Over her dead body: Nationalist rhetoric as (erasure of) violence against women

Natoya Ewers, a Jamaican woman, was hacked to death by her intimate partner, leaving behind three children.  I came across this Jamaican facebook page where the occasion of this woman’s death was used to denounce the fact that Bajans did not like Jamaicans.  Many users asserted that the woman should not have left Jamaica to travel to that third world full-stop of an island Barbados.  Absolutely no mention of violence against women.  No mention of the Jamaican women who lost their lives at home in Jamaica at the hands of intimate partners during that same week.  No mention of how increasingly violent Caribbean societies had become.  I told myself it’s just one facebook page.  Surely that is not most people’s reaction.  Then I saw the Jamaica Observer cartoon above and it confirmed my initial fears.

Caribbean feminist scholar, Alissa Trotz, has outlined how “women’s bodies [become] the site on which group loyalties are enacted.”  Not to be outdone, on the Nation News (Barbados) facebook page comments were also nationalistic as readers alleged that the man who committed the murder and subsequently killed himself was Vincentian.  They quickly moved from the nationalistic to the sexist:

But lets face the truth. Bajan women take and take and take and just take too much from men. Its not like the men can afford to give so much. Men feel compelled to give because its the only way they can keep these selfish bajan women. Bajan women have become a society of beggers.

Just say ” hello” to a bajan women and she wants a top up.

Of course, the other facebook users moved to correct the commenter quoted above, not to chide him for his sexism but to remark that the woman in question was not Bajan but Jamaica.   The stereotype of Caribbean women as mercenary, materialistic and financially dependent on men and these “facts” in and of themselves being presented as a justification of murder went unchallenged.

While the recent tensions surrounding the treatment of Jamaican nationals at the Barbados airport and the rape of a Jamaican woman in police custody explains in part this recourse to an unthinking nationalism, it does not explain why all the “talk” following this woman’s brutal death made absolutely no mention of  the similarity with so many other murders of Caribbean women and displayed very little feeling for the woman herself.   Reports are that she had confronted her partner about sexually abusing her daughter.  On local television one of her neighbours reported watching the woman’s murder from the safety of his bedroom window.

Women’s bodies are used as boundary-markers in what has become an asinine Barbados versus Jamaica beef played out at the highest and lowest levels.  Wasted time, talk and energy that could be put towards fighting against what is really at issue here: men’s violence against women, society’s sanctioning of it, incest and child sexual abuse.



Spotlight on Paternity Testing During Child Month

In Barbados between April 1, 2010, and February 28 this year there were 737 cases of child abuse involving 1 061 children. Of that number 199 children suffered physical abuse, 151 sexual abuse, 612 neglect, 97 emotional abuse and two were abandoned.   Of course these figures do not reflect the countless other cases of child abuse that go unreported and the other institutionalized and normalized practices of child abuse that are not even considered such.

May is child month.  I learn today that the activities for Child Month include: the launch of a campaign against child abuse, a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children, in addition to a forum for the youth on the topic Teenage Pregnancy: Life Before, Life After.

Just who is setting the children’s rights agenda in Barbados? With 1000+ children reported to have been abused  and the countless other cases which go unreported, how is a “a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children” a legitimate child month activity? Just how do men’s rights and responsibilities with regards to paternity and paternity testing fall within the remit of an organisation set up to respond to the needs of children? Where are the children’s voices?

I’m not dismissing the relevance or usefulness of paternity testing.  Neither am I dismissing the premise of a men’s forum to discuss it.  Yes, men and women, mothers and fathers have a key in ensuring that children’s rights are not denied.  But their interests and agendas cannot be assumed to be the same.  I just think that child month should be about the issues which deny our children their right to a good life and also about the issues which our children define as important to them.

The UNICEF report on “Perceptions of, Attitudes to, and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean” revealed that:

a significant number of people consider that childhood ends at 13 years. This may help to explain why, in the focus group discussions, some men indicated that they considered girls to be legitimate sexual targets once girls have gone through puberty (this phrase was taken to mean that a girl had begun menstruating);

The bible says that when a woman goes through puberty she is ready, so if it happens at 11 she is ready (Male Focus Group Participant).

It also revealed that the majority of respondents agreed that ‘girls draw men’s sexual attention by the way they dress’.  While respondents may have been stating that they believe this to be a fact or that they in fact believed that girls actively seek men’s attention through their choice of dress, it is a belief that ultimately relieves men of their responsibility for their own behaviour and contributes to victim-blaming in cases of rape and sexual abuse.

Another key finding is that the majority of respondents said that if an adult in their family was sexually abusing a child within the family, they would always report it to the police.  However, when asked a related question, a significant number of people said they would try to sort out such a problem without informing the police.   Men were twice as likely as women respondents to state that they would sort it out without going to the police (34% of male respondents said this as compared to 17% of female respondents).

Clearly we have a long way to go towards recognising the right of all children to a good life. This includes moving away from viewing children as the property of their parents, a view that is very much prevalent in the Caribbean.  We also need to recognise that children’s rights must be addressed on their own terms. We cannot allow the children’s rights agenda to be hijacked by groups whose aims are often inimical to the rights of children.

We need children’s voices on the Children’s Rights agenda.  

What do you think?