Prominent Queen’s Counsel Ralph Thorne has taken both Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite to task for recent statements, which he said were reflective of a general “contemptuous attitude” on the part of the current Government to Barbadian women.
During a national consultation last week organized by the Anglican Church, the Prime Minister had sought to challenge the use of the term “single mother”, saying it was an excuse often used by women to let delinquent fathers off the hook.
Stuart, whose father died tragically when he was nine years old, had also stated that he was raised “by a genuine single mother”.
“So I understand the narrative and I understand the challenges, but I am saying that today people who call themselves single parents really are not. It is really an excuse for not putting the kind of pressure on the father that needs to be put so that the burdens of family life can be shared,” the Prime Minister had explained.
However, Thorne, who is also the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for Christ Church South, saw this as a crude attempt by Stuart to blame women for the delinquency of fathers who failed to support their children.
In fact, he described it as nothing short of “insulting” to women, while calling for Stuart’s head.
“The Prime Minister’s stance on this issue reveals that Government has lost the academic, intellectual, political and moral authority to run the affairs of Barbados any further,” Thorne said at a BLP St Michael South constituency branch meeting last weekend.
The Opposition politician argued strongly that “the phenomenon of single motherhood” has long been recognized in Barbados, not only legally, but socially as well.
He made reference to Barbadian George Lamming’s 1953 famous novel, In The Castle Of My Skin, in which Lamming wrote about “my mother who fathered me”, a phrase later borrowed by Jamaican anthropologist Edith Clarke as the title for her 1957 book, which revealed that the predominant family structure in Barbados and the Caribbean was that of sole motherhood.
“Yet the Prime Minister’s statement seeks to defy this social reality and while doing so, to elevate his own personal circumstances above that of others to state that he was of a ‘genuine single mother’, as if to suggest that the struggling single mothers in Barbados are fake,” the BLP spokesman charged.
He argued that there were four main reasons why women became single mothers.
“One, termination of the relationship, plain and simple; two, divorce where the woman had been married; three emigration by the father to another country and four, imprisonment of the father.”
Thorne also told the gathering at that there were many reasons why women did not pursue the fathers for financial support, including fear of abuse by fathers who threaten violence when women indicate that they are going to court or even to a lawyer.
Thorne said women were often worried about the interest of their children, and as a result some sought to “shield the children from conflict between themselves and the fathers and therefore do not pursue legal recourse”.
The Queen’s Counsel also acknowledged that “the difficulty in enforcement of court orders against the men” often forced women to abandon their pursuit of delinquent fathers; so too “the inadequate and undignified physical conditions at the magistrates’ courts are often a disincentive against continuing the case”.
He also said poverty was another factor since “there are cases in which the men simply cannot afford to support the child either because of unemployment or other severely impoverished circumstances.
“I also feel obliged to add that the law permits men to pursue women for financial support for children but that men often restrain themselves against doing so due to the societal pressure that considers it unmanly to request money from a woman, even for child support,” Thorne noted.
In his feature address, Thorne also took umbrage to what he saw as recent attempts by the Attorney General to blame mothers and grandmothers for the high incidence of violence committed by young men.
“Both statements from these two important officials reveal this Government’s contemptuous attitude towards women, and in particular single women. The Government is prepared to abandon its own responsibility and is seeking to blame women for the significant social problems that afflict Barbados,” he told the gathering.