How can I make my muse soothe my bruised self, as well as be a passionate plea to the women of the Caribbean, the girls of the Caribbean and the wider women’s movement of the Caribbean? I want to use the right words to be able to convey how shaken I was by the events of the last few days.
Around Thursday my attention was drawn to Yugge Farrell via Facebook. For a quick précis for those who do not yet know of Yugge Farrell, she is a 22-year-old Vincentian national who has been making some strides as a fashion model. She alleges that she had an intimate relationship with Camillio Gonsalves, the minister of finance in her homeland. Camillo is the husband of senior crown counsel Karen Duncan and the son of current Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Yugge is accused of hurling a derogatory phrase at the Karen Duncan. She pleaded not guilty and based on information shared with the trial judge, and not Yugge’s lawyer, she was remanded to the centre for psychiatric care in Glen, just outside the capital Kingstown.
When the details of the case first started making rounds via social media, they were relatively scant. I did not even know as much as I have provided above. However, the chorus of male voices around the region who were trying to convince readers that there was nothing in the case and that Yugge was actually ‘mad’, raised alarm and a sense that there was more to the matter. I was hearing things like even if there was a little sex involved, she needs to be in the mental hospital for treatment.
I was also alarmed that the old divide and rule tendency was employed early in this matter. Womanists or feminists who were voicing concern were blatantly told that Karen was in as much distress as Yugge and that really we were wrong to care for one woman over the other. Perhaps we can now use this point as departure from focusing on the personalities in this specific case to the important takeaways and positions of principle.
The island of St Vincent and the Grenadines, like many of the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean, is a democracy. There is law, practice and precedent. If it is not usual for a person entering a not guilty plea for a misdemeanor to be detained for psychiatric observation then the outcome of one case cannot be varied due to how people perceive that person’s moral or life choices.
The rule of law is to provide levelling. Every person is to be treated fairly and equally in a court of law. In instances where that does not happen due to class, race or access to resources, we should be fighting the corruption of credible justice in our islands and not perpetuating it.
Where there is a case involving two women and activism begins based on the details surrounding the matter, there are enough hands in womanist and feminist work that multiple women can be supported at one time.
Often the actions of one perpetrator can affect multiple women simultaneously. Activism, however, draws a line long before it assumes that a person is a victim or is being unfaired if that person is comfortable with their circumstance. It also cannot prescribe what a person’s response to a given situation should be. So that if a case involves two women and one reaches out to the womanist lobby and the other does not, the lobby can only do its best to support the privacy and well being of both women whilst serving the woman who has engaged the lobby.
This is not a divide and rule tactic. It is not the same thing as men seeking to use class as a separating feature among women and seeking to dictate which woman should be supported based on her status in life and which should be resolved to her fate because she is poor, unmarried or was otherwise perceived to be deserving of punishment.
In a case where personal lives crisscross professional and state responsibilities there are thin lines in the execution of justice and abuse of the state apparatus. If there are a number of players in a situation and all but one has access to power, control, resources and other advantages then it is extra important to ensure that all is done to maintain transparency. Public officials must also always ensure that in their personal choices they do not create situations that reflect poorly on their public responsibilities.
Before the world was willing to make concessions. A man was allowed to be a good carpenter for instance, but beat his wife clueless every night. With the call for accountability in personal and professional action, there is a greater correlation between what a person’s personal choices are and their bearing on a person’s suitability to hold office. This trend is a growing worldwide one and the Caribbean will not escape its effects.
For too long we have pretended that we do not know about the blatant infelicities of professionals, politicians or other ‘high to do’ individuals. We have perfected the art of victim shaming and silencing. Many a life has been destroyed because of it and I hope that moving forward the womanist movement ceases to be complicit in this head turning.
I think the final and most stark lesson is that we the women of the Caribbean have to stand with the girls of the Caribbean. There is no competition between us. Instead of hurting each other for the cheap ends of men, we both have to be able to give each other the respect and sisterhood which is healthy.
Girls especially, I hope that you realize three certain truths. Firstly, it is never a good idea to engage in an intimate relationship with a man who is already married. The likelihood of him leaving is less than zero and no amount of cursing his wife will likely change his decision. Married men who engage in extramarital affairs are simply looking for thrills which the construction of Caribbean masculinity has made them feel it is disrespectful to ask their wives for.
Secondly, a man who is 20 years your senior is not dealing with you because you bring so much more to the table. It is the exact opposite – they are looking for an uncomplicated way to fulfil sexual needs. Your emotional and financial neediness validate their egos but it will become a burden after a while. Also, remember that a powerful man is usually married to a powerful woman and wedging yourself between two older people with power and resource can leave you vulnerable in the end.
Third, remember that all old women were young women. In other words, ‘wha ain catch yuh ain pass yuh’. The same complaints old women have, young women get eventually. Never allow a man to disrespect a woman going through the aging process. It is unnecessarily cruel.
#justiceforyuggefarrell #metoo #toamorepurposefulcaribbean.