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Basdeo Panday, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, famously said, politics has its own morality. There is no right or wrong, just shades of expedient greys in capturing and maintaining power.

And so it was only seven days into a 30-0 electoral victory by the Barbados Labour Party that the party’s parliamentary number was reduced to 29. Without an elected opposition, the Prime Minister had signaled earlier that she would seek to amend the constitution to allow the Governor General to appoint the two mandatory opposition senators from the party that commanded the most votes after the BLP. That would be the DLP.

Before the country could weigh in all of this, one of the BLP 30 defected, proclaimed himself an independent and was sworn in as Leader of the Opposition. In the turmoil that followed, Joseph Atherley, leader of a church, came out alongside or ahead of the gathering storm to say that he was no treacherous Judas, but rather he was putting the country first. An opposition was needed and he could be a provider of feedback on the implementation of manifesto which he would have had a hand in drafting and finalizing.

The tales of conspiracies swirled on social media. Could it be that Atherley felt slighted by non-inclusion in the Cabinet, an emotional state which made him vulnerable to the manipulations of the prime minister of the land of anti-Mia? Or maybe he was approached by the DLP in some reverse inclusion politics? Perhaps he did it because his parliamentary salary would be increased? Or the worst of the conspiracies, he was doing this at the bidding or with the tacit blessing of his erstwhile party, seeking to keep the DLP in the wilderness.

Who knows the truth? All of these conspiracies have been denied.

The fact is that a constituency voted for this individual because of his affiliation with the BLP, a party to which he was  long associated, including as a minister in government. Within the space of one week, he invalidated those ballots. It is a stunning  betrayal of people who voted for Atherley based on his own representations of fidelity to a party and its manifesto.  In the name of providing opposition, this move also denies the party with the second highest number of votes the space to represent their considerable, if disenchanted number of supporters in parliament.

Crossing of the floor, done where there are no known philosophical or principle differences between Atherley and the BLP, can reasonably be interpreted as opportunistic and self-serving. It surely will give oxygen to the already high levels of cynicism and lack of trust in politicians and the political process. Out of a clean and decisive victory, the body politic has been infected by lack of transparency, hubris and self-interest(s). What message do young people take away from this?

One more ethical way of doing this would have been to resign. A by-election would have followed in which Atherley could run as an independent.

And one way for the government to deal with this scenario for the future is to amend the relevant election law allowing for recall. This way, someone who wants to cross the floor, will have to answer to his constituents. There is a right and wrong here.

 

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My father is the real Barbadian. My family was transplanted to Barbados in circumstances that were traumatic for my mother and so we spent quite a time, my brothers and sisters, looking back with longing for the calm, untroubled and loved up feeling associated with my grandparents’ home and with Dominica.

But as it was bound to happen, we gave in to Barbados and this giving in, this appreciating, oddly enough, continues even now that we are all old(er).

This week was another reminder for me of all the things that I find inspiring about Barbados. It was the week that Barbadians rejected homophobia and bigotry. We kept our focus, almost with singular resolve, on how the country could be fixed, could be recovered from 10 years of reckless government, corruptive practices, narrow-mindedness that is the same as hatred and attempts at populist manipulation.

The once conscious DLP, now without a moral compass, has taken this proud country to the brink of ruin. We are on our knees, bowed but definitely not broken.

MiaUnder the leadership of Mia Mottley, the BLP ran a campaign that veered away from personal invective. They resisted the bacchanal at every turn and temptation. Maybe a singular experience in Caribbean political campaigns?

The DLP spent their depleted political capital trying to focus the country’s interest on Mia’s love life. They did so because they are outright hateful bigots, the lot of them. Those who were vocal and those who remained silent and complicit.  But they also did this as some kind of strategy to distract from the outrage that we have about the sewage crisis which has hobbled the economy and is such threat to public health. They did so to avoid questions of public maladministration. They did so to befuddle us away from thinking about the decline in public health delivery and the breakdown of public transportation. They did so to avoid admitting that beyond taxing Barbadians into the poor house, they have no plan for economic recovery and development. They kept ranting on about ‘wickers’ and ‘bullers’ (offensive Bajanisms for lesbian and gay)  when the BLP was speaking about missions critical – how it intended to ease the economic burden on the poor and how it was going to adjust the debt to free funds for social spending and the encouragement of small businesses.

In the end, Barbadians, resident Caribbeaners and others entitled to vote, rejected the DLP completely, completely. What a thing. I was at a polling station for my fine and sensible candidate, now Member of Parliament, Marsha Caddle. The atmosphere there was not euphoric. It was very Barbadian, reserved. A sense of relief that the result was the correct one and a pervading quiet satisfaction that those who had abused power and betrayed the people’s trust had been laid low. But also, in the discreet glances and murmurings, there was hope and the belief that Mia Mottley could bring a new kind of leadership to the country.

We need a leader who will motivate us all to pull together in the direction of self-esteem, authenticity, and conscious care for each other. We need a leader who has zero tolerance for breaches of integrity and who urges us by example, to be deeper thinking about the changes that have to be made to stabilize the society and economy for the next generation.

We need a leader who will steer her colleagues away from pomposity and distance from we the people. We need a leader who will deter her Cabinet from the lure of the literal and metaphoric cocktail party, from the things that get Caribbean politicians stuffed with superficiality and self-regard.

We need a leader who will hold herself and her colleagues accountable for integrity in public life. We need them all to have a checklist of things to be done. We need them to DO.

In Mia I think we have someone who can, if she stays the course and others join her on that course, inspire generations the way in which Errol Barrow did. It occurs to me now that she is Errol Barrow’s true successor. We want and need a leader who will encourage us to really see our true individual and collective beauties; to remember all that we offer to the world, us Caribbean people with our joyousness, our cultural creativity, our open-mindedness (..in peril!), our lessons from resisting oppression and discrimination.  She has that vision and all the capacities.

The BLP will no doubt make compromises that discomfort those of us on the left. Politics, the exercise of power, requires that other powers and interests in contestation are managed. But we must be made to understand what those interests are and how they are connected to the higher cause of peace, equality and development that benefits the many. Transparency is usually the first thing to go in governance as deals are made. And when transparency goes, we are down the precipice of the personalization of power and the failure of accountability. These are the landmines that are already laid in waiting for this government. Our Prime Minister with her experience in government knows all of this and much more.

So really happy today but not naively so. And anticipating that better lies ahead. Onwards Mia! And congratulations to Marsha who put in two long hard years of thoughtful strategic work to win a constituency where once her opponent was considered unbeatable. What an asset she is to this government.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nation News online poll says that 72% of those who responded think that BLP will win the Barbados elections on 24th May. Not at all scientific as those who participate may be those who want change.

However that may be, I hope that this will be the outcome. Barbadians deserve better government. DESERVE. This small country with little more than the resources of its people made such strides towards social justice, yes, in an incremental way, but still.

Since independence, Barbados has had quality universal primary health care, free drugs for children and elderly, decent education for some (still too elitist and narrow as is the plague of the Caribbean), a functioning public transportation system, redistributive land policies (to some small extent), reproductive rights for women, clean enough environment and well enough managed public budget.

Ten years after this DLP government, we are highly indebted- 160% debt to GDP ratio, sewage management crisis, failing health sector, fees for university education (ok that one is more complicated), a person in high office who a court has found to have retained another person’s money. The country looks unkempt. The Prime Minister talks casually about withdrawing from the highest appellate court, CCJ, because, well, Barbados will not be disrespected???? How capricious and insensible.

The DLP sadly is unfit.

They have not always been unfit. It is a party whose victory I felt was fitting in 1986 and again 10 years ago. And some good was done this rounds- Sexual Harassment Act, free bus rides for school children. But what they did not do or did badly far outweighs the good.

DLP may be fit again in the future and I hope so. But this will require courage and thought on the part of its new party leaders and members to regenerate and rejuvenate based on the aspirational principles that we all share- decency, decency in public life, integrity, commitment to do better every day, generosity of spirit, fairness and justice. And of course perseverance and intelligence to manage all the complexities of a small externally oriented economy towards diversification, and a closer alignment between local production and consumption.

So tomorrow I will vote so happily for the candidate in my constituency knowing that she is the one, not only in contrast but because of her care, courage and commitment. Marsha Caddle is my person. Just the visuals tell a good part of the story. She is herself, authentic, unpretentious with a deep understanding of the intersectional dimensions of Caribbean challenges. She is also seriously multi-dimensional. A feminist development economist, soca song writer, dancer, blogger.

Marsha 1

I will also experience the immense satisfaction of living to see Mia Mottley as the Prime Minister notwithstanding and partly because of (I am sure) all the hateful, ignorant and misogynistic diatribe that has emanated from the DLP platform

 

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Carnival 2018

For some people today in Trinidad and Tobago, there is carnival tabanca.  Grieving that we have to wait another year for the outpouring of music, wining freedom, steelpan, feting and happy liming. The carnival season was short, lamented some (Valerie!). I wonder.

Can we afford the distraction and avoidance of the many  problems which this country faces? Perhaps, but only for a minority who are not struggling with everyday violence, poverty and inefficient state services. In my last moments around the emptyish Savannah yesterday, the ‘Roast Corn Man’ was beside himself with resentment, anger, cynicism and frustration. He feels betrayed, let down  by the political parties and the politicians.  This Carnival, he said was ‘the worst ever’. He was commenting on the economics of small scale retailing and dramatic decrease in people on the road. People are afraid of crime he said, recalling that just the previous night, someone was gunned down on the street where he lives. How can you solve violence, he asks, when crime -drugs and arms- is a business controlled by and benefiting a few powerful people?   Las lap reality!

Yet there is no denying the magical carnival dust. And this year I felt it most strongly in the Renegades Panyard. Playing ‘Year for Love’, arranger/conductor Duvonne Stewart shepherded that band with joy, meaning, humor and gentleness in thrilling and disciplined performances night after night in the panyard on Charlotte Street. The performance in the finals-something, something!!!

 

I am told that Lloyd Best was the person who called for schools in pan (as opposed to pan in schools). I do not know exactly what he meant but I can guess that he was reflecting on the creative excellence, discipline and solidarity which are both inputs and outcomes of the endeavor of this specifically Trinidadian music making. Listening to Renegades, I had the feeling of an once-in-a-lifetime music experience.

Speaking of ‘Year for Love’, I think that song will outlast the disposable kleenex soca. We saw Voice perform at Spectacular Tent (why is Errol Fabien still making jokes about Lorena Bobbitt and Monica Lewinsky???). Voice brought with him a dynamism and, well, life, in an evening of Nelson, Baron, the sweet soca man,  Lord Funny, Relator and Explainer. Yes we like the old-timers, especially us old-timers. No shame in enjoying nostalgia. But, quite a lot of good groovy and powerful soca as well.

This year, the usual feathers and beads and sailors. And between these two extremes, seemed to me a big generation divide. But that is one of the lovely things about Caribbean carnivals. Anyone can find  their ‘section’. There is comfortable and accepting space for all. Here are some pictures of the sailors- fancy or disciplined in white.

The beads and feathers…

Blue Devils

Traditional Indians, I think:

And the band K2K, haute couture meets mas

 

A resurgence of moko jumbies

Finally political mas: This is a Midnight Robber band. See the coffin- ‘Anglo-American empire RIP’. The woman spoke truth to patriarchal power in the traditional character,  La Diablesse. Check for the cow foot which distinguishes her from mortal women.

Using culture for cultural change:

culture of consent.jpg

There is so much to reflect on and we say the same every year.

How do we dismantle the galloping privilege, greed and vacuity that characterizes so much of carnival? How do we encourage more to be involved in the creative and authentic production of carnival? What would encourage a greater diversity of people to make carnival something that speaks to them as relevant and interesting? How can carnival be a moment of pure joy and innovation whose effects ripple all through the year?Questions to which there are answers.

Take carnival off auto-pilot! It needs care, nurturing and deep consideration.

 

This week the Prime Minister lamenting violent crime in Trinidad and in particular homicides, reflected that fully one third of the people killed in the country were killed in domestic settings. He associated himself with the anger of everyone at this all-enveloping insecurity and then, went on to reflect that women had a responsibility to choose their partners wisely.

As anyone could have expected, a furor has ensued. The PM was called out for victim blaming. Many acknowledged that we all have a personal responsibility to make wise choices.  But if we better understood that both the use and experience of violence are symptomatic of deeply embedded gender attitudes and biases, we would also understand that personal decision making is just one component of effective prevention.  (See here for example).

How we experience agency, what choices we make, these are determined by the culture of the collective, which, yes is constantly being renegotiated and re-shaped. And just as still too many men are socialized through school, religious practice, peers and popular culture into demanding control over and access to women’s bodies, many women are socialized into submission. (Just think of the range of soca music in any year where women are being done something to).

It is this gender socialization that partly informs how governments develop and secure implementation of certain policies. So if male entitlement to women’s bodies is deeply rooted in culture, it will be hard, for example, to criminalize all rape within marriage, as in the case in several countries in the region. Those Trinidadians who led the failed battle to do just that in the 80’s will recall the infamous statement “if you can’t rape your wife…”

It is also this patriarchal socialization which undermines effective policing. Too many women, whether in domestic violence situations or as victims of sexual offences will not go to the police. They fear judgment, they fear indifference, they dread the consequences of ineffective and deficient protection that leave them more vulnerable to worst violence. They fear that some person will say, ‘well what were you doing there at that time?’ ‘Why didn’t you scream?’ ‘ What were you wearing?’ In other words, ‘why did you not make another, more wise decision?’ And this patriarchal socialization explains why some judicial practitioners still seek to reconcile a woman to her violent partner as a first response. And, not to flog a dead horse, it is this socialization that explains how families can shame women into staying in bad marriages. “You made your bed, now lie in it”.

Beyond the socialization, there is the paralyzing dread of further violence that can keep women pinned into submission. I recall a client whose husband threatened to kill all the children if she left. And we also know that many women, for the sake of their children, stay for economic reasons.

So, yes, individual empowerment to self-protect is important. But let us not be unthoughtful of the many ways in which agency is undermined by culture, by weak policy, by inadequate protection frameworks and by absent social services.

We know all of this, don’t we? Yet how dismaying to see so many agreeing with the proposition that women need to choose the right man and to agree without any caveats or thoughts on the differentiated responsibility of the state to protect and prevent violence against women. And not enough  discussion either on the role of men to not engage in violence.

We have to admit, those of us who have been doing this work, that our efforts have not been enough and also that the public space is coarser, more intimidating, more predatory, harder I believe on young women. We live in times where individualism has overtaken social solidarity. Where VIPness is the strangely accepted face of inequality; and where corruption frustrates our expectations of the state. All of this must be contributing to the noxious mix of anomie (the turning away from collective norms of care, solidarity, empathy) with masculinist resistance to equality. And this resistance spreads virally through all kinds of new media (video games as well).

And so the state, through its various institutions, has to ensure the environment within which people’s enlightened agency can be exercised, especially not to engage in violence. The state must protect the vulnerable and must equalize power relations- whether of age (as in child protection) whether in employment (regulating employers for decent work) or whether in punishing and protecting from all forms of violence. After all, is that not the bargain between the state and citizens in our social democracies?

Is it that we have lost faith in the authority and power of the state to arrest the galloping violence and insecurity and so have turned on victims? Help yourself because the state cannot help you?

youth-action-screenshot-2 Yesterday, in the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago, a bill was introduced to standardize the age of marriage to 18. Hard to believe, but still now, girls can marry (supposedly at their own volition and without the consent of their parents)   at 12, 14 and 16 under the relevant civil/Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Orisa laws. Under these same laws, boys can marry without parental consent at 14 (civil/Christian), 16 (Muslim) and 18  (Hindu and Orisa).

These laws are not relics, not artefacts, metaphorically rusty from disuse.  Between 2006 and 2016, 548 such child marriages took place in Trinidad; 51% under the Hindu law, 34% under civil/Christian law and 15% under Muslim law. This is a cross-religious phenomenon.

Child marriage disproportionately affects girls and is part of the undergirding of patriarchy which we have been collectively dismantling. It uniquely secures legal access by men to the bodies of girls at a time in their lives when they do not have the capacity to give informed consent as is acknowledged in sexual offence legislation all over the world.

In this country, between 1996 and the present, 97% of child marriages were of girls. These girls can be as young as 12 as was the case in 2008. And if that is not enough chilling news, the available data shared by the AG shows that the men who ‘married’ these girls were as old as 52.  Marriage of girl children is a sheer perversion. It legitimizes conduct that would otherwise be child sexual abuse. How can it be otherwise?

With all that we know about power differentials of age and gender and the vulnerability of girls to rape and sexual predation, you would think that reforming this law would be non-contentious; quickly enacted with a minimum of argumentation. It is evidently the decent, moral, ethical, right and rights thing to do to protect girls from exploitation and assault and from interrupted social, emotional and psychological development.

But after a straight forward and compelling presentation by the AG, we listened to the mortifying assertion that girls are ready for  marriage, meaning it would seem, ready for sex, as soon as they experience puberty. One of the real impediments to social justice everywhere is the deployment of tradition, culture or religious dogma as a shield to justify discrimination (especially sex and gender) and as a sword to silence others.

The majority of people in this country already know that child marriage is plain wrong. We cannot stay silent now. This opposition by a few to greater child protection and gender equality is an outrage. Let us make sure the right thing is done.

It is another painful, sharp shock, another wake up call even though we are not sleeping,  even while we go about with our advocacy, calling attention to  the outrage that is daily violence against women. But our communities of leaders fail to pay enough attention and fail to make the connections between the systematic under-valuing of womanhood, gender inequality and abuse. And we, feminist activists, probably also fail, fail to be insistent about the relationships of governance necessary for social justice and women’s safety.

Yesterday, 8th December, towards the end of the annual global 16 days of activism to end violence against women, Shireen Huq, who runs Naripokkho (a NGO) shared on Facebook  that in Bangladesh, a student visiting her mother in hospital was abducted by 4 men and gang raped. Here in Trinidad, Shannon Banfield left work at the bank, sun still shining down  and went downtown Port of Spain, presumably shopping.  She was found dead in a warehouse.

Women and especially young women going about their lives, doing the routine things, cannot feel secure, cannot trust their communities to keep them safe. I remind my girls as they leave the house to go out at night, like a mantra, like an amulet against the dark side,  “the rules…get your own drink every time, go the bathroom in the company of others, do not wander away by yourself, if you feel uncomfortable, do not be embarrassed to shout loudly, capture the attention of others”. We all do, those of us with young women in our lives. Indeed, we give ourselves these daily cautions.

But these two young women were in public places, in the light of day, surrounded by people. My advice would have been useless.

I keep thinking about the oranging of buildings and bodies which has become part of November 25th, the International Day to End Violence against Women. It was initiated by a group of young people back in 2012, and now adopted globally. Iconic structures here and there over the world are illuminated in orange to metaphorically shine a light on the gloom that is violence against women. With the understanding that this advocacy brings, we hope action follows. That menu of needed actions to change social norms,  a UN Women Asia Pacific publication reminds us include:

  • effective community mobilization
  • prioritizing education and youth
  • strategically engaging men and boys in prevention; and
  • utilizing policy and legal reform to address structural inequality.

But these approaches seem to presuppose that others things are working. However, societies where violence against women is most normalized (this is about degree as violence against women is a global scourge)  are societies fragmented and in crisis. These are societies where corruption and social injustice are also a norm. States where too many are left behind in school systems that are intended to cater to and throw up an IQ elite. States where child protection is still just a phrase and not a reality of practice and accountability, either by responsible institutions or communities. States where people in authority abuse others, wielding positional power to demean and humiliate, at worst, or ignore problems they are meant to solve. States where a privileged few capture  national resources and divvy them up, leaving too many communities isolated in economic and social misery.

I keep thinking about the reach  of our advocacy. I wonder who knows what is Orange Day? Who is paying attention to 16 days of activism? Who goes to these candlelight vigils? I do not mean to diminish these efforts. Indeed when we see the Egyptian Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the India Gate, Pakistan Monument all lit bright orange, we know that feminist activists have penetrated the national and international body politic, at least to the extent that national leaders consider they have some obligation to make public statements.

But the scale of the challenge is well beyond the kinds of community mobilization which we are doing.

We need the transformation of politics- the politics of the personal, the politics of state and the deep politics of culture. The problem is that as the complex dimensions of the challenge become clear, rather than being galvanized, we can be enervated. We withdraw into our own safe cloisters, shaking our heads at Facebook and newspapers. We distract ourselves, a short term mental  well-being tactic.

But that is not good enough. And so we come back to those who run shelters, give practical support to women victims of violence, seek to influence policy and laws, confront police and courts on the unresponsive  justice response.  And we note and appreciate that there is a growing movement of men who refuse to stay silent, who understand the privileges of their masculinity  and are holding themselves to account for making change in the world.

So do something today people. Resist despair.

Donate to a shelter or women’s organization.

Hold a community meeting with your parliamentarian

Join an organization or volunteer some time

Be in solidarity actively.