround us which illuminates not just the failures, but the simple fact thatnothing ever just stays the same, that people are always resisting their ownoppression – by whatever visible or invisible, peaceful or violent or otherwiseillegal means.”

Herexpectations of traditional politicians, women or men were not high but herhopes for sustained social justice movements remained constant.

“As you know, I spend very limited time onparty and electoral politics since I believe that the overriding imperative isto build a movement that AT THE VERY LEAST can “hold politicians’ feet to thefire”.  I really do think that the job is to transform some people intoseeing ourselves as having potential power and acting on that new perception sothat the power becomes real, and we will AT THE VERY LEAST stand before thepoliticians as a force to which they must respond. For women this would meanrefusing to be the “backbone of the parties”  whose votes can be assumed,and for women and men it would mean refusing to hand over your vote to your“race” when you poor and getting poorer and they rich and getting richer.’

 In essence she demanded of herself and ofothers, a freedom of the mind, a curiosity about the realities of others and adetermination not to live in sealed pockets of privilege. And she was someonewhose solidarity was practical. For several years, Andaiye, with Hazel Brown, coordinatedmedical support in Trinidad for Guyanese women seeking treatment for cancer.

Herprincipled pragmatism shielded her from pessimism. In an email of 2017 sheadvised against disenchantment. “And it’s not our experience that we winnothing from the advocacy (which as you know means both using conventionalmeans and the street, including, where necessary, civil disobedience). We don’twin enough, but we do win what my colleague Selma would call “downpayments’.”

Andaiye was deeply interested in thepolitics of organising. Although she could not attend our March meeting, shestayed connected by skype throughout the two days. And to Joan French fromJamaica who inadvertently omitted her from an email chain, she scolded withaffection “French, you well fasty. Given my position on unwaged work, you leaveme off your list of who working on this because I elderly and sick? Is only mybody gone, not my head!”

In a world where authenticity is a debased conceit, Andaiye lived true.

For those of you who did not know her, do read her article on Audre Lorde here in CAFRA News.

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10 actions that police can take to prevent murders of women arising out of domestic violence

In Trinidad and Tobago, yet again this week we witnessed more violence against women and their families by men with whom they might have had an intimate partnership.

These murders continue to be mischaracterized as ‘crimes of passion’, as if these murdering men are unable to control their behaviour. The fact is that men who abuse women do so selectively. These same men rarely assault anyone else, not their employers, their workmates, other family members or neighbors regardless of any hostile relations and strong emotions between them. Rather they harass, abuse and finally murder women as an expression of their control. These are not crimes of passion; they are violent crimes of power.

And there is plenty which the police can do to prevent these murders and to deter repeated acts of domestic violence. The first point to appreciate is that these murders are usually the culmination of a pattern of abuse- verbal, sexual, psychological and physical. Often the men who murder women signal their intention quite clearly by sharing exactly what is on their mind, what they want and intend to do. They make direct threats as in the case of massacre in La Brea, when the murderer put a knife to the neck of Abigail Chapman days before he killed her and three other people. She reported this threat to the police four days before her murder but no action was taken.

The majority of women who are victims experience this violence repeatedly, sometimes in an escalating and increasingly violent pattern. This violence is not perpetrated in dark corners and without noise. For the most part, family members and neighbors are aware or strongly suspect. Police and courts know because many women report and/or seek protection orders.

Yet still we keep getting the depressing news that too many police officers are not treating domestic violence as a crime. Rather, they seem to think that their role is to refer victims to the Magistrates Court to seek protection orders. That is good advice, but there is so much more that the police can and should do to prevent domestic violence and its escalation to murder. After all, there are no issues of detection to complicate policing. The identity of abusers is known, the level of risk of future fatal violence can be ascertained and the police and social services of this country have a number of tools which can be used to prevent foreseeable tragedy

Here are 10 actions which the police service can immediately adopt:

  1. Listen attentively

To start, when a victim comes to the police station to make a report, treat her with respect and attention. Typically, abuse would have happened many times before a victim decides to report. Reporting, make no mistake, is an act of courage. The duty of the police receiving the report is to listen non-judgmentally, to gain the trust and assess the level of risk in order to protect victims from further harm. Interviews should be done in private rooms, reports recorded and the victim should be informed in direct and clear manner what the police will do next to investigate the report.

2. Investigate

All reports of conduct which amount to an allegation of a crime should be investigated by the police and in particular, allegations of physical violence or threats of physical violence. The initial investigation must be rigorous. Understanding the emotional complexity of domestic violence and with their investigative skills, police must take the lead in building the case rather than relying on the victim to build the case for the police. In so doing, police will be sending the message that domestic violence is a serious crime and that police have an independent duty and interest in preventing it. Poor investigation decreases the likelihood of detection, charging and prosecution.

3. Safeguard

Police officers must be well trained and knowledgeable to give advice and information and to work with the victim to keep them and their family members safe. Police officers must cooperate with governmental and non-governmental agencies that assist victims and their families with safe houses, counselling and resources, if needed. Police should develop the practice of home visits and community patrol to build confidence that they are concerned about the victim’s safety and are working to ensure safety.

4. Mandatory arrest

If upon investigation, the police are satisfied that an arrestable offence has been committed, the perpetrator should be arrested immediately. Apart from increasing the chances of charging and prosecution, swift action places the perpetrator in a secure setting for a ‘cooling off’ period. Upon arrest, the perpetrator can also receive appropriate social service interventions.

5. Risk assessment

Arrests should be accompanied by a perpetrator risk assessment through which the police can make a determination about whether there are identifiable indicators that the perpetrator has the potential to and is likely to engage in further violence and cause serious harm. This risk assessment should lead to a referral of the perpetrator to social services. The risk assessment should also be an input into the determination of charging, bail applications and conditions attached to bail.  

6. Protection orders

Victims should be supported by police to get a protection order. The magistrate court should consider granting interim or ex parte non-molestation protection orders as a matter of course at the first hearing and especially where the proceedings are delayed.

7. Prosecute breaches of protection orders

A breach of a protection order is a criminal offence. Police must investigate all reports of breaches of protection order as soon as possible and institute criminal proceedings where the evidence supports this.

8. Hold each other to account

There should be weekly police station reviews of actions taken in response to domestic violence reports. This review, led by the senior police officer, will determine what steps should be taken by police to follow up on investigations.

9. Mentorship

Trained domestic violence champions at the supervisor level within the police service should be identified who can offer timely support, advice and guidance to officers dealing with domestic abuse cases.

10. Accountability

The Police Complaints Authority should establish a hotline to receive complaints of police inaction or inadequate responses so that prompt corrective action can be taken.

The solutions to domestic violence extend well beyond the work of the police. We need an education system which inculcates the values of equality and empathy and which builds emotional intelligence and self-esteem. We need psycho-educational early interventions for perpetrators based on the principles of victim safety and perpetrator accountability. We need to support non-governmental organisations that are providing a range of services to victims and their families. We need court processes that are timely and where resulting orders are predictably enforced. We need communities to be vigilant and supportive of victims so that they have pathways to safety and freedom. We need zero tolerance for all forms of domestic violence.

All of that is as true as is the fact that we need police to act. Police must not be insensitive to or cynical about victims. They must not collude with perpetrators, nor must they have defeatist attitudes about their ability to prevent domestic violence. The Police Service must be empowered with the right messages, procedures and policies so that the do their job- protect and serve victims of domestic violence.

OnInternational Women’s Day, 8 March 2019, the government presented in Parliamentthe ‘National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment in Trinidad and Tobago’.This Policy outlined an ethical framework to prevent, prohibit and addresssexual harassment at all levels in the workplace. It recognized that despitethe prevalence of sexual harassment, very few persons who experienced this wereable to report and therefore get a remedy.

One of thethings well known about the under-reporting of sexual harassment, like allforms of sexual violence, is that victims are reluctant to come forward becausetheir complaints will be trivialized, ridiculed, ignored and/or disbelieved.

The policy thereforecalls on employers to respond to complaints, reports, allegations andinformation about sexual misconduct “in order to stop prohibited conduct,prevent its recurrence and address any lingering effects in the workplace”.Over and over the national policy reiterates the obligation and responsibilityof each employer to address sexual harassment in a transparent and accountablemanner.

In the wake ofthis policy clarity, the Express Newspaper of 21 April 2019 has reported thatsomeone recently appointed to be an Industrial Court judge has had allegations ofsexual harassment made against him. He has denied these allegations. The reportalso quoted the Attorney General to the effect that he had not heard of theallegations.

But now that it has come to the government’sattention, the appropriate response required by the National Policy is that theinformation should be investigated without bias and with due diligence. Thestate must lead by example. It must be seen to be treating all information and allegationsin relation to its employees with seriousness and in a timely manner.

The National Policy also gives specific guidance onthe procedure to be followed. Employers should interview the complainant andthe alleged harasser separately; ensure equal and relevant access to information;interview other relevant third parties separately; determine whether or not theincident(s) of sexual harassment took place; produce a report detailing theinvestigations, findings and any other recommendations.

This case isparticularly important given that the Industrial Court itself is an arbiter ofgood industrial relations practice and is a venue where sexual harassment casesare heard. Regardless of whether or not a formal complaint has been made, byvirtue of the newspaper report, we have all now been given notice of ‘information’.The state’s duty to investigate has been triggered. This has to be done inaccordance with due process and respecting privacy and confidentiality.

If there are infact no such allegations or the allegations have no merit, then it is in the interestof the Industrial Court that an investigation confirms that. Likewise, if theseallegations have merit, it is in the interest of the country and of those personsaffected, that accountability is established.

The NationalPolicy says it best. Its aim is to “create a work place where issues of sexualharassment are prohibited, prevented, addressed and remedied expeditiously andwith equity, accountability and integrity.”

Let’s start byapplying the Policy to this case.

How can we encourage our artists to occupy public spaces with beauty? Some street art in and around Brick Lane.

Currently in Jamaica there is an ongoing parliamentary consideration of the Offences against the Person Act which makes abortion illegal and criminalises women who ‘attempt to procure an abortion’. This is a felony and punishable by imprisonment for life, ‘with or without hard labour’.

In support of the advocacy of Jamaican women’s organisations to decriminalize abortion, Caribbean social justice and feminist advocates made the following statement in support of women’s rights to non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health rights and services:

We, the undersigned social justice and women’s organisations and individual advocates, note the parliamentary consultations on the law on abortion in Jamaica.

Within CARICOM, Barbados (1983) and Guyana (1995) have led the way with legislation that decriminalizes the termination of pregnancy. Belize, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have expanded the exceptions that allow for abortion under the criminal law.

In the Caribbean and internationally, access to safe termination of pregnancy is a social justice and human rights issue.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortions make up 20 percent of all maternal deaths globally. Women between the ages of 15-49 in Latin America and the Caribbean have a rate of unsafe abortions of 41 per 1,000 women, the highest globally.  Seventy (70%) percent of all unsafe abortions in the Caribbean are carried out on women below 30 years old.

In desperation, poor women, adolescent girls and young women seek abortions from unqualified persons, often in unhygienic environments. Some of the methods and implements used to induce miscarriages include: inserting bicycle spokes into the uterus; douching with bleach or hot Dettol; ingesting hot stout with quinine tablets; ingesting Cytotec, an over-the-counter drug which results in haemorrhaging; and having a ‘massage’ by a village midwife.

In Trinidad and Tobago, research conducted by ASPIRE has shown that some 3,000–4,000 women and girls seek emergency treatment at public hospitals annually for the health complications of backstreet abortions, which include sepsis and haemorrhage. Many others do not seek early medical intervention and suffer infertility, fistulae, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain later on and even death. We understand as well that unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Jamaica.

While poor women tend to suffer these terrible consequences, their middle and upper class sisters can afford to pay for abortions conducted by gynaecologists and general practitioners under sanitary conditions in private medical clinics.

The law therefore, in its actual effect, discriminates against poor women. They are forced to make choices that they may otherwise not make if public health facilities guaranteed services for termination on the basis of informed consent and confidentiality.

Certainly many have abortions for unwanted pregnancies for a range of reasons in the context of their life realities. These are decisions that must be respected because we all have the right to privacy and to integrity of the person. Laws that criminalize abortion severely restrict decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health. Who can or should make a judgment for the person who will be carrying all the consequences of pregnancy and child birth for the rest of their lives? 

Yet those who oppose decriminalization of abortion do just that. They insert their ideas of morality between women who have an unwanted pregnancy and their access to safe public health services. Women, who cannot get private medical reproductive services otherwise available for those who can afford them, feel this intrusion on autonomy, privacy and family life disproportionately.  

Policy decisions on abortion must be consistent with fundamental rights and freedoms. The Jamaican constitution guarantees the right to privacy and family life which can only be restricted if the enjoyment of that right prejudices the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. 

Access to abortion does not affect the rights or legitimate interests of any other person, save the prospective father, and even here, his wishes must be subordinate to the woman whose well-being and autonomy should be the primary consideration. Forcing girls and women to have children when they are unprepared and/or unwilling or forcing women to access unsafe abortion, with the consequential tragedies that result, cannot be in the public interest.

For those who have a strong religious point of view on abortion, this is to be respected. However, this should not be at the expense of the lives of women and girls or their right to make reproductive decisions.

There is a global consensus that the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence. This has been upheld in the outcome documents of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women and their follow up conferences. Additionally, UN human rights treaty bodies have called on states to reconsider laws that criminalize abortion.

The State, therefore, has an obligation to ensure non-discriminatory access to termination of pregnancy for all, regardless of social status or income.  

We congratulate the Jamaican parliamentarians and social justice advocates who have placed this issue on the legislative agenda. We urge the Jamaican parliament to guarantee women’s enjoyment of their rights to equal treatment, privacy, integrity of the person and non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health rights and services.

5 March 2019


  • CAISO: Sex & Gender Justice (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, Trinidad and Tobago Chapter
  • Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, Regional Network
  • The Caribbean Coalition on Sexual and Reproductive Health and
  • Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality
  • Equality Bahamas
  • Institute of Gender and Development Studies, UWI, St. Augustine
  • Red Thread, Guyana
  • Andaiye, Guyana
  • Peggy Antrobus, Barbados
  • Rawwida Baksh, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Marion Bethel, Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) The Bahamas (signing in individual capacity)
  • Ramona Biholar, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UWI Mona.
  • Roberta Clarke, Coalition against Domestic Violence, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Diane Cummins, Barbados
  • Hazel Da Breo, Director, Sweet Water Foundation, Grenada
  • Dona Da Costa Martinez, Executive Director, Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago  
  • Hailmah Deshong, Barbados
  • Sandra Edwards, Barbados
  • Gabrielle Elliott-Williams,  Lecturer, Faculty of Law, The UWI (Mona)
  • Honor Ford Smith, Associate Professor, York University.
  • Margaret Gill, Mental Health advocate
  • Kristina Hinds, Lecturer, UWI, Cave Hill, Barbados
  • Marsha Hinds Layne, Barbados
  • Gabrielle Hosein, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Asha Kambon, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Kamala Kempadoo, Professor, York University
  • Vidyaratha Kissoon, Guyana
  • Marlon Mills, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Tenesha Myrie, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, The UWI (Mona)
  • Nan Peacock, Canada
  • Kimalee Phillip, Caribbean Solidarity Network
  • Rhoda Reddock, Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Trinidad and Tobago ((signing in individual capacity)
  • Audrey Roberts, The Bahamas
  • Tracy Robinson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, The UWI (Mona)
  • Michelle Rowley, Trinidadian Citizen/Associate Professor, Women’s Studies Department University of Maryland
  • Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, CEO, Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (CFPA)
  • Alissa Trotz, Guyana/Canada
  • Alice Wallace, The Bahamas
  • Rosina Wiltshire, Former UN Resident Coordinator, Barbados

pop cultureThe 2019 soca song by Farmer Nappy, ‘Hookin Meh’, has caused a stir for those who are unable to ignore the messages embedded in so much of Caribbean music. Soca music is dominated by men, both front and back of mic and stage.  And a particular view of women’s instrumentality to men’s happiness – all carnal, whether on the dance floor, bed or in the kitchen  is a dominant theme. There is little popular soca that is romantic, evoking a kind, tender, giving, sensual love and enjoyment between people whatever their gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Instead, we are treated, annually, to diet of limited words and meanings- jump,  wave, wine, bumper, rollback, possession, and also a recurring fantasy of the man who can jam all night long.


We feminists want to resist this music but can find it hard when sexism comes wrapped up in irrepressible rhythms. Soca is quintessentially happy music. And so we move to the groovy melody or powerful rhythm, singing chorus and verse, and staving off that left brain which wants to do social analysis. It’s like Johnny King sang in Wet Me Down’: 


Seriousness does make me guilty

The message is I don’t care

When I drinking Vat, Whiskey and Beer


Trinidadian mas makers intend to free up at carnival time. To free up, the body and mind have to be in consonance- the mind should be kind of empty to allow the body to flow to all the vibes. When the mind reasserts itself and is engaged outside the rhythm, it can be hard to enjoy a lot of soca – for its gender stereotyping, for the limits of lyrical and intellectual content and for the narrow scope of themes. 


And so once again, we are frustrated that soca is not capturing the changes in gender relations for which feminists are working.Farmer Nappy’s hit is about a man refusing to accept the end of a relationship, begging and putting the responsibility on the woman to explain how she could be so good for him yet just not want him.


Marsha Hinds Layne finds the song evocative of unequal power relations. It speaks to some men’s impulse to control women, to resist taking no for an answer. It promotes an insistent intrusion on women’s autonomy. She has some support. But others wonder what the fuss is about. After all, when one party wants to call it a day and the other does not want that, begging back, refusing to go, is a predictable first response.


In time for Valentine’s Day, Gabrielle Hosein questions Farmer Nappy’s incomprehension with his partner’s decision. Instead of telling her how good she is for him, should he not be telling her how good he is for her? How is he present to be an equal partner? Does he share the tasks of the household? Is he an engaged father and an attentive partner? And how come he was unable to pick up clues that his wife had had enough of him? Why is he so dotish, in other words?


Both writers  raise  questions that we must address in promoting healthy, emotionally intelligent relationships between boys and girls, women and men.. The feminist saying that say thatthe personal is political means that all individual choices and actions have meaning and contribute in ways, major and minor, to cultural norms and power structures. We will never be able to transform social relations in politics, in the workplace, in faith institutions, on the sports field or in communities, if intimate and familial relationships between women and men remain unreconstructed with men taking for granted and taking advantage of women’s work and bodies.


Popular culture matters. That is what both Marsha and Gabrielle are articulating. Let’s engage with that instead of telling them, ‘steupps, your timing off.  Iz just a song. You too serious!’

I was thinking about all of that as I was swept up with the crowd singing along with the fantastic Renegades steelband rendition of Hooking Meh:

“You pack all meh clothes in a garbage bag

Baby don’t do me that, you go break my heart’.

See the Hosein and Hinds-Lyne articles here:


The global campaign ‘16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls’ is a call for societal commitment and effective actions to protect, prevent and punish violence against women. The campaign recognizes that there can never be social peace so long as gender inequality defines the relationships between women and men.

The Coalition against Domestic Violence (CADV) is a non-governmental network committed to ensuring that children, women and men in Trinidad and Tobago live in an environment free from gender discrimination and violence. Our network members include shelters, children’s homes, women’s rights/feminist organisations and individuals working to end all forms of domestic violence, including child abuse and elderly abuse.

This year in the commemoration of the 16 Days, CADV is collaborating with the media, with faith-based institutions, with the legal profession and with men to carry the message of empathy and equality in our homes, schools and communities as fundamental to prevention of violence.

So many people experience violence and insecurity in Trinidad and Tobago and the family is not insulated from that violence. Indeed public and private violence are closely correlated. Violence and inequality are accepted as normal where the culture tolerates physical abuse of women and children and where the notion that men should “control” women prevails.

The use and experience of violence in the home makes it very unlikely that we can have peace, equality and respect. The figures are staggering really. In 2016, the Children’s Authority received 5522 reports of child abuse. Of those, reports of neglect accounted for 26.5 per cent; sexual abuse, 24.7% and physical abuse, 16%. Of those sexually abused 85% were girls, while physical abuse was roughly equally reported for girls and boys.

A recent IADB survey reveals that one in three women in unions have experienced abuse. So the family, where we should be loved and nurtured, where we are shaped, where our sense of self takes form, is a place of insecurity and danger for too many.

For all that we know about the sociology and psychology of domestic violence, we also know that we don’t know enough. Domestic violence in all its forms is under-reported and we can imagine that the under-reporting is even more acute for children and the elderly who must depend on others to be alert and to defend them. Many women who are abused tell no one.

Most victims avoid the police.

Silence or limited disclosure is a therefore a feature of intimate partner violence and it is this silence which protects perpetrators from accounting for their conduct- whether in the family, community or justice system. One consequence of this silence is abused women and children do not get assistance and may not be able to break free for peace for themselves and family members.

We also have a good sense of why so many women remain silent and do not seek interventions. These reasons include a sense that violence is normal. I met a survivor recently who told me that it was only when she saw Diana Mahabir on television that she knew there was a term for what she had been living.

Many women stay silent also they fear the consequences of disclosure, including the anticipation of further shame or fear of humiliation; a belief that they would be blamed or not believed. And then there is the emotional connection, what the author Leslie Morgan Steiner calls ‘crazy love’, a belief in the perpetrator’s love and the ‘frantic delusion’ that the abuser will change.

Silence can be a survival strategy as many women know that the time of disclosure is also a time fraught with danger. The abuser’s impulse to control is triggered, as is ego and rage.

Yet many women and children do break the silence but when they do, too many receive what amounts to silence as the response. At the Coalition against Domestic Violence we continue to get reports from women who gather their courage and go to Police stations only to be met with ineffective responses. Women tell of police not taking note of their reports, instead sending them to the hospital for a medical report, even when what they are reporting is threat of serious violence, as was the case of Abigail Chapman who was killed along with three others in the La Brea massacre.

This ineffective response is also shared by the courts. The Domestic Violence Act was intended to give timely and effective protection. Yet the court system is overwhelmed by the number of applications. Earlier this year, at a panel discussion, a magistrate estimated that 70% of applications do not result in protection orders. We need to understand why.

The other silence which we must speak of is the silence around and of perpetrators. In a country where masculinity is still expressed through aggression or the expectation of aggression, do we provide the space for perpetrators to reflect, account, speak out and change? We keep asking of victims, why did you stay which can be code for victim blaming. But do we demand from abusers a reckoning of their behaviour?

It is for these reasons that the Coalition against Domestic Violence has called upon the government to reinstitute the court-mandated batterer intervention programme. Through this programme, perpetrators accept that domestic violence is an avoidable choice. They are called upon to replace violent and controlling behaviour with preferences for respect, open communication and equitable relationships.

We also urge the government to share with the public the draft national strategy to end gender-based violence as a matter of priority. This strategy should ensure that the Domestic Violence Act, Children Act and the Sexual Offences Act are effectively enforced; social services and health care are extended to support and protect women and their families leaving situations of harm; psycho-educational programmes for perpetrators should be available; and importantly we need to transform attitudes and values through the education sector for zero perpetration and tolerance to violence.

On the occasion of the global campaign, ‘16 days to end violence against women and girls’, let us all commit to doing more to create a culture of gender equality and non-violence in the home and in our communities.

This article was published in the Trinidad Express on 27 November 2018

Today Ingrid turns 60. Having first met in 1979 at Cave Hill, we share a group friendship. Group friendships are curious ecosystems and IMG_9612perhaps inherently volatile. One buss up between any two can lead to all kinds of complications as the other friends try to stay non-aligned, or indeed, have points of view. And even when there is no buss up, depending on what else is happening in our lives, we can become less attentive to each other and generally let life get in the way of seeing the heart, the essence of the other person.

Douglas thinks that when someone is in your life for a long time, well that’s it. You accept people just as you hope they  accept you, making allowances for your contradictions.  I am not sure. There are deal breakers even with longtime friends. I think the failure to acknowledge  causing hurt  is hard. And friendships can flounder on discordant politics and values.   I can hardly imagine a friendship with a revealed racist, though I maintain some level of relations with a multitude of sexists. They are much harder to escape and can be more subtle.

1510947_10151800907742407_1204450346_nAll of that to get back to Ingrid. Our group has had its dynamics but the shared memories of who we were and who we have become keep us connected. Across the years, Ingrid has contained parts of herself to herself. She is a bit of an enigma; has had a very diverse working life, all requiring arcane technical knowledge. But she never talks about that. Ingrid says she is not a joiner, preferring to roam and meander.  And so she has friends all over the place.


Carrying herself with a certain innate extravagance, Ingrid  sweeps into a room. ingrid.jpgYou have to stop and look. She has undeniably great aesthetic taste. Her home is an oasis of restful beauty. You wonder how she thought to put that and that together. She is an artist, simply.

Today, I was included in another of her friendship circles. (Thanks Sandra). And it reminded me how beneficial to emotional well-being to remain open to people and to the possibility of new connections.

We had a chance to question Ingrid and as you will see, she was revealed and yet  remained elusive. She thinks that after 60 you have about 15 good years to deal with the things you have to do and the things you don’t want to do. It is a time for self-reconciliation with great possibilities for growth and love. That’s wisdom.

When was the last time….: I last fell in love 15 years ago.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years: Healthy, laughing, doing good work, being creative, being in love with life and perhaps with one person more than others.

Any regrets: No point in that.

Most intriguing experience: I think an intriguing experience is one that is moving, shaping and ultimately accepted. (By that definition) my most intriguing experience was when I first saw the Himalayas in North India. Driving up the hills, I felt my whole chest open and I had a feeling that I had come home.  I did not want to stay, but I knew I belonged.

What’s next on your to do list: I do not have a list. I am open to the next steps. I am ready to run, jump and fly.

Is there anything which you have dreaded which turned out to be a positive? No. I have had little dread. Horrible things have happened and I had to go through them. Maybe I have been successful at avoiding what I did not want to do.

What was your most gratifying working experience? In all my jobs there were interesting elements, elements of learning. But I was not completely absorbed by any of them. Gratification, in the fullness of the word, is yet to come

If you could invite three people to dinner: Nelson Mandela because he was a warrior and a bodhisattva  (a buddhist description of “a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others’). Dalai Lama because he epitomizes strength, humour, political savvy and integrity. Angela-CropperAngela Cropper. I am sorry that I did not know her long enough. I have abiding respect for her integrity and pristine intellect. She remains a beacon.


What does the artist in you see: To see beyond seeing is what the artist in all of us wants- to go beyond the surface, to see the essence of everything. You can only be an artist of life if you stay in the stillness.

Happy birthday Ingrid. Here is Grover Washington with Patti Labelle. The best is yet to come!!


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