The facts of life: Rape has been decriminalized in the Caribbean

Men in high places across the region have advice for schoolgirls.

Trinidad & Tobago’s Attorney General is reported as stating that date rape is a fact of life and girls should therefore be responsible especially at Christmas time.

Barbados men’s rights group MESA were reported as stating that schoolgirls “tear off their own clothes” and then accuse men.

Girls are either raping themselves, lying about rape, dressing immorally or failing to parang responsibly.

The AG conveniently did not mention what, if anything, the government planned to do to address rape, since by his own analysis it is a fact of life.

Research from the UK has demonstrated that rape of the most vulnerable women has been effectively decriminalised where 2 of every 3 rape allegations are not pursued beyond the investigation stage. In other words two thirds of rape allegations do not make it to trial. Researcher Betsy Stanko identifies the following attributes which result in the likelihood that a reported rape will not make it to trial:

1) The victim has a history of mental illness
2) The victim is or was in a relationship with her attacker
3) The victim has a learning disability
4) The victim consumed drugs or alcohol prior to the attack

She notes that “80 per cent of people reporting rape to the Metropolitan Police are considered vulnerable to sexual attack for one of a range of reasons – including being under 18, having mental health issues or learning disabilities, having drunk alcohol or taken drugs prior to the attack and being in an intimate relationship with the suspect.”

She concludes that rather that seeing these women and girls as unreliable witnesses, police investigators need to take a person’s vulnerability as evidence that they are more likely to be raped and investigate whether that vulnerability was exploited by the suspect.

In the Caribbean we know that rates of investigation, trial and conviction in cases of rape and sexual assault are extremely low.  In other words, rapists can expect to get away with rape:

As of September, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) had revealed that there were a total of 140 reported cases of rape – about one case every two days. This is a reduction when compared with the 2013 figure of 179 between January to July.

[…] The Attorney General had also pointed out the blaring fact that in the years 2012 and 2013, only 22 cases had enough evidence to go to court and none resulted in a conviction, even with the Sexual Offences Act being completed in 2012. The Guyana Human Rights Authority had done a study in 2005 titled “Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in The Guyana Justice Process”, which revealed that Guyana only reached an average conviction rate of 1.4 per cent in rape cases, indicating that not much has changed since then.

This year it was reported that Guyana did not have enough rape kits. In other cases rape did not even get investigated until women took to the streets in protest.

MESA is currently arguing that while they support sexual harassment legislation such legislation should include stiff penalties for women and girls who allege sexual harassment but eventually discontinue or fail to give evidence in the case.

In the Caribbean, a girl who is raped at age 12 can expect to see her case come to court when she is 20, that is, if the social stigma, family and community pressure have not already forced her and her family to discontinue the case.  (Should the state not be able to bring these cases forward regardless of whether or not witnesses or families co-operate?)

To argue that legislation should deter women and girls from reporting crimes against them is not in men’s interest. It is in the interest of rapists.

Rape is a fact of life.

And so is getting away with rape.

We are left with empty advice. Rapists’ interests confused as men’s interests. A relentless culture of misogyny that is literally costing us our lives.

We join in solidarity with women activists in Guyana in demanding that governments be accountable to women:

We are not going to take this! We are tired of paper rights. We are tired of being abused, violated and not being able to get justice. We are tired of lack of services, means to access services and poor services because money and resources are not given to improve such services. We are tired of being treated as third class citizens. We are tired of being ignored as our lives and the lives of our families grow more and more dangerous from all forms of violence including sexual violence. We are most of all tired of the hypocrisy, deception, lies, corruption, ignorance and ‘eye pass’. We are sick and tired of the wasteful and empty consultations and empty promises. We know the truth, and the truth is: in this dear land of Guyana, women and children pass for grass.

Well no more! We are not prepared to accept that there is no money for comprehensively addressing the scourge of sexual violence.

We have had enough and are prepared to fight for the world we want.

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Pride Mubarak

Guest post by Lina Free

So does Ramadan mean no sex for the whole month? Hello- I’m not that kind of Muslim! Ha ha, I just troubling u girl; I kno the thing- my father was Muslim. Eh heh? Yes, Salahuddin was his name. But is only me outta my brothers and sisters get that name. How come? He was always drunk, never had time for us. But I was the last chile; my mother said he felt sorry by then. Salahuddin sounded just like my grandfather Shaheed. Another ‘fullaman’ yes, but that didn’t stop him from drinking and womanizing. When my grandmother ‘ran off’ her head after he got another woman pregnant the same time as she and had to be committed to the Berbice mad house after giving birth to my father- the last child of eight- Shaheed amended his ways. But by then it was too late, the damage already done. Decades afterwards, when I sat behind him in the masjid, watching him prostrate himself in prayer, all I could think about was why I had to sit behind and not beside him. Stop asking all those questions I was scolded. Just keep quiet and do as you are told. Continue reading

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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Ultimate Soca Love Songs Playlist

i crowdsourced the list below in response to Georgia Popplewell’s assertion that  soca artists would

have to dig deep into their repertoires to find a song extolling the kind of values Valentine’s Day represents.

 

While she may have been speaking specifically of this year’s carnival tunes, there’s still a perception that soca artists don’t sing about love.  Caribbean music man, Stefan Walcott, had this to say:

Well there are not many due to a space and function of the music. How many Bajan folk songs speak about snow?

 

Janine Mendes-Franco produced her own list of carnival love songs but it was too short a list.  

Below is what my amazing facebook friends were able to come up with (thanks to Patrice & Kerryann who has an encyclopedic knowledge of soca).

Passion by Militant

 

All Is Yours by Onika Bostic

 

Dance With You by Machel and Mr. Vegas

 

Always Be by Patrice Roberts featuring Zan

 

Only You by Krosfyah featuring Tony Bailey

 

All Night Long by Donella Weekes

 

My Girl by Lil Rick

Kerryann also pointed me to other songs not available on youtube: Sweetest Thing by Coppa Dan, Sugary by Keann, Only You by Omar McQuilkin of Electrik.

The ways in which love and romance are scripted can often appear contrary to feminist ideals.  I had to exclude one of the suggestions due to its homophobic lyrics.  So after you’ve grooved to this playlist you may also want to check out Creative Commess’ feminist soca playlist which got a well-deserved shout out on Global Voices.

Caribbean music is all-occasions music.  Enjoy!

A Risky Location: What it means to be an Indian feminist in our region

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own emerging stories.

This post was submitted as part of our #dearCaribbean Blog Carnival.  It was originally published on Diary of a Mothering Worker and is posted here with the author’s permission.

To read all the Blog Carnival entries or learn how you can participate click here.

Caribbean Feminists Exist & Some of Them Do Not Yet Know That They Are Feminists

To the Caribbean, With Love

Caribbean Feminists Exist & Some of Them Do Not Yet Know That They Are Feminists

When ah leggo mih cock yuh betta tie up yuh hen

Caribbean women located at home and those abroad in the Diaspora have heard and readily understand the implications behind such warnings issued by generations of Caribbean parents to their daughters. Within this warning there is the familiarity of male privilege and a culture steeped in patriarchy, and thus dismisses the actions and behavior of men, as something that is innate and expected, while placing the burden of social order and the fault of rape and sexual harassment and molestation on women. See, it is the hen (women) who must be responsible for how they may dress, dance, speak, and walk, because they may temp and arouse the Cocks (men), and will have to rightfully deal with the consequences of doing so. Thus, good Caribbean parents raise their daughters and sons within this context, and sons grow to believe that any unattended women in their paths are available to them, and at the least should be receptive to their advances. The acceptance of these misogynistic, outdated, and openly sexist gender roles form the basis for Caribbean Rape Culture, and helps to understand the epidemic of rape and intimate partner abuse in the region and throughout the Caribbean Diaspora. Central to this culture is the notion that women are the temptresses, and that their colonized bodies are not their own. They are not free to adorn and clothe their bodies as they choose, without being told that they are inviting sexual violence, or deserving of domestic violence, if their partners find their actions disrespectful. They are not free to travel without fear of objectification, molestation, and violence.

Caribbean women throughout the Diaspora understand that there are socio-cultural double standards involved in the assignment of gender roles. However, only a small, but increasing number of Caribbean women have openly challenged, denounce, and work to combat these double standards and inequities, and a growing number of them now self-identify as feminists or Womanists. The term, feminist, although it still remains taboo, is actually being embraced by more Caribbean women. Within the Caribbean Diaspora, feminist is still viewed as an inflammatory, divisive, and foreign bad word. Yet, a number of Caribbean women have looked beyond the many misconceptions of the term, and in looking at its most simplistic definition,which is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, realize that they are indeed a feminist. While some Caribbean feminists find it more feasible to carry out their work without openly wearing the label or using the word feminists; as described by the Barbadian blogger at The Mongoose Chronicles “If advancing the ideology without using the F word is going to improve women’s access to economic goods, then I’m prepared to use other words.”

Finally, there are Caribbean women (and men) who share the belief of gender equality, and thus have not yet realized that they are indeed a feminist. For those of you, who may be part of this group, I offer the following to prove that you may actually be a feminist:
If you believe that women deserve equal pay as men, especially when considering the many households that are headed by single mothers
If you believe that girls have a right to education, particularly post-secondary education, which is an opportunity that our mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors did not have just a few years ago
If you believe that women must be allowed to have a voice and representation in the political process
If you expect a man to help out, and actually pick up and push a broom across the floor at home, the same way he would use his legs to “do di sweep” in the middle of a dancehall jam
If you believe that you should be able to go to a fete, dance and enjoy yourself without molestation, and certainly without a random stranger believing that it is perfectly acceptable for him to rub his erect genitalia along your backside.
If the familiar and annoying pppsstt sound makes you vex as you attempt to walk along the government streets
If you are angered by the fact that men believe that  you are obligated to entertain their sexual advances, and even worst approach them when they yell out such comments as, “yea…di one in di red”.
If you believe in family planning and would appreciate being viewed as livestock, who are meant to be constantly breed
If you are proud of your liberated womanly body, which you happily adorn in the most colorful and festive carnival costumes
If you have a problem with pedophilia — the open courting of young girls by grown men   within the Caribbean culture
If you do not believe that traveling to a certain place, being seen casually drinking, or wearing a certain type of clothing can justify raping you.
If you are not willing to tolerate any form of intimate partner violence or abuse, despite the legacy of our foremothers who lived lives without many options, and thus felt compelled to endure the abuse.

This guest post by Cherise Charleswell is part of the Caribbean Blog Carnival which we’re hosting this month. Check out other blog carnival entries on the e-Mas page and learn how you can participate here.
Cherise Charleswell, MPH is a Bio-cultural anthropologist, self-proclaimed Womanist, author/writer, poet, public health researcher/practitioner, founder, host & producer of Wombanist Views radio, as well a contributing producer for Feminist Magazine 90.7FM KPFK broadcasting live in Los Angeles, and globally online. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues department of the Hampton Institute, and is currently working on the book projects: “Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping Into Our Shoes Anthology” and “The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora”.