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

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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

Signatories

  • 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
  • WOMANTRA
  • 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.

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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:

https://www.stabroeknews.com/2019/features/in-the-diaspora/02/18/come-again-farmer-nappy/

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.

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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!!

 

Is it hot, or is it me?

I understand that today, 18 October is World Menopause Day. I doubt it is a UN day though. Probably something that some interesting sisters devised, to make menopause part of the political conversation of life. This year the theme is sexual wellbeing after menopause. It seems that sexual dysfunction, by which I take to mean a decrease in libido, can cause mental problems. My first thought- for whom?

Not for Alice Walker who has interpreted menopause to mean ”Men! Oh pause.”

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I have been full out menopausing for at least three years or let us say, about 1000 nights. It’s symptoms are everything the bad press says. Hot flashing, itchy, dry skin, hair in the wrong places, flabby arms, insomnia.. (Add your items).

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Estrogen depletion is real. The worst part though is the short term memory loss or distractability. I leave the kitchen for the bedroom to collect my bag. En route I remember that I should check if I have unplugged the stove – I mean iron. (See what happened there?) But why again, was I going to the bedroom?

 

Every single night, some short minutes after deep sleep retracts my secartoonnses, I am roused by a hot flash. And it is not a gentle awakening. It feels like something inside has turned an impish traitor, adjusting the thermostat for kicks. You want to sleep? Let’s see how you do it through this gathering heat storm. And they keep on coming, all night long. Studies show that women in menopause experience hot flashes in sleep once an hour.

Douglas is wondering. “Every night, Roberta. Every night do you have to say – ‘why is it as soon as I fall asleep, I get a hot flash?’ He is flummoxed by my lack of acceptance, by the amnesiacal repetition of the question. Let him try living and reliving the actual experience on an endless loop.

One thing though. Maybe our mothers’ generation did not speak about menopause. But now, wherever two or more women in their 50’s are gathered, within half hour, the topic of menopause will come up. How can it not? Somebody is bound to be flush, sweaty and fanning away.

And this is as it should be. Half the world’s population will go through this specific ‘change of life’. Why do we call it change of life anyway? Mostly it’s change of body functioning. Yet in website after website, the narrative of emergent inner goddess and wise woman is championed. Are we over-compensating? Do women need to pluck out special status from the end of periods? I mean we are, in our normal distribution, wise with periods as well. And why wait until the last third of life to proclaim oneself as a goddess, if that is important to you?

For all the mystery that is menopause- the why, the biological purpose, the triggers of symptoms- I have decided that it must be beneficial; it must in some way be linked to longevity. After all, everywhere, women live longer than men,

So while I do not feel celebratory about all aspects of menopause, we should acknowledge that something physiologically profound is happening to at least one third of the female population at any point in time.

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Thanks Mom!

So we are in the last quarter of 2018 already. And so much has changed for many of us and will continue in directions promising, challenging, fun, depressing, frustrating, exciting. Life after all.

siblings.pngA few years ago,  my mother went through a serious not-good-health moment. She came through it well and with equanimity. And it caused me pause for any number of reasons. I do not know what the psychologists have to say about it, but as her last child I felt (feel) that I had an extra claim on my mother. Step aside siblings!

In my feverish worst case scenario imagination, what anguished me the  most as a child was the thought of losing my mother. And so it was interesting to see how she managed that moment of shaky health and her adult children, steering us to a place of relative calm, even  acceptance in the face of the possibilities.

More recently she again had things to see about but she is fine (if only for the odd aches and natural pains). The siblings do a bang up job of looking out and taking care. But no doubt we are at that stage of life where mortality does not merely lurk in the shadows, but comes a little too  regularly to meet and greet.

It must be the biggest cliché – we do not know what time will bring. Thinking of that, I was asked recently if I had said everything I want to my mother. I thought so but maybe not. She is well adored by five children, in laws, and 12 grandchildren. She knows and feels all that love.

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Missing Warren. Pic by Ed Inniss

So beyond love, I would say thank you Mom for the humour, the honest sharing of your life’s trials, the fun appreciation of absurdity, the sacrifices, the wise non-intrusion, the dignity, the example of reading, curiosity, the constancy and care, the connection to your parents, the converting of hurts into happiness, the love of Nat King Cole, pepperpot, coubouillon, innate respect for all, the gentle attention to the grandchildren, the post-mortem ole talk, getting vex, forgetting being vexed and not holding grudges (mostly). So  much more!

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She says that she is the happiest that she has ever been. I think she means her eyebrows are in place, she is carefree, well loving and beloved.