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.



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.


love note to the Caribbean

Guest post by Sherlina Nageer aka Lina Free

“When are you coming?” my family asks. “When are you coming?” my old friends ask. “Just now. Soon, soon! I’ll let you know.” I reply. I have yet to buy my ticket. I know that I’m a mere ghost to my nephews and niece, that my parents are getting older, that see you next time is not guaranteed, that there is still love and possibility there, that I’m abandoning career success and my cats, but I just can’t help it. You have a hold on me, Caribbean, a grip on my innards, a winch on my soul that keeps me anchored no matter how often or far I might stray. Don’t ask me to explain it; I can’t really. It’s not just the sunshine, the mangoes, the ocean. I have sat on the beach eating mangoes in other places, oui. It’s much more than that. There are days when I’m out and about, whizzing to or from someplace, and I feel myself just smiling, for no particular reason. I’ve looked at the moon more in these past four years than I did in the 20 I lived up North. It’s not just that my navel string and grandparents are buried on one particular spit of land; after all, just one generation back abandoned such trifles and crossed the Kali Pani. Indeed, emigration remains the primary story of my family, like so many in the Caribbean. They all think I’m mad for ‘coming back home’. I am more than slightly ‘touched’, oui, but I think they’re madder for remaining there. No, it’s not perfect here, not by a long shot. Not for my fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or questioning peeps, not for those slaving daily to put food on the table, and fighting the powers that be trying to downpress them. Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

The post was submitted as part of our Dear Caribbean Blog Carnival. Please check out all the amazing submissions.

#ICYMI This week’s RED Reads

Five things you MUST read this week:

We heed the lesson of Esu and forgive what we thought we saw the first time round.  All around me are black men so full of love and tenderness for their children that I’m often on the edge of weeping for joy when I see us on the street, give dap to us when we get together.  We can let statistics that want to tell one story ‘prove’ one thing to us, but we must watch what is actually happening and seek out stories on the ground; walk to the other side of the mountain to find out the real truth.

1. Trinidadian writer and father, Roger Bonair-Agard, pens the must-read piece on black fatherhood.

There is a difference though, between mere survival and a good life. It’s the difference between having bread in your belly but fear in your head. There are a lot of frightened people in Guyana. They can seem to be in the majority, drowning out all signs of hope. But as long as there are people standing on the street corner, in the rain, holding soggy placards, I know we have still some humanity left. And as long as we have that, we have a chance. Join us. Be the change you want to see.

2. Feminist organisation, Red Thread, along with other progressive movements and people in Guyana, took to the streets in the pouring rain to seek justice for 23-year-old Colwyn Harding. Colwyn alleges that he was raped by police officers and treatment of his extensive injuries was delayed. In this letter, Red Thread outlines what keeps them going amidst the apathy and fear.

I remember the gentle sing-song sound of her Hausa float off the tip of her tongue (a tongue I knew too well and for more than just its words).

3. The passage of Nigeria’s anti-gay marriage bill signals deepening homophobia across the continent as well as criminalisation, not just of same-sex relationships, but of LGBT organisations and persons working with and for these organisations.  This tenderly written, playfully erotic story of love and friendship between two Nigerian girls is a timely reminder that queer relationships are part of human desires for connection and community. Enjoy ;)

4. Reports out of St. Lucia are that cases of sexual violence made up more than 30 of the 80 cases on the docket on January 16.  These cases included a man charged with the rape of three nine-year-old boys, multiple cases of rape and sex with a minor committed against girls and a man charged with two counts of incest against his daughter. 

Activists from St. Lucia are part of CatchAFyah’s Eye2Eye project which seeks to raise awareness about violence against women and girls.  Please stay with us for updates about this project and information on how you can get involved.

5. A diverse group of Jouvayists from Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and the diaspora have responded to the #dearCaribbean Blog Carnival call with words, images and lots of love.  Check out their stories and don’t forget that you too can share your own with us!

6.  A Belizean 19-year-old trans girl was murdered this month.  While her family reports that she was killed because of her gender identity expression other reports suggest that the killer’s intentions were to rape her and they murdered her after discovering that she was a trans woman.  This most recent murder recalls the murders of trans women in Guyana and Jamaica last year.

Best of the 2013 Caribbean Feminist Blogosphere

Travel across the islands and territories of the Caribbean and its diaspora and sample some of the best feminist blogging out there. 

What have Caribbean feminist women and men written about in 2013? Love, fashion, motherhood, being mixed-race, surviving child sexual abuse, healing from sexual assault, racist anti-Haitian citizenship policies in the Dominican Republic and so much more… Have a look!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elmer, 22 year old Belizean youth that comes from a humble yet hard working family. Today it is important for me to share my story with you.

Young Caribbean man breaks the silence on sexual abuse of boys in the region. (Belize)

So, when a man sets his girlfriend on fire, rapes his niece, or gouges out his ex-wife genitals, it is not simply because he cannot control his emotions or resolve conflict well. There are deeply embedded ideas about who owns and who is to be owned, who is in control and who is to be controlled, what makes a ‘real man’, and a woman’s rightful role to shape these encounters. To ignore this is to miss the mark.

Patrice Daniel is back again with more fyah! This time she writes about why the Caribbean is getting it wrong on violence against women. (Barbados)

“Can you live with knowing that you will never have answers about what happened? Is that something you can manage?”

Healing through words: Part one in a series on surviving sexual assault. (Diaspora)

So like my feminism, my politics of adornment are a critical part of how my race, class, gender and sexuality intersect. My feminism is about having the personal freedom to choose how I represent myself. My ability to express myself on my own terms is my attempt to return ‘the gaze,’ to push back, to style myself for myself. As I seek to own and affirmatively claim my identity, my body, my creativity… and ultimately my ‘self’, I feel incredibly powerful and beautiful and free.

Feminism, Fashion and the Politics of Adornment by Amina Doherty. (Nigeria/Antigua & Barbuda)

It’s possible to let your energy, love and time be wasted by those who are not clear what they want for you or those who are trapped in their own games. Such lost investment will only distract you from giving all to what you can most achieve in your path, your heart and your life’s work. Focus on those who most matter and know well why they do.

Forget new year’s resolutions.  What’s on your heart list, life list, fantasy list & balance list? (Trinidad & Tobago)

But it is also true that Caribbean women are not at equal risk of being made to strip, squat, bend over, finger-raped and humiliated at regional border points. We have seen little critical examination of the class and gender dimensions of this case. We might well ask whether there is an unspoken investment in gendered respectability in our rush to celebrate Shanique Myrie as a Caribbean Rosa Parks. As a not insignificant aside, consider the difference between the dominant idea of Rosa Parks we are familiar with, as the diminutive mother of the Civil Rights movement, and the Rosa Parks who was a highly active member of the NAACP and attended meetings of the Communist Party. And fewer of us have heard of Claudette Colvin, told to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks. We should pause to consider whether the fact that Colvin was an unmarried pregnant teenager has anything to do with her story not being widely told.

Alissa Trotz’s Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement delivered at the 20th anniversary conference of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. (Guyana)

In her pain, she was not allowed to belong anywhere. How could she belong when the halves of her were at war? When she was attacked by both sides? It is one thing to be condemned to a particular side because of your skin colour, but it is an entirely different thing to be a refugee in your own country because you do not truly belong to any side.

Sarah Bharrat of Guyana writes about what she calls “The Dougla Defect“, being mixed race in a racially polarised society. (Guyana)

“You said I remind you of the best parts of home. Like a lot of guys, you want to be nurtured but can’t nurture anyone because you barely know how.”

Writing about love from Creative Commess (Trinidad & Tobago)

“Growing up in Barbados, getting pregnant was the worst thing you could do. Not just as a teenager, but anytime before you had secured your place as a DoctorLawyerBankmanager. I’m serious. The Worst Thing.”

Mar the Mongoose blogs about the politics of motherhood. (Barbados)

Similar to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas also deports Haitian migrants regularly and grants very few work permits and rarely (if ever) asylum status, while depending upon the everyday labour of Haitian undocumented migrants. The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance.

Angelique Nixon, writing for Groundation Grenada, looks at human rights, migration and the future of Dominican@s of Haitian descent. (The Bahamas)

Happy New Year!

Leave us a comment with your fav feminist blogs! Let’s grow this list!

See also “Top 10 Must-read Caribbean Feminist Blog posts“, “Caribbean Digital Feminist Activism in a Post-Feminist Age“, “Social Media Strategies for Caribbean Activists“,  and “We’re excited about Online Caribbean Feminist Media.”

How to write about violence against women when you don’t really care much for women

So you’re a “journalist” who wants to write about violence against women but you don’t really care much for women.  Here are 10 easy steps to make your job of ignorant, uninformed, misogynist  commentary easier:

1. Call anti-violence activists “radical”, acidic, bitter and threatening.

2. Equate “woman will subtlely [sic] make her former spouse’s life ever miserable” with murder.  Because “nagging” and murder are the same thing.

3. Say, “obviously we don’t support domestic violence of any kind, but…” and then outline 10 justifications for violence against women

4. When activists talk about gender-based violence accuse them of “finger-pointing”

5. Tell women to keep their legs shut.

6. Tell activists they will get nowhere unless they learn to work with misogynist men’s rights “groups” who have one lone member. 

7. Recommend anger management classes.  Because relationships based on dominance and control in which women are subjected to a range of coercive and controlling behaviours including stalking, sexual violence and spatial control are the result of a heat-of-the-moment burst of anger.

8. Blame gender equality. Suggesting to a woman that “he ain’t no head over you; you equal to him” is clearly what causes violence.

9. Remind the public that the six women killed by current or former partners in Barbados this year is a “comparatively small” number.

10. If all else fails just blame non-nationals.  

With the exception of # 5, these 10 steps were brought to you by the Barbados Today