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.

Who’s next?

Guest post by Colin Robinson

Who’s Next? is a free noon event on Thursday at NGC Bocas Lit Fest at the Old Fire Station in Port of Spain. Seven intriguing new voices offer a tease of T&T’s writing future. The literary festival is overflowing with treats. I’d promised to unwrap more today, but life has overtaken literature.
Allegations about Delmon Baker pose one of the toughest ethical and political challenges the local LGBTI movement has faced. The only thing I’m clear about is that if I were a parliamentarian who was gay or bisexual, I would come out this week.
Media houses report claims by an articulate 27-year-old man (who cites scripture to deny he is gay or bisexual) that,in a four-year friendship, on at least three occasions in times of need he visited the home of the now 37- year-old MP, who touched him sexually or intimatelyThe accuser is described as “vulnerable,” related perhaps to his children’s home upbringing. He says the touching was unwelcome, and showed e-mails in which he shared his distress (but I’ve seen no timeline of the alleged incidents and communication).
Gabrielle Hosein reminded us last week how easily accusers get demonised. But this one has not painted a sympathetic picture of himself. He says he was inspired to break his story by Patricia Singh, who accused Minister Ramadharsingh of soliciting oral sex for help getting a house. But his demand for a public apology for private acts seems odd. Another newspaper reports he has fraud charges and court matters pending.
Homophobia skews public discussion about such allegations, and Baker’s legal team’s preaction protocol letters have silenced legitimate debate about them, leaving much of it up to scandal rags and social mediawhere it is least helpful.
Peeling away the feeding frenzy by those who smell a badly bloodied government is hard too. One test I’ve tried to apply to clarify the ethics of the matter is to change the sex of the complainant. But so much is genuinely different about this. Including the Government’s responses—like refusing Baker’s resignationpastor Rodger Samuel counselling the alleger to pray; and he and the communications minister invoking the legal response to dodge comment.
It’s complicated. Many ask: why did the accuser go back, after the first unwanted sexual advance? I know I’ve gone back. What sort of sexual advances are legitimate between friends, and in relationships that have nothing to do with any office?

In a 2002 decision soundly criticised in a UWI-commissioned law paperby SeShauna Wheattlea former Chief Justice freed Marvin Marcano for Christopher Lynch’s murder, saying his victim’s same-sex sexual advance was so unnatural it would send any right-thinking person crazy. Women don’t enjoy that protection. Twelve years later, a few months after the paperthe retired CJ mused that same-sex love is not repugnant and hurts no one.
But take Baker out of the picture. What about the other MPs, on different benches in both houses, who are lesbian, gay or bisexual? Who is “vulnerable” when they make sexual advances? Does our culture of scandal and stigma around same-sex desire make such office holders especially susceptible to sexual blackmail? Do our unenforced laws that make such behaviour illegal, even when it’s consensual, drive talented people away from—or out of—public service? Does the forced secrecy around such desire drive powerful people to seek sex from the vulnerable?
Public debate has also not yet turned on the fact—perhaps because few know this—that 25 years after Independence, the PNM created a new law criminalising with a five-year jail sentence a man playing with another man sexually in private— regardless of consent (though no one may have ever been prosecuted for consensual conduct). No parliamentarian is calling for such laws—which could be used to prosecute them—to be repealed.
But some things are refreshing. Despite the “No man, woman or goat is safe from this Government” picong—the titillation of prime time TV reporting—and the broadcast of a purported recording of a grown politician in tears on the phone—I’ve heard no loud voice say no homosexual belongs in the nation’s CabinetLast week the chief justice, attorney general, police commissioner, house speaker and arts minister all turned out to embrace the visiting American couple whose son, Matthew Shepard, was murdered, and listen to their message of acceptance and equal rights (though Rodger Samuelput in charge of national diversity, was notably absent.)
Hopefully Dr Baker and his accuser will be judged on the ethics of their conduct and not the other’s sex.
Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith.

Continue reading

No Laughing Matter: Stories of rape and sexual assault in Caribbean media this week

Laughing at boys who are raped

The Jamaica Observer recently subjected readers to the most crass and reprehensible of cartoons which pokes fun at the rape of boys in institutionalized care. Yes, they invited readers to laugh at the fact that boys were being raped.  A UN study of nine Caribbean countries found that 32% of boys described their first sexual experience as forced or somewhat forced.  Men and boys in institutionalized settings such as prisons face high rates of sexual assault.  These violations are often met with laughter or are seen as adequate punishment for the transgressions that land men in prison.  Never mind that prisons are filled with young, poor men with little formal education. Continue reading