Let me begin by wishing every woman and girl across Barbados belated wishes for a happy International Day of the Woman.
On Wednesday, the country engaged in praising the women of Barbados. Those praises were fitting and deserved because the women of Barbados have always been at the forefront of families and industry to ensure the well being and prosperity of this island state.
It is a historical and current fact that most of the households in Barbados are single woman-headed households. Further from the burden of maintaining the home, the burden of child rearing is also one which falls disproportionately on women. When the country is experiencing difficulties in its economic fortunes, women are more severely affected.
Therefore, at this juncture of Barbados’ history, I think it is wise to call upon the Government of Barbados to reflect on the disadvantage caused to Barbadian woman over this prolonged period of economic decline.It does not make sense for a Government to pass legislation to strengthen things like access to protection orders and install a Gender Violence Unit within the Barbados Police Force only to run an economy which makes women vulnerable to abuse because of perpetual hardship.
Many women are facing bosses who are using the leverage of being able to provide employment in order to solicit sexual favours. In the absence of legislation against sexual harassment, some women feel powerless to address these issues.
The economic position of Barbados has also affected women in myriad other ways. For women who own property, the increases in land tax as well as the demand now coming between August and September, means some women struggle to meet land tax and supply their children with back to school needs.
The increase in Value Added Tax has also made shopping for food items more expensive. Unemployment has affected many women and others who were asked to take early retirement are having difficulties accessing their pensions.It can be argued that all of these issues are also affecting men in the country but due to the extra burden of care on women, they impact more heavily on women.
An International Day for Women allows us to reflect on these issues. We take time to complete an inventory of the things which we have done for women.We can then create a list of future actions left to be taken as well. This type of exercise is a healthy one and I welcome the annual opportunity to engage in it.
This year, the women’s group Life in Leggings is starting the National Balance sheet for us. They have placed the issue of rape and sexual abuse firmly in the national space. This is one issue which has not gotten adequate attention over the years.
Several linkages have not been made between the issues of teen wandering and abuse in the home or why the number of cases of incest and child sexual abuse going through the court system is so low and takes so long to dispense.
There are also other concerns such as the inadequacies of the system for reporting abuse among children. Teachers see the evidence of abuse in various ways in the classroom but the Child Care Board has not ensured that the reporting mechanisms are strong enough for teachers to know how to operate.
Additionally, our approach to the victim of abuse has changed little in Barbados. There is still the need to discredit the experience of the victim and to attempt to berate the person’s believability. This desire increases when perpetrators are seen as powerful men or people above reproach.
This issue is not one of legislation by itself because rape is already a crime in Barbados. It goes deeper to the level of attitudes and beliefs about rape. It also has a lot to do with how we view women and their autonomy to say yes or no. In order to change attitudes we focus on ‘soft’ issues. We start discussions around these issues which will allow information to be disseminated and hopefully, little at a time, attitudes can begin to change.
I was excited when the grassroots movement, Life in Leggings, birthed. I find myself further excited by the fact that its young progenitors have quickly weaved Life in Leggings into a regional mechanism. It is a significant feat that the movement is having its first march this weekend to coincide with the celebration of International Day of the Woman.
My synopsis is that these young women have realized that there was a lulling in the energy and activity around women’s issues. They jumped into a void and reasserted the need to keep an ongoing balance sheet open to examine the state of women. I encourage all of the women across Barbados to support these young women with your presence at their venture. There is also room for men who understand and support the upliftment of their partners in humanity.
We have banded together after women have lost their lives brutally to intimate partners to hold vigils in their memories. This is an opportunity for us to evoke a spirit of triumph that those lives were not lost in vain. It is also an opportunity for us to show our daughters that they have the right to say no. They have the right to be respected and a right to be. Marching does do something. It solidifies the will of a group of people to ensure that their needs are considered and fosters a collective spirit among them to keep advancing those needs.
It is an opportunity for us to revive and re-engage on a national plane about the issues that affect women and girls. It is also an opportunity, in an election season that is obviously heating up, to make a choice about the future governance of Barbados based on which option is more amenable to premiuming women’s issues.
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies. Email: [email protected])