These young people have shared their stories with us. We have a responsibility to respect these stories, to receive them with gratitude for they are an example of fierce generosity, to treat them with tenderness and compassion because learning to trust your own consciousness is to live life radically on your own terms.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Georgetown, Guyana: On Friday afternoon, September 6, 2013, the Honourable Chief Justice (Ag.), Mr. Ian Chang delivered his judgment in Quincy McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser, Seyon Persaud and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) vs. Attorney General of Guyana. Section 153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) provision makes a criminal offence of a man wearing female attire, and a woman wearing male attire, publicly, for any improper purpose. The Chief Justice said that cross-dressing in a public place is an offence only if it is done for an improper purpose.
The Chief Justice also found that the police violated the human rights of the four litigants in the case during their crackdown in February 2009 when they arrested them under section 153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act and he awarded each of the four arrested compensation of $40,000 (GYD) for breach of their rights to be informed as soon as reasonably practicable as to the reason(s) for their arrests under Article 139 (3) of the Guyana Constitution.
Chief Justice Chang also decided that section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, is immune from the constitutional challenge brought by the four transgender litigants and their supporting organisations. As an 1893 law, pre-dating Guyana’s independence, the Chief Justice said “legislative rather than curial action is necessary to invalidate the provision.” The litigants are preparing to appeal this and other aspects of Friday’s court decision.
Colin Robinson, manager of the CariFLAGS secretariat based in Trinidad, praised the court’s finding that “It is not criminally offensive for a person to wear the attire of the opposite sex as a matter of preference or to give expression to or to reflect his or her sexual orientation.” The court also found that the law applies only to “attire” and not other gendered accoutrements such as head wigs, ear rings or even shoes. “The learned Chief Justice, however, has confused sexual orientation with gender identity,” Robinson commented.
Reacting to the judgment, the first-named applicant, Quincy McEwan, better known as Gulliver, who is also the Director of Guyana Trans United (GTU), noted that, “The Chief Justice was relatively clear that once you are expressing your gender identity, it’s not criminal for a man to wear female attire. But the law really stifles us, because what could be an improper purpose? The trans community is very worried, and still fearful of arrests, in light of this decision.” The court did not clarify what improper purposes gave rise to the arrests in this case.
The Chief Justice was not convinced the cross-dressing law amounted to ‘discrimination’ on the basis of gender, which would have been in violation of the Guyana Constitution. The court also ruled that the prohibition in the 1893 law is against persons of both genders for the same conduct and, as such, does not amount to discrimination based on gender. Se-shauna Wheatle is Jamaican and Lecturer in Law at Exeter College at the University of Oxford and a researcher in the fields of comparative human rights law and comparative constitutional law. Wheatle, who is the author of the 2013 report “Adjudication in Homicide Cases involving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons in the Commonwealth Caribbean,” said that “The constitutional moment presented by this case demanded more detailed assessment of the issue of discrimination against transgender persons.” She observed that “The reasoning of the learned judge omitted any discussion of the prescription of gender roles to individuals according to their sex and the consequent requirement that individuals dress according to those prescribed gender roles. There was no discussion of the way in which the challenged section reflected such prescription of gender roles or the impact of this dynamic on persons who are transgender.”
The court also ruled that SASOD had no locus standi (standing) in the matter since the individual applicants brought the claim in their own names as the persons who were personally aggrieved. The Guyana Constitution was the first in the English-speaking Caribbean to give “an association acting on behalf of its members” the right to bring a claim before the Constitutional Court that there has been a breach of the guaranteed fundamental rights. The standing of SASOD is one of the issues which the litigants expect to argue before the Court of Appeal.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Zenita Nicholson, Secretary of SASOD’s board of trustees. “I feel the court lost a golden opportunity to give life to the Guyana constitution by vitiating this 1893 law against cross-dressing and establishing that all Guyanese are entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms, including our transgender citizens, who unfortunately will continue to be vulnerable to human rights abuses, with this dubious decision. We must appeal it,” she said.
Dr. Arif Bulkan who argued the case on behalf of the litigants is a lecturer in constitutional law and human rights law at the Faculty of Law, UWI, St. Augustine and a coordinator of the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), which has managed the litigation. Dr. Bulkan said that “This case raises issues of great public and constitutional importance relating to the scope of the restrictive savings law clauses in the Constitution that limit challenges to repressive colonial laws and the new provisions in the Guyana Constitution dealing with equality and non-discrimination. The region is closely watching this case.” He added that the legal team for the litigants, which includes Mr. Gino Persaud as instructing counsel, looks forward to arguing these important human rights concerns before the Court of Appeal. He said “In the content of our laws and details of our conduct, we must give meaning to the strong commitment in the Constitution to eliminate ‘any and every form of discrimination’ in Guyana.”
The case of McEwan, Clarke, Fraser, Persaud and SASOD v. Attorney General was initiated four years ago following the February 2009 conviction and fine of seven individuals for violating section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act. The 1893 law makes it a criminal offence for men to wear female attire and for women to wear male attire “in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose.” Other activities criminalised in section 153(1) are: grooming an animal in a public place; placing goods in a public way in town; beating a mat in a public way; flying a kite in the city; loitering around a shop and hauling timber in a public way. Unrepresented and unaware of their rights, the defendants were detained in police custody over the weekend, and then hustled through the legal system and fined $7,500 (GYD) each.
U-RAP co-founder, attorney-at-law and public law lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, Dr. Arif Bulkan explained that this colonial law was part of repressive penal regimes instituted in the second half of the nineteenth century throughout the Caribbean to severely constrain the lives and actions of recent freed Africans and the newly arrived indentured servants. Bulkan notes that “Despite the discriminatory aspects of these colonial laws, and their low regard for the majority colonial populations, vagrancy laws like section 153(1) have been kept in effect long after independence.” He adds that “The law is plainly at odds with the Guyana Constitution which states that it is committed to ‘eliminating every form of discrimination.’”
Joint Media Release from the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Guyana Trans United (GTU), Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS) and the Faculty of Law University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP).
The photo above is for an upcoming fete in Barbados. It invites attendees to bring either a pack of chocolate teatimes or a pack of vanilla teatime cookies to indicate one’s preference for either dark-skinned black women or light-skinned black women. Except that we know from Buju Banton and from Patricia Mohammed that there is much more going on here than mere individual preference: (hetero)sexualising, commodifying and consuming women, equating them with food, reducing a woman’s value to her attractiveness to men, producing norms around beauty, hair, attractiveness and body size that are racialised and gendered; and of course, our history as plantation societies and its attendant anti-black racism and sexism which excludes some black women and includes others insofar as their bodies can be consumed through sexual labour, service and desire. In short, the colonization of our very desires. The very intimate reach of power.
In Patricia Mohammed’s article she makes the point that in Buju’s apologetic “Love Black Woman” the black woman gets respect, not desire. Desire is reserved for the brownin. The ad above clearly shows both the “darkie” and “brownin” both as objects of desire. And that’s not progress, that’s the problem. Women remain as objects of male desire. In our recent #catchafyah tweet chat women shared their dislike for being disrespected, objectified and harassed on the street. Some, however, admitted to wanting “a sweet word” when they walk by and to feeling disappointed when no such sweet word was forthcoming. One shared that as a teenager with low self-esteem not feeling desired by men left her feeling bad about herself.
Edited to add: Creative Commess argues that the term darkie (at least in the context of Trinidad and Tobago) is used for both men and women and
functions as an important reaffirmation of Afro-descendant beauty, by calling attention to a certain skin tone in all its chocolate splendor. Its contemporary usage in Trinbagonian society is also markedly different from the American term “darky” (or other cultural uses, with or without a “y”) which is an old termed racial slur, rooted in the era of blackface, epitomizing the negative stereotypes of all dark-skinned people.
At CODE RED for gender justice we have an ongoing project which examines race and gender in Caribbean advertising. (See also Rum and Rape Culture, our most popular post to date.) Please email us your submissions at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com.
Three very popular Caribbean bloggers have written recently about gender, race, class and nation in the region. These are must-read articles, check them out:
Annie Paul writes about the Caribbean Court of Justice Case currently being heard. The case concerns the infringement of the rights (and sexual assault) of CARICOM citizen and Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie. She examines notions of gendered respectability and class and how they are at the heart of this case:
This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica, visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.
Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.
Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican. So @Emilynationwide was right to emphasize the outfit and demeanour of Ms Myrie. It may be extremely germane in the instant case.
Yesterday a man lost his entire family in seconds. Seconds. We can’t return them to him. Yesterday and this morning that man is firm in the knowledge that he may never receive justice…ever. Because in this corrupt narco state of a country the cliques protect their own. In the midst of wrenching grief, this man knows that the person responsible for killing his family may never be brought to justice. The community of Sea Lots responded angrily, impulsively and violently. The police and armed services responded back.
Meanwhile, on a computer somewhere, a citizen, who happens to be a freelance journalist posts up a rant. It is both classist and racist. He sincerely believes that poor(economically) black people who protest should be shot and killed and cabbages planted on them. He is unapologetic. Within seconds, other people who have little to no clear details of the tragedy, but who also have a deep and abiding disgust for poor black people because they believe them to be a burden on society, click like on his status and add comments. Of the five people who clicked like, one is a police officer. Another one is a friend of mine; and yet another is an online persona I know who is quite comfortable with using the word Negro to describe and define Afro- descended people.
Tillah Willah took umbrage with Nicki Minaj’s description of Trinidad & Tobago as “nothing” demonstrating the extent to which this characterization relies on a homogenised understanding of blackness as outside of humanity. It is a critique worth noting especially as some feminist scholars think of Minaj as queer, subversive and transgressive.
Maybe it’s all that peroxide that’s eaten through Nicki Minaj’s scalp and started affecting her brain.
Or maybe it’s just the contempt that all Trinbagonians have for their own. You know, the place that gives you so much, that all you can manage to do is bad talk it at every opportunity.
I’m not, as you might have guessed, a fan of Ms. Minaj. There is a lot of really good hip hop out there and she is not it.
In a moment of empathy, Ms. Minaj reached out to an American Idol competitor – a refugee from Liberia – to say that she was so happy that the two of them had made it alive out of their horrible countries and come to the earthly paradise known as the United States of America to have a shot at being human.
In one fell swoop she perpetuates the myth of the savage Third World and also the streets paved with gold that exist outside of these Third World hell holes.
You really have to wonder if Ms. Minaj has some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But if she does, if she is yet to deal with the traumas of her childhood, she should see a specialist about it, instead of going on American television and describing her country, my country as ‘nothing’.
Also I am curious about the something that she says that she is now. I suppose having millions of dollars is success. It doesn’t matter if you get this money by acting like Oversexed Barbie. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a media machine that sexualises girlhood, that preaches bamsie shaking as the sure fire way to get attention. And if you’re a black woman of any kind of popularity you start to get progressively whiter the more famous you get.
It fits the mainstream world media agenda for us to continue to think that anywhere in the so-called Third World is backward and savage. Trinidad and Liberia are one and the same, although Trinidad has not had decades of civil war. Far from being an expression of solidarity with a fellow person of colour, she is spewing the same ignorance that lumps us all into one amorphous bunch of black savages who can’t help but kill each other.
Oh and by the way? Violence and poverty do not exist in Queens. Racism is a long past dream and we’re all just getting along and having a big old party.
From local journalists, to the Caribbean court of justice to Nicki Minaj, there’s lots to unpack about our understanding of blackness as outside of the human and how this is mediated by gender, class and nation.
Join the discussion…
Edited to add
Negril Stories also wrote about the Shanique Myrie case in an aptly named post “I am Shanique Myrie or Jamaicans and Women are also Human”. Check it out.