Spotlight on Paternity Testing During Child Month

In Barbados between April 1, 2010, and February 28 this year there were 737 cases of child abuse involving 1 061 children. Of that number 199 children suffered physical abuse, 151 sexual abuse, 612 neglect, 97 emotional abuse and two were abandoned.   Of course these figures do not reflect the countless other cases of child abuse that go unreported and the other institutionalized and normalized practices of child abuse that are not even considered such.

May is child month.  I learn today that the activities for Child Month include: the launch of a campaign against child abuse, a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children, in addition to a forum for the youth on the topic Teenage Pregnancy: Life Before, Life After.

Just who is setting the children’s rights agenda in Barbados? With 1000+ children reported to have been abused  and the countless other cases which go unreported, how is a “a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children” a legitimate child month activity? Just how do men’s rights and responsibilities with regards to paternity and paternity testing fall within the remit of an organisation set up to respond to the needs of children? Where are the children’s voices?

I’m not dismissing the relevance or usefulness of paternity testing.  Neither am I dismissing the premise of a men’s forum to discuss it.  Yes, men and women, mothers and fathers have a key in ensuring that children’s rights are not denied.  But their interests and agendas cannot be assumed to be the same.  I just think that child month should be about the issues which deny our children their right to a good life and also about the issues which our children define as important to them.

The UNICEF report on “Perceptions of, Attitudes to, and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean” revealed that:

a significant number of people consider that childhood ends at 13 years. This may help to explain why, in the focus group discussions, some men indicated that they considered girls to be legitimate sexual targets once girls have gone through puberty (this phrase was taken to mean that a girl had begun menstruating);

The bible says that when a woman goes through puberty she is ready, so if it happens at 11 she is ready (Male Focus Group Participant).

It also revealed that the majority of respondents agreed that ‘girls draw men’s sexual attention by the way they dress’.  While respondents may have been stating that they believe this to be a fact or that they in fact believed that girls actively seek men’s attention through their choice of dress, it is a belief that ultimately relieves men of their responsibility for their own behaviour and contributes to victim-blaming in cases of rape and sexual abuse.

Another key finding is that the majority of respondents said that if an adult in their family was sexually abusing a child within the family, they would always report it to the police.  However, when asked a related question, a significant number of people said they would try to sort out such a problem without informing the police.   Men were twice as likely as women respondents to state that they would sort it out without going to the police (34% of male respondents said this as compared to 17% of female respondents).

Clearly we have a long way to go towards recognising the right of all children to a good life. This includes moving away from viewing children as the property of their parents, a view that is very much prevalent in the Caribbean.  We also need to recognise that children’s rights must be addressed on their own terms. We cannot allow the children’s rights agenda to be hijacked by groups whose aims are often inimical to the rights of children.

We need children’s voices on the Children’s Rights agenda.  

What do you think?

Guyana Launches Men’s Affairs Bureau to Tackle Homosexuality, Address Domestic Violence

Guyana launched its Men’s Affairs Bureau last month.  To my knowledge, it is the only Caribbean country to have one.  If the trend by which Caribbean Women’s Bureau quickly became Gender Bureaux in the 1990s and 2000s is any indication, more Caribbean countries may be following the lead of Guyana.  Even in the absence of a men’s affairs bureau other Caribbean countries have used their Bureaux of Gender Affairs to address what they deemed to be important issues for men.  For example, “in Trinidad & Tobago on March 8 2001, a female minister and former Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs, announced that the state would establish an anti-horning unit to create jobs for men so that women would not have to horn them” (Barriteau 2003).

From the media reports of the launch, attended by no less than the President himself, it appears that the Men’s Affairs Bureau is intended to address at least the three following things:

1)      Domestic Violence

The establishment of this bureau was born of the recognition that in this whole effort to address violence against women, we were perhaps failing to address a necessary component, the men – who are in most cases, the abusers – thus making our efforts less than holistic.” (Minister of Human Services)

2)      Prevent Male Homosexuality

“We don’t want every young male child to start thinking that that is ok; I am not going to say the word. If we don’t want them to think that, then we need to start providing a community of men where they can get together and discuss male problems in a strong masculine environment. (President of Guyana)

3)      Restore Men to their rightful place

Caribbean sociology scholar Linden Lewis who has done work in the area of Men and Masculinities Studies outlined his concerns with the Men’s Affairs Bureau:

Quite apart from distancing themselves from such backward thinking, regrettably speakers at the launch of MAB seemed to embrace the idea of restoring a particular kind of gender order.  One speaker talked about honouring men and giving them their place in society.  These are not words of reassurance of gender collaboration.  Rather the expression of such an intent is more in sync with the notion of returning men to a place of dominance.  Furthermore, the remarks about some unspecified process that leads to effeminacy could only be regarded as ill informed and unhelpful.  These remarks are also at odds with the expressed idea of respecting people’s sexual orientation and not persecuting them for the same.

The anti-homosexual rhetoric goes hand in hand with the need for men to be restored to their rightful place.  It is the re-inscription of heteropatriarchy.  The need to address domestic violence also dovetails with this agenda which seeks to preserve male dominance but rid it of it pathological excesses.  What is expected to emerge is a gentler, kinder patriarchy.  But a patriarchy nonetheless.

There are many issues facing Caribbean men which need to be addressed.    However, it seems that Caribbean governments are unable to address men’s issues outside of a framework of re-inscribing male dominance.  For example, if the intention is to ensure men’s right to a good life why is men’s violence toward each other not on the agenda?  Is there anything else which claims more young Caribbean men’s lives?

The Men’s Affairs Bureau intends to foster small discussion groups of men across the country.  Is it wishful thinking to expect that these groups will move beyond the ill-informed anti-woman, anti-homosexual, misogynistic rhetoric of the launch ceremony and focus on how men can and do contribute towards a more equitable and just society?

At CODE RED we have been able to foster dialogue among and between Caribbean women and men who are committed to everyone’s right to a good life.  We hope that our state mechanisms for ensuring gender equality will arrive at some ability to do the same.

It is worth noting, however, that Women’s Affairs Bureaux in the Caribbean (perhaps with only the exception of Barbados) came out of the tireless hard work of women/feminist activists who insisted that the state respond to the needs of women.  These bureaux have traditionally been under-staffed, under-funded, its employees grossly over-worked and underpaid, “institutionalised to fail” and construed as “illegal”.   So while we hope that the MAB will prove to be a progressive institution we are not for a moment ignorant of the gender politics of its establishment!

Join CODE RED for gender justice on facebook or follow us on twitter.

Whose Caribbean?/What are we all hollering for?

Whose Caribbean?

As reported by the BBC:

“The United Nations General Assembly has voted to remove sexual orientation from a key resolution that calls on member countries to investigate extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions that are motivated by prejudice.”

Many Caribbean countries either voted against or abstained from the UN motion to eliminate sexual orientation from a list of protections which includes members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. Some US-based LGBT sites and blogs are arguing that “the Caribbean voted to kill gays”.

As the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission argued:

“This decision in the General Assembly flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence that people are routinely killed around the world because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and renders these killings invisible or unimportant.”

The resolution is shameful and the Caribbean’s stance is indeed cowardly, disappointing and homophobic. However, reports like the one at the link below from the Dallas Voice smack of privilege and imperialism. It represents the Caribbean as a tourist playground and threatens to boycott travel to the region.  I am reminded here of Jacqui Alexander’s essay “Imperial Desire/Sexual Utopias: White Gay Capital and Transnational Tourism” which demonstrates how both homosexual and state-endorsed heterosexual tourism have been exploitative, imperialist and renativizing.

The challenge really is to conceive of a politics which is larger than ourselves and larger than any single issue.  We have witnessed increasing LGBT activism in at least one Caribbean territory.  As Thomas Glave’s anthology insists this is Our Caribbean.  Many of the Caribbean’s marginalised and disenfranchised are loving and living in this region (regardless of the lack of political will of governments to address entrenched inequities).  There is never a single story. Especially when that story is an imperialist, nativizing one.

http://www.dallasvoice.com/votes-remove-protections-gays-lesbians-transgenders-protection-execution-1053744.html

Response to the above post by another CODE RED member:

What are we all hollering for?

Sounds like Butler’s recent critique of secularism… Imperialism and racism repackaged under the guise of a ‘progressive’ outlook. In applying Butler’s writing to an examination of the ‘progressive’ posture of the US gay rights lobby, I find it intriguing that their outlook once again positions Caribbean peoples as uncivilised, primitive, backward and in need of redemption.

This is problematic. I believe that debates on homosexuality decreasingly centre on questions of morality and increasingly take on questions of national superiority, sovereignty and progress. Within this narrow framing, the struggle for the rights of gays becomes the ‘burden’ of a privileged and enlightened few.

Many parallels can be drawn between the American gay rights lobby and the British anti-slavery movement. Some planters argued that the quest for the abolition of slavery challenged the right of colonies to self-determination. Similarly, some who oppose homosexuality in the Caribbean argue that it is an European and North-American perversion that has been imposed on Caribbean societies.

Perhaps, I’m wrong… I have noticed that many who wish to appear as progressive within the Caribbean offer a merely cosmetic support to the rights of gays and lesbians in the region.

So I ask:

Should we ever take it upon ourselves to fight ‘on behalf of others’?

How do struggles for improvements in of the quality of lives become questions of national sovereignty and progress?

In all of the racket, can we in the Caribbean even recognise the voices of those that we claim to be fighting for or against anymore?

Have we lost track of what impelled us to fight in the first place?

Or will we all ultimately lose our voices or become voiceless?

It is always problematic to be debate an issue on terms that have been taken as given. There is little room to manoeuvre for those on either side of the debate. The same old answers to the same tired questions will always resurface…

Many Caribbean feminists echo Alexander’s work in calling for the removal of barriers to the attainment of full citizenship.

However, I believe that their aims and intentions, though similar on the surface, diverge sharply from those of the American gay rights lobby.

Members of social movements in the Caribbean should be vigilant about the alliances that they form. They should also interrogate the terms upon which they are asked to articulate their visions for social change. After all, if we as members of these movements advance our projects under the banner of progressiveness, then do we not (to play on Wynter’s terms) become complicit in ‘niggering’ and ‘nativising’ our own as well?

As my Dad says: When you see a group of people standing up and hollering, don’t assume that they are all shouting for the same thing…

So what are we all hollering for?

M.N.V.B.



Guard Still on Duty and “I Can’t Find Me Brother at All”

I am fascinated by the forms of knowledge and the identities than make it possible to belong to and claim membership of communities. It is no surprise that I have not been able to avoid questions of citizenship within my research.

The form of citizenship that I am most interested in is “economic citizenship.” I believe that Caribbean economies are aspects of our social realities within which hierarchies of citizenship are painfully exposed. As I struggle to define the ways in which I will use the notion of “economic citizenship,” I find that my experiences simultaneously reinforce and call into question aspects of the work I have read.

Within the past two days, two incidents have convinced me that it is necessary to define this concept in ways that are in line with what I am seeing and experiencing.

There is no doubt that tremendous socioeconomic progress has been made in Barbados within the past few decades. I am disturbed that this progress has ironically made it possible to practice forms of sexism, racism and classism that are subtler, less overt and more difficult to identity. I find myself thinking that “isms” have become more entrenched in our societies and are becoming increasingly difficult to contest and root out. In the past two days, I have experienced two incidents. During each incident, I initially found myself doubting my perceptions. I have experienced classism and have seen it in operation. However, in the second incident, when I encountered the combination of classism and racism, I found myself unable to disentangle one form of discrimination from the other. Also, I initially wondered whether or not I was just being silly, paranoid or overly sensitive.

Last month, the Nation Newspaper ran an article “A Look Back at Belleville.” This article followed another article “Guard at the Top of the Gap” in which the writer did a “then and now” of Strathclyde. For those of you who are non-Barbadian, Strathclyde is an elite residential that, during the colonial era, according to the old time stories, was unsafe for blacks. In the newspaper article, it is observed that black women entered Strathclyde as domestics. I have heard stories of the disappearance of “trespassing” blacks from Strathclyde. Due to the fact that adults often tease children with stories of the bizarre and terrible, I find myself re-examining what I was told as I write this post. The article on Strathclyde ends with a statement that, “The elite Strathclyde has simply become a relatively quiet residential thoroughfare.”

However, I believe that the guard from Strathclyde has not disappeared. He pops up in different places in various forms. In the first incident that I describe he is a physical 21st. century guard. In the second, he has gone off duty and has been replaced by a guard that does not physically exist; his whereabouts can easily be denied. In this incident, the consequence of I and my friend’s “trespassing” is not death but is rather a calculated refusal to acknowledge that we exist. Our access to the benefits of a specific economic space is deliberately curtailed by the negation of our identities as paying citizens. We later become citizens in a portion of the Barbadian economy in which ideological whitening is not as blatant. The second incident gives new meaning to the slogan, “Tourism is our business, let’s play our part.”

Before I recount these incidents, I must note that it is not my intention to malign those involved. I lovingly caution you that if you are too invested in the status quo or are easily offended, that you should stop reading now.

I apologise for the abruptness of this post. I have two tight deadlines. Thanks for dropping by!

Incident 1

Yesterday, I needed to cash a cheque at Royal Bank of Canada. I got there around 2:40. The line was long and when the bank closed as 3:00 I was still in line. A Caucasian gentleman arrived after 3:00. The security officer unlocked the door and allowed him to enter the bank. I glanced at my watch to double check the time. I saw the eyes of other customers drifting back and forth between their wrists and the bank’s clock. I caught another customer’s eyes and we both shrugged. Less than three minutes later another gentleman arrived. The funny thing was that he was told, “Sorry, brother, de bank close.” I’ll leave you to guess about the colour of the officer’s skin and of his “brother.”

Incident 2

Earlier this afternoon, I had the pleasure of lunching with a friend whom I have not seen since last semester. We could not decide on a place to eat. To cut a long story short, we finally wound up at Bean and Bagel Café on the West Coast. When we arrived the restaurant was almost empty. I ordered a chicken wrap and a coffee with whipped cream. My friend ordered a tuna salad sandwich and orange juice. As we chatted the tables around us filled as tourists trickled in for lunch. We noticed that almost immediately after ordering the tourists were served with their drinks. Eventually, we counted three tables of people who arrived after us and had been served with both food and drinks. The blender pulsed on and off as frappachinos and other blended drinks were whisked to various tables. The waitresses bustled to and fro as they served everyone but us.

Over half an hour later, neither our drinks nor our food had arrived. My friend and I finally decided to take a hint; we quietly got up to leave and politely requested that our orders be cancelled. Like magic, my friend’s orange juice was placed on the table while we were still on our feet and before we could turn to leave. Out of courtesy, she went to the counter to pay for her drink. I accompanied her. While at the counter, I was told that my coffee was finally ready. Likewise, I, out of courtesy, decided to pay for mine.

While we were paying for our drinks, the lady who was operating the counter offered to check on our orders. She attempted to explain that they were complicated and would take a long time to finish. Her words rung hollow. Her refusal to meet our eyes and the falter in her voice erased any credibility that she might have had. The puzzling thing is that I have a grill at home; it takes me far less time than half an hour to grill wraps and sandwiches. I suppose that our wrap and sandwich would have been fancier than the others that were not only ordered after we arrived but were also served before we decided to take our cue and leave. We’ll never know… We thanked them, apologised for cancelling our orders and quickly left.

My friend and I eventually wound up around the corner at Super Centre where we cued for sandwiches with similarly hued people and were actually served in the order in which we arrived.

Links to Stories:
http://www.nationnews.com/articles/view/a-look-back-at-belleville/

http://www.nationnews.com/index.php/articles/view/guard-at-the-top-of-the-gap/

M.N.V.B

Letter to Nation News: Twice Beaten: Media Reporting As Violence Against Women

Violence against women continues to rank highly among the region’s social problems. This issue has again been brought to the fore in Barbados.  It was reported that “thirty-one-year-old Melissa Holder … suffered a miscarriage after being beaten by a man and that “she was too distraught and shocked to talk about the incident and the loss.”

Why did this opportunity for public engagement on the issue of violence against women become instead a public attack on the victim?

Over the past couple of days, we have seen Ms. Holder’s image being splashed across the news. Journalists and citizens alike have had a field day with this story in spite of the fact that she indicated that she did not wish to speak about what happened. The worst headline we have seen thus far is associated with the Nation News Publishers who described the account as “Foetus in Toilet.” This headline is crass, unimaginative and insensitive. Our grievance therefore is with the manner in which this story has been framed. It has taken several days to confirm the identity of the alleged perpetrator.  In the end when the assailant’s identity was revealed Ms. Holder’s photograph continued to be circulated with the story. To date, there has been no photograph of the assailant. The main issue of the violent, public and gendered nature of the assault has taken a backseat.  The story has become that of the “irresponsible mother” who casually threw away her child.

The fact is that Caribbean women are not regular features in the news. This has been revealed by a recent regional research project conducted by Jamaica Media Watch. When they do make the news, however, they are presented in familiar and problematic ways: the poor single mother being one of the favoured archetypes.

The entire framing of the story focuses more on the disposal of the foetus than on the public and brutal attack the woman has suffered.  The Nation story implied that there is some acceptable way in which a mother must behave after being beaten and suffering a miscarriage. The Nation reporter and its readers put Ms. Holder on trial for what they perceive as her transgression of appropriate maternal behaviour.   The readers of the Nation’s facebook page immediately echoed the sexist and classist framing of the story describing the woman as a criminal, a “parro” and a social delinquent and asking what kind of woman would throw away a foetus? The use of this woman’s image in the face of such exploitative and degrading reporting makes it all the more irresponsible and reprehensible.

Journalists and media houses must be more responsible in their reporting. Incidents such as these carry serious legal repercussions. Firstly, persons enjoy a right to privacy, our constitution is clear on this. In the common law jurisdictions such as Barbados image rights have been recognized by the courts. But more important than any legal implication based on the right to privacy, is the need to ensure that as the media fulfills its responsibility to the public, it does so in a way that does not reinforce social inequalities or exploit the vulnerable.

CODE RED letter to the editor submitted to the Nation (Barbados).