This week’s offering represents one of the most painful of the entire series of Today’s Woman I have penned thus far. We are again expressing our sympathy to the family of a Barbadian woman struck down by domestic violence.
Once again, I feel as though the local women’s rights lobby has failed. I feel as though the academics who make handsome livings on the backs of women’s’ issues in Barbados have failed.
It is not just that another sister has fallen which has left me in a sombre and reflective space; it is the disrespectful, disgraceful and completely unacceptable reporting which one media house displayed.
Leadership matters and to develop the importance of leadership, let us examine the make-believe country, Misogen. Let us say that in Misogen, a person is charged for the offence of rape.
The person charged for rape is dismissed from his workplace following the charge. The case is dispensed with and a few years later, the said person who was charged is returned to the said workplace.
There is never an explanation to the citizenship of Misogen about what transpired behind the scenes in terms of counselling or amends by the individual who was charged with rape. The citizens just see a complete return to power and status by the person in question.
Without explanations, it would be a reasonable deduction to attribute any behaviour which can be defined as misogyny that occurs at the company (where the person with the rape charge was reinstated) as manifestation of institutionalized misogyny.
Perhaps, the scenario in Misogen says more about the collective population of Misogen than the offender. In a society such as America, there could be forgiveness and restitution for a convicted rapist but there would be strict criteria established by various tiers of the society.
The tiers simultaneously serve as deterrents to potential offenders as well as impetuses to readjust the collective culture of the society in terms of how women and girls are perceived.
Barbados has its own challenges with the collective culture in terms of women and girls. For this reason, leadership and the characteristics of those we place to lead major institutions is going to be key in reshaping the culture of the society.
Barbados is completely ignorant about what rape is, the motivations of the aggressor and the pain and anguish experienced by the victim. There are many elements of our culture, given to us straight from our plantation past, which are still enshrined in our psyches. Many Barbadians still believe that women’s dress and whether they are ‘virtuous’ or ‘slack’ are factors in rape.
Moreover, our society revels in victim shaming and blaming rather than placing the responsibility on the aggressor, where it belongs. Women who report rape are still perceived as liars and trouble makers and many men believe they have the right to ‘break in’ younger female relatives or siblings. There is a large, unchallenged, ugly underbelly in Barbados when it comes to sexual assault and rape. It is prevalent in our workplaces, in areas of social respite and in our homes.
It is alarming that one media house printed a graphic account of a rape and did not consider that that was what it was. It is alarming that the journalist responsible for writing the story did not see it. It is alarming that the editor, sub editor and duty editor did not catch the article before print. The real terror I experienced, however, was that a nation of Barbadians read the newspaper and that three days elapsed before any real alarm was raised.
The alarm did not come from the church. The alarm was not raised by the women’s movement. The lobby (as I experienced it) was raised by two relatively young men. This fact brings hope on the one hand and consternation on the other. The hope springs from the fact that our young men in Barbadian society seem unwilling to perpetuate the toxic societal norms which have been introduced to them through religion, primary and secondary schooling and family encounters.
One of the persons I saw raise the alarm on Facebook was a young Barbadian man. He was bolstered by DJ Salt in his morning segment. In reading through the sentiments and responses on the various Facebook feeds, it was clear to see the dichotomies in views play out with age as a significant factor in whether individuals saw the issue to be particularly egregious or not.
The consternation, of course, results from the realization of how deeply engrained and unhealthy views about women and sexuality pervade Barbados. Rape is not a punitive measure. Rape is never the victim’s fault. No woman deserves to be raped, no matter what her past actions or future actions have been or will be. Most upsetting of all remains the fact that as bad as the men in Barbados are, women remain our own worst enemies.
A woman is killed and we begin the conversation about ‘horning’ as if horning is a reasonable justification for taking a life. I am not saying in the least that the cultural views about infidelity, like the cultural views about rape, do not have to be interrogated and then supplanted.
What I am saying is that having the discussion every time a woman is killed is not the appropriate time and will not assist any causes.
I do not think that an apology is substantial enough for the gravity of the transgression.
Those found culpable should be charged with exerting financial resource to mount at least a three month campaign about rape and what it is across various communities in Barbados. They should also call in the UN Women division to train their top tier of management to ensure that this occurrence does not happen again.
The reality is that we made our inside business the business of the United Nations when we signed numerous treaties including those about the rights of Barbadian women and girls. We invested in partners across this fair land. Have you ever heard that you can hide and buy land but not hide and ‘wuk it’?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)