An activist walks out of a meeting…

A longstanding feminist activist in Barbados walked out of a panel discussion in protest of what she felt were misogynist comments from one of the speakers.

Said speaker is the recipient of the Gold Crown of Merit and has been on a near 15-year tirade of misogyny masquerading as support for men’s interests. His usual line is that women who are murdered by their intimate partners have provoked such violence against them by failing to act appropriately after men have “invested” in the relationship.

The Nation reported his comments as being about how “some men reacted badly when they felt mistreated by women after “investing” in relationships”. Murder. A bad reaction.

Boyce said also that some men felt intimidated by their partners and that some women held more power in relationships than they let on, to the point where it seemed like “witchcraft”.

The activist (and private citizen) who walked out was not the only one who felt the comments were objectionable:

I was there. I witnessed it all. The entire mood in the room was completely unsupportive of the sexist rhetoric and people took the mic to object one by one. Men, one particularly passionate and vocal one, rose to publicly disassociate himself from from the comments that were made, saying that he felt moved to do so on behalf of all the men in Barbados who do not support such.

Enter the reporting. This was not captured in the article. None of this was portrayed or shared with the public. The event was painted as an unreasonable hysterical woman walking out of a reasonable presentation. The public was led to see the event in those terms. But those of us that were there knew better and demanded better in that space. (source: comment from event attendee).

The media reported her walk out in a manner which suggested that she was partisan, unreasonable and immature for doing so.  Local media have been consistent in their attacks against the National Organisation of Women (NOW) and in their ridiculous editorial assertions that NOW should work with the consistently sexist Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA).  For the record, at a minimum MESA must respect the humanity of women if they expect women’s organisations to view them as partners for gender equality.

But the story does not end there.  The Minister responsible for the Bureau of Gender Affairs, speaking from the floor of parliament is quoted in Nation News as saying:

Though you are an advocate, and publicly display a bias for one gender over the other, at the end of the day the bureau for which you work has to be as impartial and as even-handed as possible.”

“If this is not perceived or acted out in reality, the credibility of the agency is seriously compromised and its interventions can be questionable.” 

Many interpreted the Minister’s words to be tantamount to a threat and Margaret Gill published a letter to the editor stating such:

I read with dismay the words from the Minister responsible for Gender Affairs which threatens Bureau of Gender Affairs staff. His warning of “a word to the wise is enough” is directed from the floor of parliament at Bureau staff who take their personal activism on behalf of women seriously enough to recall that they are not only staff of anywhere but are private citizens first and foremost. […]

When Bureau of Gender Affairs staff defend women by laying their lives and jobs on the line, they defend me. As a female Barbadian and voting citizen, I do not want to hear them threatened from the floor of Parliament. This is the foolishness to which length MESA and Ralph Boyce has brought this country. I strongly protest it and ask for an apology from the Minister responsible for Gender Affairs on behalf of his staff.

What makes the Chairman of MESA’s comments, the media reporting and the subsequent “word to the wise” even more crass is that at this same time a 23-year-old woman who was missing was found mutilated, sexually assaulted and murdered.  Her ex-boyfriend is charged with the murder.  Last year all the persons killed in Barbados by former or present intimate partners were women.

Women are losing their lives. And we are discussing whether or not a woman has the right to walk out of a meeting.  Women are losing their lives.  And activists are being told that they should work with groups whose public statements suggest they see women as less human than they are. Women are losing their lives. And we are being offered justifications for the violence against them. Women are losing their lives. And Bureau of Gender Affairs staff are being publicly “warned” for refusing to support sexist rhetoric.

I know for a fact that the Bureau of Gender Affairs is concerned about the issues affecting both women and men.  In particular, issues of men’s health, men’s educational participation, and the disability and rehabilitation of young men who have been victims of violence are on their agenda.  Incidentally, it was a woman who brought to the table the data and information to insist that these questions of health, disability and recovery after physical violence were issues facing young men and in need of the attention of the state.  Activists and professionals working toward gender equality are concerned about both women’s and men’s lives.

The Bureau of Gender Affairs has a mandate for ensuring gender equality.  It is precisely because of that mandate that Bureau staff should publicly distance themselves from statements that are sexist, deliberately inflammatory  and unsubstantiated. There are no sides. It is reductionist and dishonest to suggest that if not for MESA, men’s issues would go unaddressed.

At this point I have no expectation that my views won’t be misconstrued and rejected as one-sided. Public discussion on gender relations in Barbados has degenerated to such levels that you are judged not by your ideas and actions but by stereotypes. But the truth is there are no sides.  Some of the most well-developed critiques of how gender norms are harmful to men have come from feminists. Telling men that there are conditions under which it is justified to kill women is in no one’s interest. It certainly does not represent the interests of men, many of whom reject violence in all its forms. There are no sides. Barbadian women and men are concerned about the future of their country especially in these trying economic times and about the leadership that will take us forward, we are concerned when our rights as private citizens are threatened by those in positions of power, we are concerned when young men lose their lives to violence and women are beaten and killed by their partners.  There are no sides.

This article is also published in The Bajan Reporter and  in Stabroek News’ In the Diaspora column under the headline, “We will not take this sitting down”.

EDITED TO ADD: You can watch the Minister’s speech here.  It is the 10th video and he begins to address gender relations at around the 27-minute mark by chastising both NOW and MESA for engaging in “public spats”. He then says, “I also want to sound a warning to our officers in the Bureau of Gender Affairs.”

12 thoughts on “An activist walks out of a meeting…

  1. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    I recently participated in a panel discussion on gender-based violence for International Women’s Day. This is a real cry from the heart from women AND men on our neighboring island of Barbados. We need to confront these issues, and to understand the forces that are at work as the Caribbean continues to battle with violent crime. We also need to seriously consider the role of the media (as in this particular instance).

    Like

  2. Gede Prama says:

    Thank you for sharing post, And …..all so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a beautiful weekend. Much love. :)

    Like

  3. If the article appeared biased, I apologise. I assure you I did not write it to appear so although it was edited. I brought the two sides and allowed people to judge which is what we do. Also, to be honest, I was on the way out of the meeting when the lady left (she’s not named here so I won’t either) and turned back when I heard her speak. Then I left so I did not hear the other responses. Perhaps I should have. At any rate, this isn’t about me, just wanted to shed a little light. Here is info on the article for the interested:

    http://www.nationnews.com/articles/view/womens-activist-walks-out/

    Sunday March 9 page 4A

    Like

  4. The comments below are reproduced verbatim from facebook with the permission of the author who felt that this article misrepresented MESA:

    “This is s misrepresentation of what the gentleman said. We like to shoot tje messenger when we don’t like the messsge but that does not change the message.

    I listened to a recording of what the gentleman speaking and what I heard the gentleman say that some men react the way because ss gsr as they are concerned yhey have invested in the woman. Now this is actually how some men think. He went on to say that no man should kill any woman or woman kill any man and that men who think this way are misguided. Now what I find amazing is that he has been accused of supporting the men in their actions.

    If I say that men in Barbados see giving money etc to women as an investment in the woman and that is why some of them kill when she wants to leave because of that am I condoning their action?

    what is said here is not condoning. Where I think mr Boyce and mesa needs to do is to get men to realize that they are being abused and to leave the relationship before they are pushed to the point as described here. The emotional abuse of men is as real as the abuse of women. What happens is that we men like some women see it as caring and its kinđa cute at the beginning. I have been a victim of such abuse and at the time it wasnt seen as abuse but it got worse untill I myself got physical. Something that I have lived to regret. Whether persons want to admit provocation is real what the person who is bekng peovoked needa to do is run like hell and don’t go back. I thank God that I got out before it reacedbthe point of murder. Trust me it could easily have gone there.

    The solution I to recognize the abuse early, and to educate both men and women as to what is abuse. This will allow the perpetrator to get help if he or she so desires. I believe that is key to reducing abuse. We both men and women have some attitudes ro each other that are wrong and are a result of poor upbringing and poor socialization

    I really would like to share my story as I think it will go some way to help in preventing some of the violence”

    Like

  5. Ngozi says:

    I am a domestic abuse (violence is just one part of abuse) advisor (UK).

    I find that walking out of this kind of meeting solves nothing. It would have been better if she had stayed and either voiced her opinion, educated the panel, had a quiet word after or written a response.

    Domestic abuse is a global problem about one of the most complex and misunderstood issues. Stay in the conference and fight domestic abuse.

    Like

    • The issues are larger than if it is more strategic to stay or walk out. Though I would argue that in the face of hatred and bad faith walking out is the best strategy. There are other fora for public engagement. The issues are even larger than the reporting. There is the question of women human rights defenders facing “warnings” and intimidation.

      Like

  6. Very interesting how gender-based ideas about women being “emotional”, “over-reacting” and “sensitive” seem to have coloured the news report of this public citizen’s walk-out. If we cannot even look objectively at how news is being reported and ascertain if it is reinforcing problematic notions about women then we can’t even start the deep conversations needed to make people like Boyce fade into obscurity.

    Like

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I am beyond words to express how disheartening it is to hear that an organisation such as MESA would condone such rhetoric.

    How can they think this is in the interest of society and it’s development towards gender equality? What example do they see this as setting? (Especially to younger boys and men who are shaping their ideas about masculinity and also older ones who have found themselves re-evaluating the ideas they’ve been grounded in).

    It seems as though the leader of the organisation is making irrational generalisations about why women experience violence in relationships.

    And what does he mean by some women have “more power” is the empowerment of women something to be policed and ridiculed, weighed in on and scrutinised?

    I support the walk out! A bold statement, one that nonetheless shows that there is need to highlight spaces that are not supportive of the true essence of gender equality and equity.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s