The words of a 13-year-old have never so rattled a government as much of those of Khaleel Kothdiwala, who spoke during the recently held Barbados Labour Party (BLP) rally following their March of Disgust.
As true as those words were, or undoubtedly as a result of the harsh realities of the young man’s account, several members of the Government have gone from the peculiar to the perverse in seeking to respond to the youth. In so doing, they have laid bare their unfortunate perceptions of women and youth participation in this country.
Minister of Social Care, Steve Blackett, volleyed first in this most strange game of one-upmanship when he said that young Khaleel’s speech was tantamount to sexual and physical abuse and he was minded to refer the BLP to the Child Care Board.
He said: “They had a young man, 13 years old I understand he is, parading across the stage with or without the permission of his parents, in full glare of all, exploiting the young man. That is equivalent, as far as I’m concerned, to sexual abuse or physical abuse. It is!”
It is no surprise that Blackett was unnerved by the speech which told the story of the slide of the country downwards while the Government fiddles and the people suffer, because it was Blackett who said only a few weeks ago, that Barbadians were not suffering .
The inclination of Blackett to report the case to the CCB is itself ironic given the gravely consequential missteps of that agency in recent years and the lack of urgency on the part of the Government in remedying reported shortages in resources.
If the nonsense had stopped there, I would be sympathetic to the party, understanding that they were grasping at straws to de-legitimize the mammoth march and rally, and that, in recent times, has gone from saying nothing to saying anything. But that was not to be.
Blackett was joined in the foolishness by his Cabinet colleague, Minister of Education Ronald Jones. Jones said “Under the laws of Barbados, your parents have responsibility for you. Within the context of Barbados, nevertheless, it would seem strange because of the exploitative nature of politics that you would expose a 13-year-old youngster to that public glare. ”
I disagree with Minster Jones but I certainly cannot begrudge him for his convictions. My only hope is that he is equally concerned about the exploitation of young people who his party encouraged to participate in the creation of a youth policy, in the interest of optics and with the aim of scoring political points; a policy that by and large cannot be implemented. Additionally, I hope his deeply held concern convicts him to warn his colleagues against the exploitative use of young people in the next election campaign.
We lament that young people are not sufficiently engaged in this country, admonishing them to pay attention to news and current affairs and learn about and participate in democracy. Yet, when they do, we call them victims of abuse and coercion, without any available evidence to suggest that that is true.
Mara Thompson took it the furthest in last Friday’s wrap-up of the Estimates debate where she suggested that the young man was allowed to speak on the BLP platform because the childless Leader of the Opposition was not properly counseled by the parents on her side about why a young man of 13 should not speak on a platform “for adults”.
This sentiment is not only misguided but reprehensible. It reinforces the problematic standard which women continue to be held to in a modern society. It reinforces the idea that women are ultimately and fundamentally the bearers of children and, without that most fundamental of qualifications, they can do nothing else, be nothing else.
To wield childlessness against any woman is problematic but to do so against women who have committed themselves to public life is untenable. It is a low that I would not have conceived us stooping to.
The statements of all the MPs should concern electors, for they indicate their belief that participatory democracy should come with limitations for youth and for some women. There is no reason that should not concern us, given where we have come from and where we want to go.
To Khaleel, I hope that throughout your life, you have the resolve to ignore the naysayers and carry on unbothered, because shining and making a difference almost mandates you that you encounter the ignorant and or those attempting to convince the ignorant.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s Degree in International Trade Policy and is currently pursuing a law degree.)