Recent verbal spats between the two main umbrella bodies representing men and women in Barbados have been heavily criticized on the floor of Parliament by no other than the Minister Responsible for Gender Affairs. Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, in his contribution to the debate on the 2014-2015 Estimates Of Revenue And Expenditure, said he was concerned about the “antagonistic and confrontational relationship” between the Men’s Educational Support Organization (MESA) and the National Organization of Women (NOW).
“Now I know that they were established to represent the interests of their individual [constituents] and so they should . . . . [But] while representing their constituencies, they have to be mindful that in their quest apparently not to cede ground to each other, they are cultivating the very set of dangerous antagonism and contention that have spawned the same conflict that they are seeking to address between the sexes on the issue surrounding gender-based conflict.
“I have a real problem with that,” Blackett said.
He lamented that the relationship between the two entities was “nothing to point to or use as best practice” to navigate our men and women out of, or find solutions to difficult relationships.
“Now I want to make a clarion call to both organizations from the floor of this House to cease their naked and sometimes obnoxious spats and find some kind of mechanism to present a singular public face to the myriad of gender issues, while maintaining their stout advocacy for the individual and collective stakeholders,” he said.
His comments were supported by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite who noted that MESA and NOW needed to work together towards the common good.
“ . . . Too often we have been hearing noises in the Press that might suggest that they are not part of the same team. And they should be. The object of those institutions should be to ensure that we can work together to reduce the incidence of domestic violence.
“[It] is no use [having] one organization saying ‘Let me protect the rights of women’, and the other saying ‘Let me protect the rights of men’, and never the two of them shall meet. At the end of the day, you want the same men and women to live together in harmony,” Brathwaite said in his submission.
In recent months, the two organizations have squared off primarily on the issue of mandatory DNA testing at birth to determine the child paternity, as well as on the matter of domestic violence, with MESA being accused by NOW of “trivializing the issue”.
Blackett, meanwhile, has issued a warning to public officers attached to the Bureau of Gender Affairs, advising them to be mindful of taking the side of any group in any debate.
“Though you are an advocate . . . at the end of the day, the bureau for which you work has to be as impartial and as even-handed as possible. If this is not perceived or acted out in reality, the credibility of the agency is seriously compromised and its interventions can be questioned.
“A word to the wise is enough,” Blackett warned.