No Laughing Matter: Stories of rape and sexual assault in Caribbean media this week

Laughing at boys who are raped

The Jamaica Observer recently subjected readers to the most crass and reprehensible of cartoons which pokes fun at the rape of boys in institutionalized care. Yes, they invited readers to laugh at the fact that boys were being raped.  A UN study of nine Caribbean countries found that 32% of boys described their first sexual experience as forced or somewhat forced.  Men and boys in institutionalized settings such as prisons face high rates of sexual assault.  These violations are often met with laughter or are seen as adequate punishment for the transgressions that land men in prison.  Never mind that prisons are filled with young, poor men with little formal education.

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Even the Minister’s statements as reported by the Observer seemed to suggest that the boys were criminal and to blame for the fact that the residential programme was being closed. Terms such as criminal acts, sexual predation, non-responsive and financial burden painted the boys as the problem, as incorrigible, and the overall story was very unsympathetic toward them:

Among the reasons were rising cases of sexual predation by older boys against younger male wards, criminal acts being perpetrated by the wards, severely traumatised youngsters and the astronomical financial burden straddling the convent.

“The Sisters of Mercy cited the grave antisocial behaviour of children in the care system, the sexual predatory nature of the boys on one another, children who are witnesses of serious crimes or are victims of heinous acts, and who are non-responsive to traditional interventions for which their institutions have been equipped to provide,” Hanna said.

“The Sisters of Mercy have also indicated the incapability of human capital to respond to the many changing faces of the issues being manifested. The challenge is further compounded by the high cost of care for each child, as a result of the more extensive interventions required which is beyond the capacity of their resources, thus limiting the ability to meet basic operating demand,” she added.

The Minister who was quoted in the Observer story is also reported as defending herself against criticisms that “the boys had been damaged by unfortunate statements made.”  There was no report which I came across in which the government committed themselves to improving the lives of children in state care or to eliminating sexual assault in these settings. At the root of why the Observer found the rape of boys funny are notions of men’s sexuality as active, never passive or receptive and understandings of heterosexuality as normal and natural, hence the harmful misconception that (real) men and boys cannot be raped.

Read this young Belizean man’s story about surviving rape and incest by both male and female rapists.

Putting Professional Women in their place

Feminist Aliens is a brilliant project run by some amazing women from the Caribbean and Africa.  They recently posted the first person testimony of one of the founders who was sexually assaulted while on an internship:

I was 22, training to become a member of one of the oldest and most patriarchal professions. I had already completed four years and my career horizon loomed large after all I had only a few more months and requirements to complete. From Day One I was warned about the ‘professional climate’, maybe it was a code for ‘this is a man’s domain’, but it was during my required internship that I really fully understood the extent of this climate. My first encounter with “wuk fuh wuk” happened that summer.What basically was communicated as “don’t worry I will look out for her”, a subtle, gesture of “I understand” or “I was there too as a struggling student trying to make my mark”, turned into “you put out for me and I will take care of you”.

 

She then goes on to detail the heinous sexual assault and abuse of power by a very powerful man and subsequent sexual harassment at other places of employment. Not only was such behaviour criminal, it was common knowledge that these men were predators. Widespread acceptance of such behaviour meant that it was difficult for young women to be accepted as colleagues by their male peers:

I left that job and tried to branch out on my own but was constantly subjected to unwanted comments from senior male members of the profession. “I like red women so be careful.” or “You know them bow legs sexy in them heels.” and “Next time I see you girl… (shaking head in desire at least so it appeared)”. Instead of feeling like a colleague, I felt like a sideshow.

Much is made about the fact that of the minority of Caribbean people who are privileged enough to attend university women outnumber men.  As Tracy Robinson noted years ago very little mention is made of what women’s numerical dominance means in terms of the sexual assault and harassment they face just because they are women. As more women enter the professions we need to break the silence on the sexual assault and harassment that seem to come with the territory. Outing rapists, especially powerful rapists is not easy but it must be done.

Go read the entire article here.

Sexism, heterosexism and homophobia are scourges across the entire Caribbean.  The Dominica Bureau of Gender Affairs recently took to the streets to protest, noting that  “60.3% of 614 cases of domestic violence were sexual abuse. 72.3% of these domestic violence cases involved victims below the age of consent (0-15 years). Of that figure, 3.79 were males and 68.5 were females.”

In Trinidad and Tobago men and women have come forward to report sexual and physical assault by government Ministers.

Check out part one and part two of Healing Through Words, a series on surviving sexual assault.

Rape is no laughing matter.

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.

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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.

 

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.”

Barbados CEDAW Town Hall Meeting This Thursday!

Barbados CEDAW Town Hall Meeting This Thursday!

Barbados signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981. Do you know what CEDAW is? What rights can you defend under CEDAW? More importantly, do you know what your responsibilities for defense of your citizenship are and how to carry out those responsibilities? Come to Barbados’ third CEDAW Town Hall Meeting and discuss these and related issues: Thursday 6 March 2014 at the Steel Shed, Queen’s Park, Bridgetown at 7:30 p.m.

PHOTOS: CODE RED Women’s Circles

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The members of CODE RED for Gender Justice at the UWI Cave Hill Campus have been hosting weekly women’s circles (on and off campus) from October 2013. The circles provide a safe space for women [of all sexual orientations] to have heart to heart discussions on intimate topics such as relationships, love, and family, as well as current gender issues. The members also use tools, such as the peace line activity, to encourage introspection at the circles.

Women have shared tears, laughter, fears, secrets, and love at these circles. Guided by rules to ensure everyone feels respected and receives a chance to be heard, all members that attend enjoy the moments shared in the spaces. Members have used the following words to describe the circles: “Enlightening, empowering, safe, inclusive, comforting and important.”

If you are a woman attending UWI Cave Hill Campus or residing in Barbados and would feel comfortable sharing a space with women of all different sexual orientations, we encourage you to join our circles. Contact damarlieantoine [at] gmail [dot] com, or m.hutchinson1988 [at] @gmail [dot] com to be added to the mailing list. 

Below are some photos from our activities:Image

 

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