Big Man Ting! A Choice of Men and Words

What happenin’

In 2016, Trinidad and Tobago was embroiled in a battle for women’s and girls’ rights. ‘No Slut Shaming’ and GBV discussions with political pressure by young women’s and feminist groups challenged the then Mayor of Port-of-Spain, Tim Kee on his expression and defense of his sexist statements after carnival. The carnival was not over when debates around the rights of girls and critiquing patriarchal notions of the family were at its highest point during the ‘End Child Marriage’ campaign mid-year. Then came the Barbadian-grown Caribbean dialogue #LifeInLeggings that spoke to the pervasiveness of rape culture in our post-independent states. And finally, the murder of Shannon Banfield ended the year in deep sorrow and frustration…a reminder that the small gains, in policy, funding and even in the way we speak, did not end the constant threat of violence against women and girls. 2017 so far is no less bloody and dangerous for women and girls – students in school uniform are first reported as missing and are discovered later, dead.

 

At the Conversations with the Prime Minister at Maloney Amphitheatre on Monday 6th February 2017, the Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said the following:

1. A crime is to be committed, invariably; the police may not know it is to be committed. More often than not the police only know after the crime has been committed. And therefore, when that happens, for example, right now when I speak to you, approximately one third of the murders in the last month have been domestic related issues.

2. Now, what is the role of the police in preventing that or should I say the state? You know what the state did? These domestic issues usually start or ending with women with difficulty in relationships and the state intervened and put something called ‘protection order’ in place to deal with women and their men. That and all is creating a basis for violent crime.

3. One third of the murders in recent times are domestic violence or domestic issues. And then that, you call on your prime minister to do something about crime…I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men.

 

In Excerpt 1, Dr. Rowley offers recognition to the problem of gender-based violence as a national issue. He gives recognition to domestic violence as a serious crime by illustrating its measure. In Excerpt 2, there is a commitment to state responsibility. The Prime Minister makes the point that the State needs to create a response to address domestic ‘issues’ of violence. However, his last statement highlights the gap in his understanding of the realities of GBV and domestic violence. Ask any activist, social worker or close family member of a victim, ‘protection orders’ have the effect of putting women into a new form a danger where men become more aggressive and controlling toward them. For example, anyone with experience in the field will let you know that a ‘restraining order’ does not always bring restraint by the abuser. The surprise expressed by the Prime Minister highlights his distance from the issue.

Excerpt 3 is fundamentally where the problem lies. His attempt at nuance was necessary but his analysis was woefully inaccurate and prejudiced. Yes, people demand greater institutional accountability to reduce the rate of domestic violence because it is a global problem and violence against women is an institutional inequality. And yes private citizens, we must also build strong communities and utilise the social services and programmes provided by the state to help in the fight to end domestic and gender based violence. But at no time, does this personal and citizen sense of responsibility abdicate the government (of the day) and state’s duty to end gender-based violence. At no time.

What if Dr. Rowley said?

1. “A law alone cannot change what happens in the minds of people at home. We want our families, community groups and leaders to help in our fight against crime.”

OR

2. “The task has been difficult but it is not impossible with you, the citizen. If you choose the love you deserve, work toward building healthy relationships and work with national security and social services when you need help, we will have a better T&T.”

OR

3. […say nothing more]

For men, we need to rethink the politics of women-blaming in domestic violence situations. One thing is to say, “she look for it, she stay.” Another thing we can ask, instead, “what are the conditions that make it difficult for her to leave?” I have worked with young men who turned their anger into expressions of violence against their partners…what they need to hear is not “how a woman could make a man turn” or “she really don’t know what she want in a man”…the kind of conversations we need to have with men is that they are emotional beings because anger is (also) an emotion and there are safer, healthier and more dignifying ways that they can resolve their conflicts (and not be violent).

Women do not marry or form relationships with rapists and abusive men. In a relationship, women are raped or they are trapped in an abusive relationship. Get that. The psychological conflicts and issues of self-esteem that underpin domestic and gender-based violence cannot be trivialised by “choosing a man.”

In bullet points, this is what I have to say to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley:

1. You are the Prime Minister of the nation. The power you occupy and therefore the standard you are judged by are not the same as an ‘ordinary citizen.’

2. You could cut down all the pepper plants in this island to make pepper spray and put a degree in Kung Fu funded by GATE but women, the target of the attacks, are not the ones responsible for their safety from GBV.

3. “Choosing a man” is not a crime reduction strategy but choosing your words wisely that reflect gender awareness is a good start to good governance.

The Story About The UWI Campus Police With The Accent

In Trinidad and Tobago, the budget of the Ministry of National Security in 2016 was $7.625b.There is a perspective that sees greater fortification through the construction of borders, deployment of high tech utilities to patrol these borders by land and sea, the purchase of more arms and surveillance equipment on more public roads and private communication devices as the best way to address our crime situation. There is another approach that incorporates the development of the capabilities of the security forces while there is a greater coordinated investment in the sectors that build communities and make the population feel safe. Noel Burnett of the UWI Estate Police team builds our campus community, keeps us safer and more hopeful every day.

Who is dat? De Campus police with the American accent?

Sort of. It is a Canadian accent! Noel Burnett was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1977. In the good company of his five aunts and mother, he was off to Canada as a six-month old baby. In Canada, he developed a stronger sense of Caribbean identity, a love for all things Trini and Tobagonian (where his father was from originally). He also had to remind persons, “All Caribbean people are not Jamaican!” Over the years, he built himself professionally and personally. He returned to Trinidad and began working at the UWI St. Augustine Campus on the 16th August 2010. Noel Burnett has since become one of the most popular personalities at the UWI; I strongly believe that even if Barack Obama had a lecture at Daaga Hall and Machel Montano performed in a fete at the Principal’s Office and these events ran simultaneously, if Burnett had a gathering on a bench at LRC, he would be the crowd grabber! His smile is contagious, his positive energy inspires and his love for people breaks down all the walls among faculties and the distinctions between staff and students with his decency for each and every person he comes across.

People are happy to see him and some media houses are also eager to interview him. In the past, he turned down corporate media houses with their interview requests. In 2014, he was awarded the UWI St. Augustine Campus Employee of the Year for Service – he contributed the trophy to the Estate Police Station because he sees himself as part of a team. I understand him completely. He is a kind of superhero without a cape – always helping and always hiding; the person who delivers a gift anonymously. When asked, “why do you back away from the spotlight and recognition?” He replied, “People do not need to see me, they must always believe it comes from God and it should encourage others to take charge of their lives.”

How does Noel Burnett make us feel? “Gooooooooooooooooodddddd”

 

Burnett is also the father of five – Annathsa, Justice, J’quan, Bradley, Pearl and an adopted boy, Brad. His philosophy about service did not fall from the sky, I wanted to know about the way he saw the world. He brings joy to so many of us! He shared, “I love people. I prefer to make a friend than an enemy. We are here to learn from each other. We are here to build each other. We are here to help each other. I put this principle first. Make a friend, not an enemy. You show them love from the start because first impressions last, buddy.”

Noel Burnett saved a student’s life who choked on the medication she took before exams, he defended a student against the threat of sexual violence by an off-campus perpetrator. He has also given the best directions and takes pride coordinating parking for events as if he was in charge of a task at the United Nations. But, I dare to say these outstanding performances of his duties are nothing in comparison to his ability to lift the spirits of HUNDREDS of students on a daily basis with his commitment, joy and smile.

Crime is a reminder that Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean are not perfect places. Personally, the implementation of the No Thoroughfare Zone on campus this academic year made me feel that our strategy to keep each other safe is to cut off ourselves from our community and build another border between us and the majority of the population. Nothing is perfect. But some people make it their business and life goal to show us that we can do better and be better. Noel Burnett’s high quality of service to the campus community, personal integrity and gift of joy give us hope. His gold-tooth smile is a reminder that there is something always worth smiling for. University professors can teach us to empower our minds but we must always turn to each other to learn about each other’s humanity.

NB:

Mr. Noel Burnett is not the best with smart technology. His daughter recently set up an e-mail account for him. I have to deliver him this blog in print to the Station. If it’s not too much, when you see him, tell him how much he means to you. I guarantee, he will show the love back.

Blog Reference:
Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “The Story About The UWI Campus Police With The Accent Blog, Accessed [Insert Date Accessed]. http://amilcarsanatan.com/story-uwi-campus-police-accent/

Cover Picture:
UWI Marketing and Communications. Accessed December 31, 2016. http://sta.uwi.edu/employeenewsletter/files/assets/common/downloads/publication.pdf

Further Readings:

UWI Marketing and Communications. 2015. UWI Staff Employee Newsletter, July 2015. Accessed December 31, 2016. http://sta.uwi.edu/employeenewsletter/files/assets/common/downloads/publication.pdf

 

Neisha Not Wotless

Neisha Wattley is a market vendor, who sells foods and vegetables with her husband, Chris Rambhal. Before Christmas this year, she lived in a windowless shack near a riverbank that neither had running pipe water nor electricity. In 2014, Wattley was in the eye of the media, on a matter of the home but something entirely different to her situation two years later, something more tragic. Neisha Wattley ran for almost half of a mile to the nearest police station with a dying baby in her arms. Her six month old died of positional asphyxia, choking as she breastfed her new born in bed. The ambulance arrived thirty minutes after she reached the police station. This is also part of life in Trinidad and Tobago, a real challenge of parenting children and the distance between our citizens and social services – even when you physically get up and run toward them. The then Minister in the Ministry of People and Social Development, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin promised government assistance with the provision of land or housing accommodation. This puts into context why proximity is a priority for Neisha Wattley and her children.

Fast-forward. On Christmas Eve 2016, the Wattley-Rambhal family was the recipient of an HDC house. The ceremony included the key allocation with the presence of Minister Randall Mitchell and staff of the state corporation. The media recorded a visibly excited Neisha Wattley, in the company of her children dancing and singing on receipt of her new key to home ownership. Within two days, the media returned and featured a “twist” to Wattley’s story. Wattley expressed that she was not comfortable with her new living arrangement and that she was prepared to return to her “shack” if that meant that she could better access more affordable transportation for her children’s attendance at their respective schools. It is very easy to say that Wattley was “ungrateful” and somehow “undeserving” in all this if a command of Standard English, respectability and silence (no complaints) by the poor are the qualification criteria for a home. There is something much deeper as to why so many people are upset. Neisha Wattley was the perfect welfare and ‘political beggar’ for us to justify our stereotypes of the poor and working class who, especially in this recession, deserve to suffer more.

What I have learnt from the social media chit chat is that it is grossly disrespectful and unacceptable when someone in poverty expresses the following:

#1: “I am begging for a home for my kids, a good home.”
#2: “The hardest thing for me now is preparing for school for my kids. I have no one, no vehicle. [I am] not saying that I want the government to give me a vehicle. No, I don’t want that. I need a location where I will be capable to move about with my kids in Chaguanas where their school [is] located.”

#3: “Vanity on the earth don’t bother me. It don’t hurt me. Money don’t worry me. Having a big house is just it, when I die, this staying right here.”

#4: “Back to scratch. The government never make me and they will not break me…so I am not asking the government to prepare anything for me.”

God forbid anyone who is a rational consumer of a public good making a critique! Neisha Wattley made a complaint and I have offered you transcribed quotes from the interview. At no time she was “ungrateful.” But the outrage to her statement reminds me that a significant section of our population believes: The poor are supposed to be grateful. Complaints or alternative views are the preserve of the wealthy.

Our family once assisted another family based in “Bangladesh”, St. Joseph and the family received notice that they were allocated a home in Rio Claro. The young ages of the children and their settlement in the area where their parents worked made a transition to the new location very difficult. The family deferred accepting the home, preferring to wait longer (indefinitely) for a closer home in East Trinidad. Social services should not be top-down services; citizens are public consumers who have the right to help shape the design of the services being offered to them.

Word for word, Neisha Wattley was very reasonable in her complaint. Many persons just did not believe she had the right to make one. She spoke “improperly”, she was dark skinned, and her economic position was no secret. Her unkempt hair and ‘raw talk’ with child in hand made her the perfect stereotype of a messy poor person burdening the State and making it difficult for everyone. Here, gender intersected with racial and class stereotypes. The public outrage does not come from a vacuum too…as the middle class falls into the widening group of the unemployed and a precarious social existence; the ‘undeserving poor’ become targets of their class too.

For 2017, we need to keep a close eye on the economy, the things politicians say and the engines of discourse we give them to set the legislative and fiscal agenda of our nation. With an economy shrinking at 4.5%, the cuts in social spending create an environment for the spread of a narrative of irresponsible poor people on ‘costly’ social programmes that could no longer be afforded. This creates a political context for politicians “who serious” and “will tell yuh like it is” to lead an economic agenda of classist austerity. The poor, especially black and Indo single parent mothers are the easiest scapegoats.

Of course wastage and corruption need to be cut out, no one disagrees, but it has to take a sharper cut out of the political entrepreneurship and patronage that create the problem in the first place. It also calls for our public and youth on social media to think reasonably about public policy and the role of the state in our social development. The contradiction of welfare and social programmes is that they can be both a source of social safety but also a form of social control. When it comes to public housing, many do not perceive the process of distribution as a fair one. “We need social programs that are universally and automatically disbursed…that don’t impose humiliation as a condition of receipt,” Robbie Nelson put forward. I would also add, that we need social programmes that do not impose a complicit ‘humility’ and silence on the ‘beneficiary’.

When the private sector and corporate Trinidad and Tobago gets cash from the state for ‘infrastructural development’, it is referred to as a stimulus to the economy. When the working class and every day people who try to make living get cash from the state, it is referred to as ‘welfare’ and we think of them as lazy people who are a drag on our economy. We need to switch up the thinking for the New Year yo. The only means test I am in support of is one for Facebook, something to filter out classist, sexist and racist contributors whose content appears on my newsfeed. The headline of the Daily Express, December 30, 2016, reads “MAN OF THE HOUSE: Husband chastises wife for complaining about location of HDC Unit.” I can’t….I can’t even….

If we have a problem with a woman who does not look the way we desire someone to appear, speak standard English that we worship, and stay satisfied and shut up with de good ting government gi she because ‘yuh must learn to be grateful,’ we should say so. Then, the problem is not with Neisha Wattley, the problem is with us.

Happy New Year to you too : )

Blog Reference:
Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “Neisha Not Wotless.” Blog, Accessed [Insert Date]. http://amilcarsanatan.com/neisha-not-wotless/

Cover Picture:

Accessed December 30, 2016. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92675704804410790/

 

Further Readings:
Nelson, Robbie. 2016. “Engines of Solidarity.” Jacobin Magazine. Online. Accessed December 30, 2016. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/donald-trump-democratic-party-welfare-state/

Wilson, Sacha. 2014. “Aid for Mother of Asphyxiated child.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian (Online). Accessed December 30, 2016. http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-06-22/aid-mother-asphyxiated-child

Kissoon, Carolyn and Leah Sorias. 2016. “Forget my wife, we’re keeping the house….husband disappointed in relocation talk, Minister Randall intervenes.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian (Online). Accessed December 30, 2016. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20161229/news/forget-my-wife-were-keeping-the-house

What #LifeInPants #LifeInBoxers #EggplantEntries Don’t Get

Dear Caribbean Men,
Maybe #AllProtectiveCoveringForLegsMatter but in the Caribbean and throughout the world, women’s lives do not matter in a patriarchy.

On Monday, a policewoman was raped and almost killed by a taxi driver (http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20161129/news/taxi-driver-arrested-in-rape-of-cop). The President-elect of the United States of America, Donald Trump gives advice to other men on women to “grab them by the pussy.” This was one of the hundreds of #LifeInLeggings posts on my newsfeed:

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-11-16-45-pm

#LifeInLeggings is not about wearing leggings in the same way #JeSuisCharlie was not about being a native French speaker or having the name ‘Charlie.’ Men adding their own sexist agenda to women making themselves vulnerable in public and inspiring confidence among other women/sistrin completely misses the point.

How people jumping out with dey leggings all of a sudden?

#LifeInLeggings was started by Barbadian women Ronelle King and Allyson Benn to highlight the seriousness and pervasiveness of sexual violence against women and empower them through the breaking of silences around the issue. In a matter of days, other legs of the Caribbean have picked up the hash tag. Most tellingly, the stories shared show that women in high and low places, uptown and downtown, in public transportation and in the privacy of their homes have been victims of sexual violence by ‘ordinary’ men in public, religious leaders, staff in the workplace and family.

So now everybody have something to say?

These hash tags show how hard it is to confront human emotion and reality in our digital space. What happens when a good friend of yours posts a status about burglars breaking into her home, attempting to rape her and when she fights them off, one pins her head to the floor and masturbates in her hair? How do we respond on Facebook to the story of the young woman who explained that she was bisexual to a partner and he interpreted this as a ‘loose’ sexual person whose body was therefore available for unwanted sexual advances from him and other men? What ‘comment’ can you give to lift the pain of a post that describes rape of a girl in primary school in a religious community by a religious official? ‘Liking’ appears insensitive. ‘Sad’ comes off as superficial. And ‘Share’ often requires consent. Some men choose to blame women for their confessions and choose not to come to terms with the fact that it is their male allies/friends/buddies and gender who have concealed their secrets for all these years – those who do their wrong and evil in the darkness and broad day light and should be held accountable.

Why saying something matters?

Before you take ten seconds of your social media life to pass judgment on someone’s life experience, keep in mind that it may have taken that person years of hurt, struggle and courage to finally share a an experience of violence for personal release and even a broader political call. Shame, victim blaming, fear of being attacked or not believed (that brings about self-doubt) are some of the reasons women have been silent on these matters. Long dragged out processes in courtrooms and public insensitivity mixed with male-assholeism have the power to silence women. Think revenge pornography cases. Think West Indies Cricket…

We blame women for being victims of violence…it sad that we are also in the business of blaming them for their silence. While many women have been speaking up in the past couple of days and building solidarity across their social networks, as men we need to listen and learn, even if we can’t ‘like’ de status or write one of our own. As men, we should understand how breaking silences make us talk about the “not discussed” issue of rape against men, and men who sexually violate children. As men, listening to women, we would not leave the management of the Rape Crisis Society to the women’s movement but see it as a priority for men to help and save other men from being rapists and delivering justice to their victims. Audre Lorde once said, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Take een Audre…she have vibes.

Why they bringing up they past?

William Faulkner wrote, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” We all have a past. You cannot blame women for telling you about a past you wish to forget or ignore. Denying them their right to give herstory/personal history is another form of male control. Ease up bredrin.

So you can’t tell women nutting now?

You can. You can be polite. And it’s not illegal to say ‘good morning.’ But talking about “yuh box” and “how it look good” “whey yuh man” “what make that bottom big so” and the attack of car and truck horns as women wait on pavements are not exactly ‘just words’ of a compliment. More seriously, it is important for us to understand that sexual harassment is one of the key sites of rape culture. In fact, it is central to it. Sexual harassment has to do with men demanding women’s attention for their desire on their terms. The excessive behavior is easily transformed to male aggression when women ignore men; men often publicly shame, scold and even violently attack women who do not respond to them in the way they want.

All men do not go about their day like this. But many men do. Our ‘good guy complicity’ does not help make the situation any better. Other men also threaten men when they accompany women in public. Male competition and violence are tied to the accumulation of masculine capital and the construction of masculinity. The first step to understanding rape culture is that it is not just about the incidence or prevalence of rape, it is about creating environments of risk for women. “Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” (Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS) in Southern Connecticut State University Sexual Misconduct).


Is violence against women really that serious?

Ending violence against women is critical for the development dream of having safe communities in the Caribbean. Gender equality is a priority area for development as much as access to education, healthcare and clean beaches. Violence against women is attack on the human rights of women. Ya dig?

See Link: UNDP: Caribbean Human Development Report 2016

http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-latin-america-and-carribbean-2016

#LifeInLeggings…Why some men don’t get it?

Part of it has to do with male privilege in which men take for granted their comforts and benefits of being a man in society. In addition, privilege does not take into account the experiences of others that complicate and add complexity to one’s understanding of reality. Part of it has to do with misogyny, contempt for women. Some men hate the idea that women are calling out other men in their lives for abusing them. Part of it has to do with a male backlash happening globally. Attacking women and feminists for economic and social inequalities that men suffer is increasingly popular. I think a lot of it has to do with male-assholeism but I don’t have the empirical data to back up why it is that some men would ignore the fact that hundreds of women in their 20s and 30s are writing experiences of sexual violence and abuse and see it as an individual problem and not a systemic issue. There is a truth in the trend.

But most of it has to do with some men who just can’t live with the idea that women now have their own hash tag to call out their pain, their political enemies and their ways of healing…and men have to sit by, watch and learn. Some men can’t live with that.

I here to sit it through and reason…wheyeva you at in yuh consciousness and reasoning. It ha some men we need to challenge, lift up and save.

Bless!

PS.

There is hope.

On International Men’s Day, Canada Hall, the all-male hall of residence at the UWI, St. Augustine Campus produced this statement:

Canada Hall Speaks Out Against Rape Culture for International Men’s Day

 

“The residents of Canada Hall stand firmly against rape culture. As young men in an all-male hall, we have decided to be more proactive in our efforts to end rape culture. We urge young men to think through consent so that the dignity of women and men can be respected at all times. As a hall, we will continue to teach self-control and mobilise men to end rape culture because it is an issue that harms people in our society. We lend our full support to all efforts to eliminate rape culture.”

– Villon Stanley, Canada Hall Chairperson

Blog Reference:
Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “What #LifeInPants #LifeInBoxers #EggplantEntries Don’t Get.” Blog, Accessed [Insert Date Accessed].  http://amilcarsanatan.com/lifeinpants-lifeinboxers-eggplantentries-dont-get/

 

Further Readings:
CODE Red for gender justice! 2016. “#lifeinleggings Call For Feminist Solidarity.“ Blog, Accessed December 2, 2016. https://redforgender.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/lifeinleggings-call-for-feminist-solidarity/

Hosein, Gabrielle. 2016. “Red Card Rape Culture. Post 226.” Blog. Accessed December 2, 2016. https://grrlscene.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/diary-of-a-mothering-worker-november-24-2016/