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!

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

We are the 51%

There is great buzz about St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ first ever Women’s Congress to take place in March.  SVG made international headlines last year for its high levels of intimate partner violence, violence against women and femicides–the highest in the OECS.  The launch of the Women’s Congress was much needed good news.

The Women’s Congress is convened under the theme “Women Rising, Crisis and Response-Women as Agents of Change.”  The theme suggests that women are coming together to find solutions to the problems they face as women but also to the issues faced by their communities and country. And why shouldn’t they? After all they make up the majority of the population!  The Women’s Congress also expressly set out to be inclusive, naming rural women, people with disabilities, indigenous women and Rastafari women and young people among their key constituents and change-agents.

The Women’s Congress planners held a recent press conference where they were forced to defend their focus on women before a room full of journalists who were all male. They were asked to explain why rather than focus on broad gender issues, they were focusing on worn-out women’s issues. For about the last 20 years or so in the Caribbean “gender” has been used to invalidate a focus on women.  It is pointless to clarify how feminists use the term since this is not a semantic battle at all.  It is a simple belief held by many that women ought to know their place.  And that place is definitely not organising congresses to discuss women’s issues.  It is not parliament either where women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a mere 3 of 22 representatives.

The organisers defended  themselves by saying that there could be a men’s congress if men demanded it, that they recognise that they have to work with men in order to achieve gender equality, that there is a project in the works to create a resource centre for men and boys.

The OAS representative at the launch stated that:

the Caribbean lacks a critical mass of women political leaders committed to promoting gender equality in areas such as women’s economic empowerment and security, ending gender-based violence, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, equal pay for work of equal value and shared family responsibilities.

Beyond women as political leaders, she failed to mention women as a political constituency.  The fact that we’re not one.  States respond to men. Often in very, very problematic ways, but respond they do with a range  of institutions and policies.  But they do not respond to women as women. (They respond to women as mothers, again in problematic ways.)  If the Women’s Congress can move towards the creating women as a political constituency they will have achieved tremendous success.

The other point to be  addressed is the assumption that addressing women’s issues means negative outcomes for men. The Women in the Caribbean Project was the longest ever regional research project on Caribbean women.  It took place from 1979-1983.  One of the objectives of the project was to influence policy in ways that would improve women’s lives.  One of the guidelines the researchers set for themselves was that any policy recommendation should benefit both women and men.  Recognising the human rights of women and the specific gendered harms which many women face does not mean that men’s issues are ignored or men’s human rights are denied.

Men as partners for gender equality cannot be invoked to invalidate a focus on women.  That is not only absurd but goes contrary to any feminist notion of gender equality.

Wishing the women of St. Vincent and the Grenadines a successful Women’s Congress!

A Slutwalk in the Caribbean?

“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,” said Miguel, who is also Minister of Education, during the Budget Debate.

“I know that many a times, they do this but our men can sometimes pull them up a bit and say ‘No’. They have all their mammary glands (breasts) outside — some of them — and they need to know there are two good reasons why we were given these glands.

Source: Dress Properly, Don’t tempt men – Deputy PM

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Deputy PM tells women to dress properly and not tempt men. She says that women’s breasts are intended to feed children and comfort their husbands. This hetero/sexist drivel was offered in response to the high level of violence against women and girls and femicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

One person left this comment on CODE RED’s facebook page:

It’s pretty ignorant. Revealing clothes do not cause murder or any other crime. She’s reaching for an easy conclusion and it’s the wrong one. She should be ashamed of herself and the government should be embarassed.

Not only are her comments ignorant, they are particularly dangerous in the context of such high levels of violence against women and murders of women. She is actually saying that women’s bodies do not belong to themselves, that they belong to men, and conflating women with mothers, that women’s bodies are to be in service of motherhood. Its the same kind of hetero/sexism that is at the root of the kind of violence against women you see in SVG. The respectability discourse, that the human rights of women, should only be protected, if women are “respectable” subjects is absolute sexist drivel. For the millionth time, clothing does not invite nor excuse violence against women.

What the Deputy PM is saying about men is also troubling. By arguing that women’s clothing tempts men into violence she is painting men as naturally inclined toward sexual violence and with no control over their own sexuality. But in the same breath she sets men up as “protectors” of women by asking them to pull women aside and tell them when they are dressing inappropriately!!! In the Caribbean street harassment of women by men is a daily nuisance. Her comments invite more of the same.

It is understandable just how frustrating it is to witness such everyday violence against women and to feel powerless to change it. But seeking to discipline women and our bodies is not the answer. Neither is positioning men as simultaneously naturally violent and as potential protectors of women.

in 1985 in SVG schoolgirls took to the streets of Kingstown in protest against violence against women and girls. They understood that they had a right to life and a right to a good life and used their very bodies to insist that their rights be respected. How is it that schoolgirls in 1985 understood what the Deputy PM in 2012 does not seem to understand?

Do we need a Caribbean slutwalk?

Everyday Rape

Earlier this month a Trinidadian police officer refused to help a rape survivor  because she was naked.  When asked if he could lend her his raincoat so that she could enter the station to report the rape, he refused.  Two good samaritans then took her to her mother’s house where she dressed before returning to the station to report the rape.

This month the Daily Mail published the story of a 62 year-old visitor to Barbados who was raped on the beach. After the police were called they told her they would drive her around to see if she happened to see the rapist anywhere nearby.  After an hour of driving around she was taken to the station where she waited another hour before she was  taken to be seen by a doctor.  She was then driven back to the station and left inside the vehicle parked outside the station for nearly an hour.  Passers-by peered into the vehicle to get a look at her bruised face.

A friend of my mine recounted recently that while at a local police station to report a missing cellphone he struck up a conversation with a woman who was there enduring the lengthy wait to report a crime.  The woman confided in him that this had been her third visit in as many days to the station to report the rape of her primary school-aged daughter.  The police were yet to take a statement or offer any kind of victim support services.

According to a 2007 UN report, St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) has the third-highest rate of reported rapes in the world. Last year SVG ranked 8th in the world for refugee claims to Canada.  The majority of these claims are by women fleeing domestic and intimate partner violence.

In 1997, a 22 year-old Jamaican rape survivor was remanded to Fort Augusta Prison in Kingston for speaking too quietly while giving her testimony.   The judge said this was for her own good.  She ended up spending the night in jail.

Two independent senators in Trinidad & Tobago spoke out against a bill which would force rape survivors to provide DNA samples. The Justice Minister dismissed their protests as unacceptable “feminist posture.”

The examples provided above are drawn not to highlight them as extreme cases which are interesting because they are anomalous. Quite the opposite.  They point to the long-standing failure of Caribbean states to adequately address violence against women generally, and sexual violence specifically.  This is an everyday failure, a systemic failure.  A failure that cannot be solved exclusively by more and better laws or by gender-sensitivity training for police officers, even though these are important.

CODE RED has also been tracking a growing trend across the region where the sexual abuse of boys by adult men is prosecuted under the laws against buggery.  (The buggery laws criminalise anal sex between men regardless of age or consent.) Are prosecutors using the buggery laws to secure convictions in these child abuse cases because the laws against child sexual abuse are inadequate? Or is it that the crime is not that an adult has had sex with a child but rather that the sex act itself is viewed as criminal?  What does this mean for heterosexual rape?  Is the failure to take heterosexual rape seriously because heterosexuality and hetero/sexism are viewed as normal and natural? Heterosexual rape therefore becomes a normal, natural sex act that is only criminal because of the lack of consent? Or as one commenter put it: “I prefer a man to rape my daughter than bugger my son, Lawd of mercy” ? For the record, both acts of rape are to be condemned equally.

This brings us back to the matter of rape as a fact of life, an everyday part of life:  The construction of women’s bodies as inherently vulnerable and violable, and men’s bodies not just as inviolable and invulnerable (a myth given how many young men die as victims of violence) but as weapons themselves.  Everyday rape. The fear that causes women to police themselves, the warnings that women should not walk the road late at night.  The incest, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children-  an open secret in the region.

You would think that recent calls to end child marriage in T&T would be met with unanimous agreement but that was not the case.  “Child marriages [are] often used as a method to avoid prosecution for sexual violations against minors, or to take the shame away from teenage pregnancies. [..] young girls are married off for economic reasons. [..] the country’s four marriage acts are in conflict with conventions to which T&T is a signatory, including the Convention for the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.”  The majority of children who get married off are girls.  Some of the most vocal opponents of ending child marriage were less concerned with the well-being of girls and more concerned about retaining the masculinist power and privilege which the marriage acts confer on diverse religious patriarchies.  The Muslim, Hindu and Orisha Marriage acts all set a lower age of consent for girls than boys.

Crimes against women continue to be discounted as crime.  Even just saying  “violence against women” is met with opposition.  Next time a story of rape, child sexual abuse or domestic violence murder grabs the headlines look past the sensationalism for the ordinariness, the everydayness of the story.  How else do we maintain commitment to ending the misogyny and heterosexism that are part of everyday life?

Aim High. Get Low?

The Guild of Students of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad have started a series of public discussions called Caribbean Reasonings.  From the looks of things on facebook the student body seems very eager and engaged.  It really warms the heart to see the Guild of Students take such initiative to contribute to the intellectual community on campus.  I really love that the series is called Caribbean Reasonings as it echoes the book and seminar series of the same name coming out of the Centre for Caribbean Thought based at UWI, Mona Jamaica.  These Caribbean Reasonings highlight the contributions and social and political thought of some of the Caribbean’s finest minds and encourage a younger generation of scholars to engage with their ideas.

I first came across Guild of Students take on Caribbean Reasonings when the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation questioned the use of  theme “Iz a Bulla” to advertise a “reasoning” to discuss homosexuality.  Bulla is a derogatory term for a homosexual man though some gay Caribbean men themselves have reclaimed the term.  Of course the theme “Iz a Bulla” is meant to be deliberately provocative in order to get the student body out in their numbers.  But at the same it is also offensive as it uses a term meant to shame and  denigrate homosexual men, discipline all men to heterosexual and patriarchal masculinity; and completely erases women who have sex with women.

Women’s sexuality will, in fact, be dealt with this week.  From the facebook page for the event :

This is the first edition of the new Caribbean Reasonings series where we analyse the views of a “bad ting” which is an insightful look into the views and attitutudes towards female sexuality and women in general.

The poster features a pair of what looks like Victoria’s Secret underwear which while meant for an adult. look like little girls’ underwear and the words “free public access”.  My initial reaction was that while they needed to be provocative in order to get students to turn out, they had stooped a little too low in their advertising.  I found it irresponsible and offensive.

Then today a friend messaged me to say that an 80 year-old woman had been raped and killed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Just this month in Barbados an 83-year old stroke survivor was also raped.  Police arrested and charged a man who only last year had been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence for raping another elderly woman.  So perhaps the poster does a good job of summing up dominant attitudes towards female sexuality in the Caribbean: free public access or the complete denial of bodily integrity whether one is a child, a teen or an eighty year-old woman.

click through for image source & to learn more about the event.

Counting Crime, Discounting Women

Let’s begin with a little Caribbean feminist history: Schoolgirls in uniform in St. Vincent and the Grenadines took to the streets in 1985 to protest the murder of one of their colleagues.  The following year Barbadian women marched in the capital to protest against rape and the police (lack of )response.  They marched despite being denied police permission to march initially and being accused by the then Deputy Commissioner of Police of making public nuisances of themselves. Just last month, hotel workers in Jamaica marched against domestic violence. Go back or forward in the historical record and there is overwhelming evidence of Caribbean women struggling against every injustice meted out to them.

Women have spoken up, out and against violence.

Yet the specific gendered harms which women face are often trivialized or dismissed. In Barbados, like everywhere else in the Caribbean, people are panicked about increased crime.  We were reassured via press conference recently that there is no  crime wave in Barbados since of the 22 murders so far for the year half of them were “domestic”.  Let me do the math for you: 22 murders minus 11 “domestic” violence murders =11 real murders= no crime wave.

What to do to ensure that it would not even be thinkable for a high-ranking public servant to even suggest that the murder of women by their intimate partners is not real crime?

Is it that we believe that women count for nothing so the murder of women can be discounted as real crime? Or that intimate partner violence is considered private (even when it takes place in the most public of places), acceptable and unavoidable?

A friend messaged me last night to say she was concerned about sexual violence and murders of women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and felt that something should be done to address it.

Abeni of St. Vincent and the Grenadines of the And Still I Rise blog also expressed frustration with the murder of women and the victim-blaming and shaming public discourse which follows:

Another day and news of yet another female homicide assaults the airwaves. Only 25 years old, her neck slashed by her lover. Murder #18 they say. Somehow I find it hard to believe.

I listen and a weariness fills my soul. Tired of saying the same old things. Tired of reading the many inane comments that populate the social networks like Facebook. Sickened by the pictures of the deceased lying in her life’s blood making the email rounds. 

So my question to you is the same one my Vincy friend asked of me, what to do?