A few recent reports in various sections of the media highlighted the flaws and gaps in the social engineering mechanisms of Barbados. The first related to commentary about court matters and the second was the discussion resulting from comments made by Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland.
Bynoe-Sutherland, the Executive Director of the Barbados Family Planning Association, noted that teenage pregnancies were still relatively high and common in Barbados. She also noted that the discrepancy between the legal age for sexual consent and medical consent continues to be a major headache for agencies interfacing with Barbadian teenagers.
Many people are focused on the economic crisis in Barbados. My bigger worry about where this country is financially has always been the serious social decay that is resulting at the macro and micro levels. There are programmes and practices which had been instituted in Barbados that are no longer offered due to financial restraints. These programmes were facilitating the transformation of Barbadian society.
These seemingly insignificant programmes were a part of the re-socialization of Barbadians from the values which had pertained in earlier periods of our history. Perhaps what was missing with the programmes was a wider social discussion about why they had been started and why we were replacing norms and customs which defined Barbadian society.
When I was a child, I remember, for example, various little bits being done by the community nurses in the polyclinic setting. They taught mothers about various aspects of mothering. Health inspectors were seen in communities teaching families how to avoid various health risks at their properties. The programmes then became more diversified with the addition of various other departments offering social services.
The Probation Department had interventions, the Youth Affairs section was expanded, primary schools were used as outlets and so on and so forth. The peak of these social offerings were in the second term of the Owen Arthur led era of Barbados.
The revitalization of the Barbados Mortgage Finance Company and the establishment of the Rural and Urban Development Commissions were obvious examples of the pinnacle of the social democratic project on the island. With the change in government in 2008 and the subsequent decline in economic fortunes, the social reengineering project of Barbados screeched to a grinding halt.
It is within that broader context that we can talk about the behaviour of teenaged girls in Barbados. Who is creating the social road map for Barbados? Who is recognizing that the usefulness of Barbadian women has long gone past simply being the gatekeepers of a healthy population size?
The 1930s era resulted in a clear vision for an Independence era in Barbados where the development agenda did not flounder because we knew the progenitor, continuation and projected outcomes of it. The same Barbados Family Planning Association would have been established within this clear set of ideologies about what Barbados needed to gain and sustain independence.
Although a lot of work was done in the period, there were social values and perceptions in relation to women and girls which have never been supplanted. For example, although the Family Planning has a well over fifty year presence in Barbados and gives women the choice of planning and controlling their reproductive health, that message has never been popular or acceptable in mainstream Barbados.
Barbadian women are still dissuaded from being agents of their own sexuality. They are not allowed to want sex for pleasure and having children often does not result from a place of power but rather from either transactional sex for economic necessity or as a manipulative tool to ‘keep a man’.
Is it any surprise then that we have not seen a decrease in the rate of teenage pregnancy over the years? Most Barbadian women are getting children for the same reasons our foremothers got children and these were never wholesome or particularly powerful reasons.
The behaviour of young women in our society generally is not surprising. We are educating girls and opening their minds to concepts such as right to choice and respect. At the same time, we are comfortable in a society with unacceptably high levels of sexual and emotional abuse against girls. We are happy in a society which still glorifies a misogynist masculinity, where women are sexual relief and bothersome past that.
Without continued social engineering in Barbados, is it any wonder that our younger generations seem to be losing their way? Is it any surprise that our girls want to be the glorified, responsibility free boys-on-the block? What have girls gained for remaining ‘good’ and steadfast in their school work?
The other item which caught my eye involved a 48 year old man who had lost his house, being chastised by a judicial officer for stealing when he could ‘find something to do’. There are several people who are currently falling out of the Barbadian society. These people who have been accustomed to living a middle class lifestyle now find themselves unable to buy food or to pay their bills.
After investing time and energy in a mortgage and a house, losing it must be a catastrophic experience. Whether by fire, natural disaster or bank repossession, the reality must be a sour and jarring thing. We must be able to understand that. At any level of Barbadian society. A person who has lost his or her house and is discovered stealing food does not need to find something to do. The person needs the benefit of a social safety net to regain the strength and emotional self-esteem moving on takes.
Such a national response would not be by any stretch of the imagination new. Several places across the world have put in such mechanisms after the sub-prime market crash in 2008/9, with the Bahamas being at least one of regional example.
I wished that there was a way I could get the name of the restaurant which had chosen to pursue this matter in court. Human beings need food, sleep and clothing. None of us is beyond these basic needs and there is something seemingly callous about that restaurant seeking to have this matter occupy the court’s attention.
In a time when several Barbadian families are struggling to meet basic needs, hotels, restaurants and other establishments continue to dump trays and trays of food. I would not consciously support any such entity with my hard earned money and I wish the restaurant had been named as a part of the reporting of the story.
My biggest fear for Barbados as we slump further and further into economic desperation is not the economic fallout – money will fix money. My biggest consternation is that our social reengineering project is badly derailed and we are losing the essence of the Barbadian way.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.