Solidarity with Yugge Farrell: Regional Statement 

Solidarity with Yugge Farrell: Regional Statement 

Amend the Mental Health Act of St. Vincent and the Grenadines NOW 

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We the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms, the persecution and mistreatment of Ms. Yugge Farrell by the legal, medical, and political authorities of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We are in full solidarity with Ms. Farrell and those Vincentians who stand with her.

Ms. Farrell was arrested on January 4th, 2018 and charged with the use of abusive language to Karen Duncan- Gonsalves, the wife of Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and daughter-in-law of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. After pleading not guilty, an application was made by the prosecutor for Ms. Farrell to be confined to the Mental Health Centre for two weeks for psychiatric evaluation, as allowed under the nation’s Mental Health Act. However, according to a statement issued by the St. Vincent and Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVG HRA) – an independent Civil Society Organization – there was no apparent supporting evidence or behavior by Ms. Farrell which warranted the prosecutor and magistrate seeking and deciding to commit Ms. Farrell to the Mental Health Center. Furthermore, it appears that medication was administered to Ms. Farrell although the Mental Health Act only speaks to observation and evaluation of persons and does not include any mechanism to oversee involuntary admission and treatment practices. Also problematic is the fact that the Mental Health Center does not currently have trained psychiatrists or psychologists on staff. After the initial observation period passed, Ms. Farrell was detained for a third week and only released on bail on January 29th, 2018.

The mistreatment of Yugge Farrell raises several serious concerns about the probable abuse of the existing Mental Health Act of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We ask- is commitment to a mental institution for use of insulting language a regular occurrence in SVG? We join the SVG HRA in questioning the validity of the observation report and treatment administered to Ms. Farrell. We note the alleged romantic relationship that Ms. Farrell has publicly claimed with Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and caution those who rush to dismiss this incident as simply a matter of ‘love gone bad’ to reflect on the fact that state entities can easily use the excuse of mental instability to vilify, discredit, and institutionalize any critic or person(s) deemed a threat or embarrassment to the established political order.

As human rights defenders, feminists, and persons who care about well-being and justice in the Caribbean and beyond, we condemn the actions of the judicial and medical authorities of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and their violation of the rights of Ms. Yugge Farrell. We deplore the misuse of mental health policies to oppress individuals and advance goals other than the safeguarding of wellness. Now that Ms. Farrell’s detention in the Mental Health Center has ended, we support calls for an investigation into the decision to detain and medicate her. We support her family members and demand independent medical and psychiatric care for her. We stand with the St. Vincent Human Rights Association who urge an immediate review and modification of the existing Mental Health Act so that it becomes compliant with international norms and standards to prevent abuses and protect human rights. Finally, we remind the government and authorities of St. Vincent and the Grenadines of their commitment to ensure their citizens’ right to free speech and protection from state persecution. The eyes of the world are watching you.

There must be no more violations of the rights of Yugge Farrell or any other Vincentian. Amend the Mental Health Act of St. Vincent and the Grenadines now.

In solidarity,

  1. Andaiye – Guyana
  2. Karen De Souza – Red Thread, Guyana
  3. Sherlina Nageer MPH – Guyana
  4. Alissa Trotz – Canada
  5. Jospehine Whitehead – Guyana
  6. Angelique V. Nixon – Trinidad and Tobago
  7. Gordon Forte – Guyana
  8. Delores Robinson – GROOTS, Trinidad and Tobago
  9. Tonya Haynes – Barbados
  10. Gina Singh-Trotz – USA
  11. Akola Thompson – Women’s Wednesdays, Guyana
  12. Anya Dover – Guyana
  13. Indera Persaud – Jamaica
  14. Maya Trotz – USA
  15. Ronelle King – Barbados
  16. Julio Thijs – Canada
  17. Verna St Rose Greaves – Trinidad and Tobago
  18. Dr Nastassia Rambarran – Barbados
  19. Mellissa Ifill – Guyana
  20. Salima Bacchus-Hinds – Guyana
  21. Fatimah Jackson-Best – Canada
  22. Charlene Wilkinson – Guyana
  23. Stephanie Leitch – Womantra, Trinidad and Tobago
  24. Krysta Bisnauth – Guyana
  25. David Khan – Canada
  26. Mosa Telford – Guyana
  27. Jessica Joseph – Trinidad/ St. Lucia
  28. Paige Jennan AndrewWE-Change, Jamaica
  29. Kimalee Phillip – Grenada/ Canada
  30. Lana Finikin – Jamaica
  31. Romola Lucas – USA
  32. Nailah John-Price – Leave Out Violence in SVG, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  33. Shanya Cordis – Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Spelman College, USA
  34. Marcus Day – St. Lucia
  35. Zina Edwards – Guyana
  36. Karen Philip – Trinidad and Tobago
  37. Savitri Persaud – Canada
  38. Roy Kingston – Guyana
  39. Simone Leid – The Women Speak Project, Trinidad and Tobago
  40. Ayesha Constable – Jamaica
  41. Kala Ramnath – UK
  42. Oluatoyin Alleyne – Guyana
  43. Naicelis Rozema Elkins – USA
  44. Maggie Schmeitz – Stichting Ultimate Purpose, Suriname
  45. Alicia Wallace – Equality Bahamas/Hollaback, Barbados
  46. Derwayne Willis – Guyana
  47. Gerhard Ramsaroop – Guyana
  48. Raquel Thomas- Caesar – Guyana
  49. Vidyaratha Kisson – Guyana
  50. Dawn Van Rossum – Antigua and Barbuda
  51. Shonnet Moore – Guyana
  52. Lauricia Akeisha Henry – Antigua
  53. Michelle Springer – Barbados
  54. Chantal Antoine – USA
  55. Holly Bynoe – ARC Magazine, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  56. Hilary Nicholson – Video for Change, Jamaica
  57. Vashty Maharaj – Central Beat magazine, Trinidad and Tobago
  58. Tandieka Johnson – USA
  59. Reine Joseph – St. Lucia
  60. Peggy Antrobus – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  61. Honor Ford Smith – Canada/ Jamaica
  62. Alexandrina Wong – Antigua
  63. Marlon Mills – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  64. Marguerite Allen – Jamaica Community of Positive Women, Jamaica
  65. Vanessa Lumbley – Jamaica Community of Positive Women, Jamaica
  66. Shaneka Allen – Jamaica Community of Positive Women, Jamaica
  67. Althea Cohen – Jamaica Community of Positive Women, Jamaica
  68. Olive Edwards – Jamaica Community of Positive Women, Jamaica
  69. Eunice Graham – Jamaica
  70. Beverly Bain – Canada/ Trinidad
  71. Jean Lowrie-Chin – Jamaica
  72. Erin Greene, CAFRA – Bahamas
  73. Ann Maria Diran – Suriname
  74. Jennifer Grant-Wilson – USA
  75. Marsha Hinds-Layne – NOW, Barbados
  76. Maria Fontenelle – ECADE, Eastern Caribbean
  77. Randall Theodule – St. Lucia
  78. Majhon John – Mental Health Provider, USA
  79. Maxine Allen – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  80. Cherrise Mcdowall – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  81. Jermain Ostiana – Curacao
  82. Diane Cummins – Conscious Exchanges, Barbados
  83. Nicole S. Hendrickson – Firecircle!, Trinidad and Tobago
  84. Judith Weederburn – Jamaica
  85. Keturah Cecelia Babb – Order of Nyahbinghi, Dominica/ Jamaica
  86. Sendy Brown – Canada
  87. Arielle Aska – Antigua
  88. Patricia Sheerettan-Bisnauth – Guyana
  89. Sharda Ganga – PROJECKTA Citizens’ Initiative for Participation and Good Governance, Suriname
  90. Mark Jacobs – Guyana
  91. Nadeen Spence – Jamaica
  92. Nesha Edwards – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  93. Catherine Sealys – Raise Your Voice, St. Lucia
  94. Jamela Khan – Trinidad and Tobago
  95. Carinya Sharples – Guyana
  96. Priscila Francisco Pascoal – Brazil
  97. Audrey Roberts – Bahamas
  98. Emma Lewis – Jamaica
  99. Ruth Osman Rose – Trinidad and Tobago
  100. Beverly Nelson – Grenada
  101. N’Delamiko Lord – Trinidad/ Barbados
  102. Melissa Matthews – Trinidad and Tobago
  103. Linnette Vassell – Jamaica
  104. Bridget Lewis – Canada
  105. Joan French – Jamaica
  106. Ulelli Verbeke – Guyana
  107. Jean La Rose – Guyana
  108. Robert Cuffy – USA
  109. Mark Moseley – Guyana
  110. Derek Gomes – Guyana
  111. Elton McRae – Guyana
  112. Andrew Campbell – Guyana
  113. John Shevrattan – Canada
  114. Shayla Murrell – Barbados
  115. Colin Robinson – CAISO, Trinidad and Tobago
  116. Sasha Robinson – USA
  117. Lisa Outar – USA
  118. Bianca Wagner – Bahamas
  119. Louby Georges – Rights Bahamas, Bahamas
  120. Stephanie Stfleur – Rights Bahamas, Bahamas
  121. Jackson Petit – Bahamas
  122. Granville Knight – Jamaica
  123. Jasmin Renee Wu – JRW Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago
  124. Huiming Wu – JRW Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago
  125. Celine Leid – JRW Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago
  126. Ava Turnquest – Bahamas
  127. Kevon Mc Kenna – Trinidad and Tobago
  128. Winy Marango – Vanutu
  129. Aroona Ramsahai – Trinidad and Tobago
  130. Kenene Senior – Jamaica
  131. Jean-Claude Cournand – 2 Cents Movement, Trinidad and Tobago
  132. Mavis Mainu – Ghana
  133. Soyini Ayanna Forde – Trinidad and Tobago
  134. Alysia Christiani – USA
  135. Namela Baynes-Henry – Rainbow House, Guyana
  136. Tamisha Lee – Jamaica
  137. Natalie Bennett – USA
  138. Jamal Gilbert – Guyana
  139. Rupa Singh – Guyana
  140. Henna Guicherit – Foundation Women’s Rights Center, Suriname
  141. Sandra Latibeaudiere – Jamaica
  142. Shirley Pryce – Jamaica Household Workers Union, Jamaica
  143. Marion Bethel – Bahamas
  144. Carol Narcisse – Jamaica
  145. Nadia Sagar – Guyana
  146. Peta- Anne Baker – UWI, Jamaica
  147. Ruel Johnson – Guyana
  148. Nan Peacocke – Guyana/ St. Vincent and the Grenadines/ Canada
  149. Roslyn John – St. Vincent and the Grenadines/ Canada
  150. Norwell Hinds – Guyana
  151. Thomas Eugene – St. Lucia
  152. Delven Adams – Guyana
  153. Halimah DeShong – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  154. Bianca Wagner – Equality Bahamas, Bahamas
  155. Ashlee Burnett – The 2 Cents Movement, Trinidad and Tobago
  156. Crystal Brizan – CAFRA, Trinidad and Tobago
  157. Danuta Radzik – Guyana
  158. Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan – International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN), Trinidad and Tobago
  159. Jacqueline Hughes – Trinidad and Tobago
  160. Terrence Blackman – Guyana
  161. Japhet Jackman – Guyana
  162. Margo King – St. Vincent and the Grenadines/ Canada
  163. Alana Benjamin – Antigua & Barbuda
  164. Natasha Yhap – Guyana
  165. Clairmont Mali Chung – Stateless
  166. Dianne Madray – Let The Women Speak, Guyana
  167. Brenda Greaves – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  168. Sebastian Prescod – Canada
  169. Sally Erdle – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  170. Maxine Allen – Canada
  171. Sharon Watkis – USA
  172. Lilian Ferrier – Foundation for Human Development, Suriname
  173. Jacqui Alexander – Trinidad and Tobago
  174. Y Deane – Past Chairman Mental Health Commission of Barbados, Barbados
  175. Help and Shelter – Guyana
  176. Leith Dunn – Jamaica
  177. Vanda Radzik – Women’s Rights Advocate, Guyana
  178. Florence Goldson – Belize
  179. Indranie Deyal – Trinidad and Tobago
  180. Wintress White – Red Thread, Guyana
  181. Joy Marcus – Red Thread, Guyana
  182. Halima Khan – Red Thread, Guyana
  183. Vanessa Ross – Red Thread, Guyana
  184. Susan Collymore – Grassroots Women Across Race (GWAR), Guyana
  185. Paul Anthony Odell – USA
  186. Joel Simpson – SASOD, Guyana
  187. Ann Harvey – Guyana
  188. Andrea Weekes – Leave Out Violence Now St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Canada
  189. Dennis Atwell – Guyana
  190. Letitia Pratt – Bahamas
  191. Shorna James – Canada
  192. Amory Cumberbatch – USA
  193. Jeanette Campbell – Jamaica
  194. Sylvia Baker – Bahamas
  195. Kristina Hinds – Barbados
  196. Nicole Charles – Canada
  197. Kaneesha Parsard – USA
  198. Cassandra Lord – Canada
  199. Yusuf Hafejee – Barbados
  200. Gabrielle Hosein – Trinidad and Tobago
  201. Gralyn Frazier – The Bahamas
  202. Susan Mains – Grenada
  203. Leslieann Seegobin – Trinidad and Tobago
  204. Chelsea Foster – Girls of A Feather, St. Lucia
  205. Paul Anthony O’Dell – USA
  206. Roberta Clarke – Trinidad and Tobago
  207. Kaylorn Jones – USA
  208. Marijke Sonneveld – Projekta, Suriname
  209. Antonia Meinecke – Germany
  210. Jennifer Grant Wilson – USA
  211. Mark Dacosta – Guyana
  212. Marilyn Rice-Bowen – Past President, Caribbean Women’s Association
  213. Vanya Martha David – Dominica
  214. Peter Lyte – USA
  215. Nathilee Caldeira – USA
  216. Neish McLean – Jamaica
  217. Marisa Hutchinson – Barbados
  218. Neish McLean – Jamaica
  219. Antoinette Bacchus – USA
  220. Timmia Hearn – USA/ Trinidad and Tobago
  221. Ronald Daniels – Guyana/ Trinidad and Tobago
  222. Anandi A. Premlall – Guyana/ USA
  223. Rajanie Preity Kumar – Canada
  224. Foundation Womens’ Rights Center – Suriname
  225. Quality of Citizenship – Jamaica
  226. Kay Ann – SVU/ ANU
  227. Carla Dougan – UK
  228. Marlene Corbin – USA/ Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
  229. Faith Smith – USA
  230. Kadon Douglas – Grenada/ Canada
  231. Donna Joy Tai – Canada
  232. Karen Gordon – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  233. Natifa Yorke – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  234. Kester Thompson – Guyana
  235. Ashley John – Constructive Solutions Inc., St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  236. Ayesha Williams – Trinidad and Tobago
  237. Delroy Williams – Leve Domnik, Dominica
  238. Deirdre Hector – St. Kitts & Nevis / USA
  239. Cyntica Herbert-Fraser – UK
  240. Dale Medford – Barbados
  241. Bernadette Johnson – Bahamas
  242. Cathy Shepherd – Trinidad and Tobago
  243. Garfield Isles – USA
  244. Andrena Emin – St. Vincent/ UK
  245. Cyntica Herbert-Fraser – UK
  246. Khadija Moore – Youth Advocacy Movement, Dominica
  247. Calton Roper – Canada
  248. Shirley Watkis – UK
  249. Wil Campbell – Therapist, Huband, Father, Guyana
  250. Garfield Isles – USA
  251. Jemma John
  252. Rosie Descartes
  253. Coreen Irving
  254. Tamara J Savoury
  255. Cordelia Goodluck
  256. Joan Cuffie
  257. Ernestine Watson
  258. Malaika Slater
  259. Summer Lewis-Clarke
  260. Shanta Grant
  261. Kwame Nkosi Romeo
  262. Marcia Braveboy
  263. Jecliz Walker
  264. Adriana King
  265. Debra Providence
  266. Ajene Eustace
  267. Camille Bradshaw
  268. Beverley Sinclair
  269. Angus Steele
  270. Lorrette Duncan
  271. Joyce Lewis-Cordice
  272. Josette
  273. Winston Lewis
  274. Jamette Pisse
  275. The Bahamas Crisis Centre
  276. Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/ Ecocide Campaign – UK
 Please join us in co-signing this Statement in Solidarity with Yugge Farrell and against abuse of the Mental Health Act of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Although the gross human rights violation of Ms. Yugge Farrell ended this morning when she was finally released from the Mental Health Center of St. Vincent and the Grenadines  where she had been detained and medicated for three weeks, the potential for further abuses remains as long as the Mental Health Act of St Vincent and the Grenadines is not amended. If you would like to add your name as a signatory to this letter, please leave your name, any affiliation, and country in the comments below or email ssnageer [at] yahoo [dot] com.

 

image source: pinterest

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Caribbean Feminist Activists Face Threats, Intimidation & Misogynist Bullying

On Monday, April 21, 2015 an audio recording captured Guyana’s Minister of Health, Dr. Bheri Ramsarran calling feminist activist Sherlina Nageer “an idiot”,  “a little piece of shit”, threatening to “slap her ass…just for the fun of it”, and to have her stripped by “some of my women”.

A statement sent to the press by the Minister of Health subsequently claims that he was provoked to such misogynist violence after Sherlina Nageer interrupted a press interview. Sherlina can be heard demanding state accountability for Guyana’s high maternal mortality rate, which is the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean.

The Minister invoked the language of “provocation” to justify his act of violence.  The invocation of “provocation” is frequently used to justify and rationalise men’s fatal violence against women and has crept into state and activist responses to violence. The language of provocation, just like the denigrating language and threats the Minister directed at Sherlina, is the language of misogyny.

Women’s human rights defenders from across the region have attempted for decades to hold Caribbean governments accountable to women. This is not the first time that their efforts, are met with violence, threats and intimidation. Last month,  in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a communications official working in the Prime Minister’s Office sought to shame a rape survivor on live radio for sharing her testimony  at a women’s conference. In Barbados last year, a long-standing feminist activist and government employee walked out of a meeting in response to sexist comments. She and was condescendingly and threateningly offered “a word to the wise” from the floor of Parliament by the Minister with responsibility for the Bureau of Gender Affairs and accused of publicly displaying “bias for one gender over the other”. These examples are symptomatic of institutionalized and systematic sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny in the region, and they promote marginalization and intimidation of women at all levels.

Women are 51% of the population and our governments must be accountable to us.

We will not be intimidated into silence as silence means death.  Literally.

Sherlina Nageer was called a “piece of shit” for insisting that women’s lives and health matter. She was threatened with the misogynist and violent acts of public stripping and beating for insisting that governments have a responsibility to ensure women have access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.

We recognise such abuses of state power as a reflection of hatred of women, an unwillingness to recognise us as fully human and a refusal to treat us as equals. They also reflect the callous disregard elected officials show for the people — boys and girls, women and men — they are meant to serve.

We call on our state managers to denounce acts of violence wherever they occur. We caution our politicians throughout the region that their silence on these offences against its citizens speaks volumes to their commitment to gender justice and the rights of women. If they will not speak out due to a lack of political will, we will speak out in the knowledge of what is right.

Join us in holding regional state managers accountable by submitting accounts of their abuse of power and office to any of the following email addresses:

redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com

catchafyahnetwork redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com

womantratt [at] gmail [dot] com

We invite you to sign below in solidarity with Sherlina Nageer and all women human rights defenders who face violence, threats, intimidation and loss of employment for the work they do on behalf of all of us.

Tonya Haynes

Fatimah Jackson-Best

Stephanie Leitch

Sign on to the solidarity statement here.

Read Sherlina’s response here.

Press Statement by Dr. Bheri Ramsaran

On Monday, April 21, 2015, at around 09:30 hours, I joined a group of peaceful persons at Whim Magistrate’s Court to give solidarity to former President Bharrat Jagdeo.

As I was about to depart two journalists sought an interview with me on the matter at hand to which I readily agreed. During the interview I was rudely interrupted by a woman who kept shouting and interrupting me throughout.

I shifted away on several occasions in an attempt to avoid her but she persisted in interrupting the interview.

It was unfortunate that I was provoked into anger and uttered harsh words at her for which I now regret.

I therefore wish to apologize for uttering those words.

April 21, 2015

Recordings have surfaced that suggest that one day after the Health Minister Dr. Bheri Ramsarran apologised he told a health forum that “so we have these miscreants who are sometimes supported by the international community because they are rights activists, right to spit in my face but not collect two slap, you understand me, or one of my ladies who love me wreck her up, you understand me?” Full transcript of comments available here and below:

“So we have these miscreants who are sometimes supported by the international community because they are rights activists, right to spit in my face but not collect two slap, you understand me, or one of my ladies who love me wreck her up, you understand me? Well you know I’m Bheri best, all the ladies like me. Suppose one of my big strong women seh “wuh yuh do we doctor, wuh yuh do dis innocent lil man? Wacks! Wacks! (imitates the sounds of blows). Then she’s going to become a hero, some of us will mek sure we give her a medal. Right, spit in my face, I don’t know if she got rabies or what, I know she was rabid. That woman need psychiatric help.”

This Stabroek News editorial provides the best reporting of the events and the best commentary and analysis on the Minister’s behaviour. It ends with a call for him to resign or be fired.

Natural Hair Ban at Barbados School

Borrowed images
willed our skins pale
muffled our laughter
lowered our voices
let out our hems
dekinked our hair
denied our sex in gym tunics and bloomers
harnessed our voices to madrigals
and genteel airs
yoked our minds to declensions in Latin
and the language of Shakespeare

Told us nothing about our selves
There was nothing at all

From Colonial Girls’ School by Olive Senior

Even a dog’s hair must be groomed (facebook comment).

We black people using this black roots as an excuse to walk about the people place like you have no owner or sense and quite often looking quite stupid all in the name of trying to get back to your roots. Why we black people feel that unless you looking untidy and foolish you acting white (facebook comment).

Look how quick them could come up with a petition about a few knotty children that won’t comb their picky head (facebook comment).

locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman (Tillah Willah).

The Afro-Trinidadian women in my office tell me that hair is important, having combed hair is important and that this is something black girls learn early, because of the general disparagement of things African and the overwhelming pressure to bleach, straighten, press or cover natural black hair. Having to present as acceptable, decent and civilised is a given because its alternative is to fall to a racist stereotype (Gabrielle Hosein).

It has been reported that the Principal of one of Barbados’ elite secondary schools has banned black girls with hard hair/nappy hair/kinky hair/natural hair from wearing their hair loose i.e. from wearing their hair in the way that it grows out of their heads.  She has declined to speak to the media so we have no idea what her reason for this ban is.  The principal has since indicated that while she recognises the beauty of natural hair, all students must be “neat and tidy” when in school uniform.

Some supporters of the ban have claimed that the “twist out” hairstyle is womanish, distracting, inappropriate for school and that it is just one specific style that is banned and not natural hair itself, (but it’s a policy directed exclusively at black natural hair!) Notions of neatness and tidiness are not at all neutral. When it comes to hair, they are often extremely exclusionary with black women and girls expected to engage in massive amounts of grooming just to appear presentable. Not even babies and toddlers are exempt from these standards.

Times change. Some of the natural hairstyles that may now be grudgingly considered appropriate in a professional setting represent a hard-won acceptance.  Women have been fired for wearing braids in Barbados. Rastafari have been persecuted across the region with multiple attempts to exclude rastafari boys and girls from school because of their hair. The same way we learnt to accept the “Revlon locs” and the twisted updos, we’ll have to get used to twist outs, wash-and-go, and loose natural hairstyles.

Supporters of the school policy have also claimed that a principal’s powers are absolute. They see the principal as the sole decision-maker and source of authority and argue that students should follow the rules without question.  They see this as necessary preparation and discipline needed for the world of work. They see public disagreement with the hair policy as an attempt to discredit the principal because she is a woman leading an elite former boys’ school. They have argued that natural hair can be smelly and unkempt using terms like “bag fuzz”, “rats’ nest” and “matted” to describe loose natural hair. They have argued that natural hair requires special rules.

Long, slurpy stupse.

Elite secondary schools in the region share a history of colonialism, racism, sexism, classism and anti-blackness.

Sometimes teachers think that they are doing students a favour when they socialize them into white supremacy, self-hate and respectability.  They believe they are preparing them for the world of work. Preparing them for survival in a globalised world that is anti-black. Making somebody out of them despite their blackness or working class roots or countrified accent. These teachers are in need of consciousness-raising. They need to learn better so that they can do better.

When I was at secondary school I distinctly remember our principal asking all the girls with natural hair to stay behind after assembly for a talk on tidiness and appropriate hairstyles. This is gendered and racialised policing of black girls’ bodies that is usually classist as well. It also communicates just who legitimately is supposed to occupy these elite spaces.

Young-gifted-and-black women wearing their hair as it grows out of their heads exist in all kinds of leadership roles where their intelligence and expertise are acknowledged and rewarded. So aside from how arbitrary, racist, sexist and anti-black these rules are, aside from how emotionally and spiritually damaging this policing of black girls’ bodies is, there is really NO case to be made for socializing black girls into anti-blackness. Black women and girls can and do bring our full selves, our flyness and our talents to all the spaces that we occupy, create and help to shape. Our blackness, our bodies, our sexualities do not need to be mitigated, tamed or policed. We do not need to be infantilized or socialized into white supremacy or black middle-class respectability just because a powerful few have not yet realized that it’s 2015.

It’s 2015. And it’s majority-black Barbados.  If black girls can’t wear their hair as it grows out of their heads at this very moment and in this very space, then when and where?

This post is about the larger issues, not just the policies at one school. To read more about that school’s decision visit Loop Barbados. They have also done a follow-up article.

***

Sign the petition calling for the principal to remove the ban against natural hair. Tell her just how saddened and disappointed we are by her decision.  Tell her too that we know she is learning just like all of us. Ask her to open her heart to what we are trying to teach.

The majority of comments I’ve read have expressed disapproval of the ban on the hairstyle. However, many of the people who claim to embrace natural hair only do so if it is processed i.e. plaited, twisted, loced, in an updo, heavily styled etc. What is considered acceptable natural hair is hair which is recently styled or re-loced and which does not appear fuzzy. “Acceptable natural” is not at all a rejection of European standards of what hair looks like but a negotiation with those standards— a move closer to mixed-race curliness as ideal and attenuated blackness as acceptable through conformity to notions of neatness, tidiness and professionalism. So we’re left with the paradox that large numbers of women in Barbados wear their hair natural but this widespread acceptance of natural hair does not extend to kinky, loose hairstyles which are deemed dirty, knotty, wild and unkempt.

***

This week in St. Lucia a boy was sent home from school because of his hair cut (pictured below). His father asked:

What is wrong with such a short cropped head of hair? We black and mixed black people must shave our heads bald to be accepted?

***

A word on terminology: some have expressed disapproval with my use of the terms “hard” and “nappy” and have expressed a preference for the term “curly”. In Barbados we talk about “hard hair” to described tightly coiled black hair. Typically hard is not meant as a compliment or a neutral descriptor. What positive or neutral terms do we historically have to describe black hair? Nonetheless, hard is a term I use to describe my own hair. Hard has some positive slang connotations like fly or cool. I’m reclaiming hard as a positive descriptor of black, natural dopeness! I know nappy as a term mostly used in the US, again often in a negative way, but I think the natural hair movement over there has done a lot to reclaim that term (“happy to be nappy”). The kind of black hair that is coming under intense scrutiny is not considered “curly” in the cultural context of Barbados. So even though the hair may be tightly curled or coiled, to use the term curly to describe it would be culturally incorrect. There is also the classification system, invented in the US, which grades hair from 1a to 4c.  It’s not a system I use. Black people have been styling their hair for millenia without a need for these classifications. Given the racist history of anthropometry, I don’t see why black women need another racialised classification system to separate us into As and Cs. The term kinky, which means closely or tightly curled, was suggested to me and I’ve edited the post to reflect that.

***

Learn more about the politics of black hair in the Caribbean at the following links:

Got My Hair Un-did

As a mother of a half-African baby girl, each day I discover how little I know about black hair. 

The Black Hair Conundrum

St. Lucian Boy Kicked Out of Class Over Hairstyle

Young Barbadian men excluded from Polytechnic because of locs 

Good Hair in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

It’s Just Hair

I’m a twenty-something overachieving chick with dreadlocks and a predilection for wearing Converse to work

Tales of a Caribbean Natural

Tales of a Caribbean Natural: Secondary School Edition

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Have you ever blogged about hair politics in the region? Please share your links with us? Are you a black woman with natural hair? Please tell us what terms you use to describe your hair? Have you come across any other Bajan blogs talking about this issue? Please share them with us. Do you disagree with us completely? Tell us in the comments!

image source: http://www.loopbarbados.com

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.

Future of Caribbean Media

Check out these three online Caribbean media sources that have us excited about new ways of telling Caribbean stories!

Antillean Media Group

Brilliant, fresh and socially engaged.  Antillean Media Group has been in town for a long time and remain as relevant, creative and cutting edge as ever.

The New Local 

Describing itself as a celebration of millennial Caribbean voices, this is definitely a space to watch!  So far we’re loving the outlets for creative writing and reflection.

CatchAFyah Blog Network

With over 30 Caribbean feminist and social justice bloggers in its network there’s something at the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network website for everyone who’s passionate about the future of our region.

Leave us a comment and share any fresh Caribbean new media projects we need to know about!

Reproductive Shaming: The Remix

Chair of Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board recently repeated the laundry-list of sexist cliched messages which shame women’s reproductive and relationship choices: too many, too few, too old, too young, superwoman doing it alone, Ms. Manipulator tricking men into pregnancy and child support.  Yes, the same old warmed over sexism where women are blamed for the end of society as we know it. *Yawn*

Check out the video below.

Now read Mar the Mongoose’s brilliant breakdown on why this reproductive shaming is hypocrisy:

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. Teenage or ‘early’ pregnancy was blamed for all the ills of society, directly or indirectly. […]

None of this was lost on the generation of women now in our mid-thirties. In the Caribbean, for children of the working class, education – and I’m not talking just high school I’m talking first or advanced degree – is the handful of magic beans. You had better get it and stick with it until you can prove to people that your family is officially out of the working class. So for women, pregnancy is to be avoided at all costs even into your twenties. Of course, people get pregnant in their early twenties and are not made to wear a scarlet A, but it is hoped in general that you get your papers before you get your pickney. And then there’s the whole wedlock business. I noticed growing up that the least Christian of Caribbean people could utter the phrase ‘out of wedlock’ with the highest amount of reverence – for wedlock. The single mother business was nothing to be admired, so there’s another delay. No babies yet. Get your papers, get your husband.

Full article here.

Questioning Caribbean media’s response to Ebola

Dear Editors:

Should we not be at the point where editorial and journalistic responses to ebola focus on the provision of useful information so that we the public can make decisions and take actions to safeguard each other and visitors to our shores? I fear a call for political parties not to see this as an occasion for social division, and headlining a caution in respect of Barbados regarding its tourist industry may do more harm than good. Given how human greed and fear operate, both of these approaches are likely to get the opposite of the effect desired.

I suspect that we in Barbados get much of the information we need to live as aware citizens from our local print, electronic and on-line news sources. However, these sources are failing us if the media is caught up in promoting favoured political positions rather than bringing information. And I feel the call for political parties not to take entrenched positions is itself just such a descent into narrow politics

If most Americans and Barbadians are asking for West Africa to be isolated from the rest of the apparently healthy world was that not the guaranteed effect of the way ebola entered our consciousness through the USA media in particular? And if Barbadians are asking that any care facilities for treatment should any visitor from anywhere bring ebola here be isolated to some far corner of our island, is it not because this is the position our media has been feeding? I ask your research departments to make that assessment. Do not take it from me.

In the reporting of the actions taken by St. Vincent, for example, did the journalist ask any question or seek out any information on the efficacy of partitioning a virus? How will those Barbadians who are insistent on the partitioning protect themselves from the Barbadian care givers who may unwittingly and unknowingly expose themselves and re-integrate into our supermarkets and homes with their school-age children? Or do we have a plan for partitioning them too?

Knowledge from world health agencies as far back as the 1950s when our Dame Nita was a young public health nurse leader tells us that people are the best public health defense. Informed intelligent people are even better. Arming people with prejudice, even if the enemy is the rightly feared ebola virus will get many healthy people killed from the same virus.

Is the enemy Africans, West Africans or even visitors? Is the enemy not a viral attack on human beings which we all have to fight to eradicate as it potentially threatens all human beings? Neither ministers of government nor even medical personnel are the best protectors in this situation, if they ever are in any situation.

That disease can get under any radar we erect out of prejudice as the outcome of prejudice is always to drive potential victims underground. It seems to me that is the perfect condition for dispersal of the disease.

If two major risk factors for ebola spread is poverty and inadequate health care structures, we should recall our health system is already disabled by the IMF-type strictures we have imposed on ourselves. If there is possibility of pharmaceutical response that needs to be fast tracked, then Barbados can be part of a UN response to ensure that is safely and effectively undertaken.

Newspapers have to do far more than just take convenient traditional positions that feel fairly cynical anyway. Else, why stop at the need for partisan political solidarity? Why not say the un-sayable and include the need for wealthy people to come into solidarity with poor people, and owners of all newspapers to reject their intrinsic competition and join forces on this? Why not treat us all as though we are all leaders and capable of making decisions to help each other? When one dies, how are we not all diminished?

Guidance,
Margaret D. Gill

image source: Huffington Post