Top 10 sexist and heterosexist moments in Caribbean Politics

Contribute to the final list of top 10 sexist & heterosexist moments in Caribbean politics by leaving your suggestions in the comments below.  Here are what i’ve been able to come up with in no particular order. Thanks to all who sent suggestions via facebook and twitter.

1. Trinidad & Tobago: Minister of People and Social Development claims “severe fatigue” after a flight attendant alleges that he touched her breasts when he grabbed her name-tag and threatened to have her fired because she asked him to stow his luggage correctly.  The Prime Minister then fired him.  Before the dust could settle on this one, police were investigating reports that the Minister of tourism had physically assaulted his former partner, causing her to lose consciousness.

2. Barbados: Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development “issued a warning” the staff of the Bureau of Gender Affairs after media reports that a staff member had walked out of a panel discussion on intimate partner violence in which one of the panelists claimed that men in relationships had “invested” in women and that women provoked men to violence and murder.

3. The Bahamas: MP Leslie Miller was reported as using the following analogy in parliament:

“That’s like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home. You just beating her for looking at her.  I love ya. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her she used to tell me I don’t love her no more cause I don’t hit her.”

His colleagues laughed as he insisted that he was serious and that he used to beat his girlfriend until his hand hurt. It is reported that he issued a fauxpology a week after his comments (and only after outrage grew on social media), lashed out at the Nassau Guardian and threatened to fire MP Loretta Butler-Turner who rightly condemned his comments. In a demonstration of boundless and clueless sexism, it is reported that the Tourism Minister suggested that Butler-Turner should apologise to Miller for criticising him!

Please sign and share this petition which calls for the government to apologise for not responding to calls to denounce the “joke” and to inform the public of the pervasive and harmful effects of domestic violence in The Bahamas.

4. The Bahamas: Former/failed political candidate Rodney Moncur denounces the use of the contraceptive pill. It was reported in the Bahamas press that he referred to women who use the pill as “murderers” who should be hanged.

5. Belize: The only woman elected to parliament, MP Delores Balderamos Garcia, took to the floor of parliament to complain about the public conduct of the mace-bearer: Mr. Speaker, I am extremely concerned. I believe that the Sergeant of Arms that we have now, not only has he been found guilty of harm to a woman back in 2006 and charged $150 but I have personally seen the conduct of him being inebriated in these precincts, of him draining the bottle of Belikin outside of this House and of his behavior and of his conduct out in public, urinating in public and now we have a situation.”  Minister Micheal Finnegan interrupted Balderamos, shouting,

Is the lady finished? You are crude, you are a crude woman!

He is reported as saying that Balderamos Garcia should prove her allegation by telling the House of the size of the mace-bearer’s penis.  It is reported that Finnegan demonstrated the size of the man’s penis by holding up his two fingers in a gesture. Members of his party are reported to have broken out in laughter. It is reported that, “Television cameras showed them grinning and laughing, including the Prime Minister and his Deputy in the front row.” Balderamos Garcia raised the issue of violence against women, a ridiculously low fine in the face of such violence, public drunkenness and the conduct of the Sargeant of Arms.  Her colleagues responded with sexist and sexualizing comments as well as laughter.

6. Jamaica: Taitu Heron has documented the negative media representations of PM Portia Simpson Miller which draw on tropes of race, colour, class and gender to suggest that the PM is unfit for leadership.  The cartoon below typifies this sexist and classist representation. This Gleaner guest column reinforces the sexist notion that women, by virtue of being women, have no place in leadership.

Image

 

7. St. Vincent and the Grenadines: SVG is among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of reported rape in the world.  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Girlyn Miguel is quoted as urging women to “dress better” and not tempt men in order to avoid assault. Insisting that she was “speaking as a woman,” she is reported as saying,

“I want to ask our young women, in particular to dress themselves properly. I know that sometimes, their mode of dress is not good at all and it is important that they dress themselves and do not give temptation to our men. […] How many of us know the two big uses of the breasts of a woman. One is to suckle the young and the next one is to comfort her husband.”

Her sexism, heterosexism, sketchy biology, victim-blaming and suggestion that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure were unsurprisingly met with laughter from the parliament.

8. Barbados: Following the CLICO scandal, June Fowler had been publicly advocating on behalf of policy-holders. For reasons that remain unclear, this private citizen was singled out for insult by the Minister of Finance while he was on the campaign trail.  At the 33-second mark you can hear him say,

“I used to have… when we were small we used to have a cat hanging around my house. We used to call the cat Poochie, a very ignorant little cat. When you hear Miss Fowler speaking she reminds me of Poochie. She is as ignorant as a bald-pooch cat.  I say so tonight!”

9. Belize: A newspaper published, on its front page no less, a photograph of the President of the People’s United Party Women’s Group, on the floor wearing shorts, a cap covering her eyes,  legs apart and holding a bottle between them. The image is captioned “PUP role model” but the story is all about her brother having plead guilty to beating his common-law wife. The photo is meant to shame her for failing to dress, act and behave like a “lady”. The Women’s Issues Network considered the publication of the photo to be degrading to women and asked why this photo was selected to accompany a story about a man who plead guilty to domestic violence.  By conflating (and shaming her for) transgression of respectability with her’s brothers physical violence against his partner, the newspaper ultimately fails to condemn violence against women, revealing it’s greater interest in a sexualised and gendered shaming of women.  This article does a good job of putting the publication of the photo in context.

10. Jamaica: An oldie but still deserves a mention for its homophobia and heterosexism: PM Bruce Golding on the BBC’s Hard Talk stating that, “Sure they can be in the cabinet but not mine,” in reference to questioning about discrimination based on sexual orientation in Jamaica.

Leave a comment! Tells us what we’ve missed! What countries have we left out? Share your stories and links. Do you disagree that these events are sexist and heterosexist? Tell us what you think!

EDITED TO ADD Reader submissions: 

11. Jamaica Minister of Education who rejected the CARICOM-approved Health and Family Life Education syllabus, in effect rejecting comprehensive sexuality education in schools, is quoted as saying, “Let it be clear, we will not be grooming children towards same-sex unions, and we will not be distributing condoms in schools.” The term grooming is used to describe a set of actions used by pedophiles in order to facilitate the rape and sexual exploitation of a child.  Here, the Minister conflates homosexuality with pedophilia and leaves Jamaican school children open to the harms that come with lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services and condoms.

12. Bahamas: FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner slapped MP Andre Rollins:

“He tried to act like he was being all nice. He put his arm around me and I asked him to remove his arm. He started to whisper all kinds of nasty things so I told him to remove his arm again. When he didn’t I slapped him.  He is a provocateur. He tried to tell people after I slapped him that he was only trying to be nice. But he is a nasty man, ” Butler-Turner is reported as saying.

Rollins had this to say:

“I told her it was in poor taste and she needed to seek help. In fact I told her she needed to seek a psychiatric evaluation. I put my arm around her and I said ‘you really need help,’ and she slapped me.  She acted in a fashion which was consistent with her belligerent nature. I had my arm around her, so I don’t know if she took offence at that.  I am certain she regrets it. From my position, I hope all men would handle this the way I did, by walking away. I do not believe men should be violent towards women. I did not say anything nasty to her. The perception is I may have said something about her person, but at no time did I do that. I said ‘you really need a psychiatric evaluation.’ It was totally uncalled for.”

The Bahamas Press then ran a story with the headline, “‘Big Sexy’ Butler-Turner Pimp Slaps Fort Charlotte MP Andre Rollins in Parliament – Dr. Rollins says Loretta needs ‘a psychiatric evaluation’!”

The issue of the lives (and deaths) of children in state care was overshadowed by the actions of these elected representatives and the media coverage which followed.

13. Jamaica: West Portland JLP candidate Daryl Vaz said during a mass rally that the JLP is fielding “13 ‘boonoonoonus’ pretty woman” in the election”.  The 51% Coalition said the JLP platform statements demean and undermine Jamaican women:

This we find to be demeaning to female candidates, and to all Jamaican women. We insist that women participating in the political process are not to be seen as competitors in a contest about beauty and sexuality, but as persons seeking to be involved in serious nation building

The 51% Coalition is an organisation aimed at increasing women’s political representation and participation in decision-making.

14. Trinidad & Tobago: A domestic worker alleges that she engaged in multiple sex acts with fired Minister of People and Social Development in exchange for housing for her and her disabled uncle.

 

25 thoughts on “Top 10 sexist and heterosexist moments in Caribbean Politics

  1. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    I sometimes wonder if we are going backwards in terms of minority rights and gender equality in the Caribbean. Or rather, in terms of attitudes. This blog post, giving examples of the most appalling behavior by some of our leaders, who should be setting an example, sent me reeling. Take a deep breath before reading…

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  2. Lisa M Shoman says:

    I am ashamed that Belize made the list twice, but both incidents are true. First, Balderamos Garcia is the only elected female Member of Parliament. Secondly, the Minister kept insisting that she should apologize to the mace bearer whom she was complaining of, and the Speaker, who is male, upbraided her, but not the Minister. Her fault? Not raising the matter privately with the Speaker.
    As to the issue with the UWG President, incredibly, the Women’s Department, which is a government office, closed its doors to a delegation of women including a PUP female Deputy Party Leader and a female Senator, who were delivering a letter of protest to the Director, demanding that she make a statement on the matter.

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Lisa. It is important that you reminded us that Belize has only ONE woman elected to parliament. In all the Caribbean countries who made the list women are less than 30% of elected officials, in some cases way less. Though as we have seen from the list, women themselves can also be sexist.

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    • Thank you so much for the links and for providing the context and the responses. It is important to highlight public responses to these inicidents as politicians do not speak for all of us. I will edit the post shortly to include the video. Thanks!

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  4. Lisa M Shoman says:

    I also include here, the statement made by the UWG on the photograph incident which was published, BTW, in the official party newspaper of the ruling political party. It is important to know that the women in Belize do not allow these things to go unanswered :
    “The Women of the People’s United Party, Deputy Party Leader Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, the United Women’s Group and the Women Candidates of the People’s Party condemn The/El Guardian newspaper for the publication of a photograph on the front page captioned “PUP Role Model”.
    We denounce the vile usage by The/El Guardian of an image that is intended to invade the privacy and degrade the dignity of a Belizean woman. Such a distasteful act is can be attributed only to raw political malice and venom.
    We call upon the National Women’s Commission, the Women in Politics Project, as well as the Council of Churches and NGOs who advocate on behalf of women; and those who advertise in The/El Guardian newspaper to denounce this contemptible act.
    Belizean women are celebrating and being celebrated this March, all over the Jewel during Women’s Month. The/El Guardian has chosen, in its March 20, 2011 edition, not to uplift Belizean women, but to slander and degrade one of our sisters. This cowardly act shames all who are associated with it, including the United Democratic Party. “

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  5. Courtney says:

    One that should be included is from the Bahamas when Loretta Butler Turner slapped Andre Rollins in parliament because he was harassing her when she continuously asked him to stop. She was the one who received flack compared to his disgusting behavior as if he is allowed to act that way because he is a man and she shouldn’t have stood up for herself.

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  6. Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing the videos and petition. I’ve edited the post to include one of the videos and I’ve also included a link to the petition. There is an opportunity here for us as Caribbean people, as a region, to hold our leaders accountable.

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  7. I commented on Twitter about my preference for a full list, not just a top 10 and I understand your logic in terms of getting ‘more attention’ with top 10s. I think it’s important for the list to be as long as it needs to be. Otherwise, some people will just see ‘the few’ and not understand the ‘very much’. Anecdotally, one hears of or sees so many egregious instances, so it’s salutory to show that it’s a deep-seated problem.

    I take a somewhat different view on cartoons and satirical images, which are generally not meant to be flattering. Jamaican political cartoons are particularly savage: see today’s Gleaner cartoon about Vybz Kartel http://jamaica-gleaner.com/cartoon/–the mark of the beast on his prison outfit! Look at how former MP Kern Spencer’s been treated since he was ‘acquitted’ of corruption charges http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/tools/cartoons/ed-cartoon-mar-30-2014.

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  8. Thanks, Grasshopper. I am seeking to crowdsource a full list. There are many more examples that need to be highlighted and many countries that we have not yet touched. I agree that political cartoons are not meant to be flattering but we should still examine just what representations they choose and how they satirize.

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  9. Colin Robinson says:

    Something that has eluded even Trinbagonian audiences (no one seems to recall when I recount this to them) were the speeches of defeated Prime Minister Patrick Manning at campaign rallies towards the end of a surprise 2010 election campaign it became clearer and clearer he would lose to a coalition led by the Untied National Congress under Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s leadership. Speaking of his refusal to debate his Prime Ministerial contender at one rally, he noted that when a sitting PM did so, it raised the contender’s stature, but added further that his mother told him one did not enter a spraying contest with a skunk. Later in the campaign, he explained that why Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was not fit for such high office was because she was a country coolie. But not in those words. He referred to her rural origins and noted she had not spent sufficient time in Port of Spain. He rarely dignified her with a name. She was usually my dear ladyfriend or something of the sort. I wish I’d saved the videos to reference, but they shouldn’t be hard to find. The rallies were broadcast on TV almost every night.

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