University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Dr Kristina Hinds was recently in the spotlight along with public relations officer of the National Organization of Women, Marsha Hinds, and Luci Hammans of the Life in Leggings movement, for their protest at a public lecture delivered by St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves about two weeks ago.
The protest at the UWI Cave Hill Campus came against the background of the prime minister’s handling of a case involving a 23-year-old former model who was sent for psychiatric evaluation by a magistrate when she appeared in court charged with using abusive language towards the wife of Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, his son. But the demonstration was about more than that situation.
Barbados TODAY sat with the former Combermerian and graduate of the London School of Economics to discuss her views on International Women’s Day 2018. Who is Kristina Hinds? I have various roles. I have been a lecturer at the University of the West Indies since 2006, so professionally that is who I am. I am also a hockey player—I play for Combermere School Old Scholars; I have played hockey for Barbados as a goalkeeper.
I am also the female vice president of the Barbados Hockey Federation Board. I am a dancer, I am a mother – I have an eight-year-old son – and I am a wife. However, if I were to describe myself, I would say that I am a fun-loving person and I am down to earth. I am a person who has very strong beliefs . . . . At the end of the day, I am someone who likes a lot of different things – sports, the arts and intellectual things such as reading – and that is one of the good things about me as well as one of the bad things about me. When did you decide you wanted to be a lecturer?
I think I had decided from the time I was in secondary school that that was what I wanted to do. There was no guarantee I would get a job lecturing and I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to lecture at the University of the West Indies but I wanted to teach. I knew I wanted to be a teacher and then at university, seeing lecturers and professors, I said this would be a good career.
How did you move from the thought of wanting to be a lecturer to becoming a lecturer at the UWI? I also wanted to work somewhere like the United Nations or the Organization of American States, so I guess you can understand why International Relations was the area that I studied, and at the undergraduate level I did Development Studies.
Before I came to UWI I was a teaching assistant at the London School of Economics when I was completing my Doctorate. When I came to Barbados I took a job doing marketing research. I did that for about six months. I sent my curriculum vitae to different places, one of them being the Faculty of Social Sciences where Dr George Belle saw my CV and gave me a call.
We had discussion about a programme he was starting in January – a Masters in Integration Studies. He said he needed people to help coordinate the programme and deliver some of the courses. The faculty were already involved in teaching their various courses, so that was how I came to the University of the West Indies.
The first semester I was here I was working in the background to get the Masters in Integration Studies going and while doing that I was teaching part-time, Women in Politics as well as Socialist Political Economy. As a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is there any project that you have worked on that you are utmost proud of? One of the things that I worked a lot on was getting an International Relations programme at Cave Hill. We started by getting a minor and now we have a full degree in International Relations and a minor as well.
I am very proud of being a major contributor towards establishing that degree at UWI Cave Hill. What are some of the challenges that you faced as a woman? I went to Canada, I went to London, and I think in those kinds of spaces that are very white, you have to prove to yourself that you are intelligent like the other students and that you have things to add and you have to push the handle a bit more, not just as a woman but as a black woman in these spaces. I felt this in my PhD programme at London School of Economics where I was the only black woman in the programme.
I found that a little bit challenging, not that anyone was overtly sexist or racist but sometimes there were some comments about whether you should be here, not by the professors but by other students. In Barbados and the Caribbean, the main challenge that women face, that I have faced as a woman, is the perceptions about what your role is to be, how vocal you should or should not be. I think even in an informal setting there is a perception that the men must be loud and the women must sit among themselves and converse. I regret nothing about having my child, but what I know is that conducting research can get very interrupted by helping with homework, feeding a baby and dealing with sick children. There are things that end up being added that, certainly before I had a child were not issues at all.
There are times when I ask myself could I be doing more in my career? Perhaps, but there are things you have going on in your life that are important to managing a household. This is not to say that men don’t do these things, but even in 2018 we still have these expectations of who does what; we even have these expectations of ourselves. One of the major things that I have found challenging is being able to speak up on these sorts of issues . . . . I have been called feminist in a derogatory way; I have also been told I am very westernized.
I really can’t say up front that I have been blocked from doing anything, but I have felt like sometimes you have to prove yourself a bit more. What concerns you most about how women are treated in Barbados? What concerns me most is the treatment in the media. When we talk about things like violence in schools, when we talk about violence in general and crime, there is a lot of emphasis on the mothers . . . . Our societies have ended up being constructed in a way that many families are single-parent families and that single parent is the woman.
Nobody is perfect. People make their mistakes, people do what they can, but some of these narratives that we see in the media, in particular coming from some of our politicians, imply that women need to take care of their children better, [or] it is because of the absence of fathers . . . as if the absence of the father is somehow the woman’s fault. In the teaching profession there are too many women and there are not enough male role models; again, women are somewhat treated as if they are to blame for the feminization of teaching. One of the things that I also do not like are some of these narratives that we hear about women ‘unfairing’ men in the Family Court and that they are looking to get their [the men’s] money and buy weave.
I hear all the time that they are going in there to buy weave and that is all that they are going in the Family Court for—to get weave and then stop the men from seeing their children. Single parenting is hard and I do find that some of these narratives are not constructive and they also show a patriarchal kind of mould in our society.
I am not saying that anyone that makes these narratives is overtly sexist, but I think that we do carry a lot of sexism because of norms and culture. . . . We cannot [paint] mothers as persons who take men’s money just to buy weave and to go to Reggae on the Hill or Hennessey Artistry, and as not taking care of their children, because if that is what happened in Barbados we certainly would be in a bigger crisis in the school system than we are in now. Why did you decide to take a stand with Luci Hammans and Marsha Hinds against Ralph Gonsalves?
There is a lot of coverage that says this is about the Yugge Farrell case in St Vincent and the Grenadines [involving] the Prime Minister’s son, Camillo Gonsalves . . . . She alleges that she was in a relationship with him. Apparently, she cursed his wife and was brought before the courts. There are other things floating around saying that she is crazy and that she is obsessed with him. This is not the basis of my concern, but a part of it. I have a concern about the misuse of power. Even if this woman was indeed suffering from a mental illness and she cursed me and we went to court, would that person be placed in a mental institution for three weeks? I really question that. I also question whether a Prime Minister of a country should comment on this case . . . . a case in which family members are involved.
I wonder if this cannot be seen as prejudicial and, thereby, the minister has exercised power. I am not saying that the court system in St Vincent is flawed, as I probably do not know enough about it to say that. What I am saying is that when the person who holds the highest office in the country does those kinds of things, it can be very influential, it can be prejudicial and I see a problem with that in this case. I do not want to get into if Yugge Farrell was in a relationship with Camillo Gonsalves or if she has a mental illness. I am not getting into that. What I will say is that even if she has a mental illness she has rights. People who are mentally ill cannot just be locked away in a psychiatric hospital. I am not getting into the details of what their relationship was or anything of that sort; my concern is how power is being exercised potentially to protect people who are close to you – your own family members, your own son and your daughter-in-law.
That is an issue for me. There are also some questions we can ask about the placement of one’s son as a minister in government, and this is not principally why I and some people that I know got up in that room. In addition, there have been years of allegations against Dr Gonsalves of sexual assault and rape; years of allegations . . . . I find it difficult to understand why these allegations have not been wholly and thoroughly addressed. Now I have been told in information that I have received that this person has not been found guilty of any crime and I can understand that. But what is very troubling is that persons have come forward with their allegations and have never had the opportunity to have their cases heard in court.
There has always been inadequate evidence and if you are in contact with women’s organizations and women in St Vincent and the Grenadines, they will tell you that it is difficult to have allegations heard . . . on rape and sexual assault . . . . It is difficult for women to come forward with these types of allegations when it is not a political figure, just a normal man on the street. It is difficult for women to come forward and say “I was raped”,
“I was sexually assaulted by this man”. There is shame; there are feelings of guilt as well. We know of many stories of women who said they felt like they themselves were guilty when they came forward with these things, and this is with “normal” people. So, can you imagine the difficulty you would face if you were to come forward with this kind of allegation against a prime minister? These are things we need to address. I am not saying that Dr Gonsalves has not made a significant contribution to regionalism. I realize that he is seen as the last significant leader to represent the Caribbean left and he is a progressive.
I can take all of these things on board, but I do not think that this excuses you from addressing these kinds of allegations. It cannot excuse you from addressing these accusations, in my opinion. I am not calling anybody guilty, but what I am saying is that these allegations are out there and they need to be addressed.
There is a policewoman who brought forward allegations a few years ago and they were not addressed. There was a human rights lawyer from Canada who brought forward similar allegations and they were not addressed. I just felt very uncomfortable with Dr Gonsalves being invited to the university, yet again, to speak on other issues as a learned Caribbean scholar Prime Minister.
I have gone to other lecturers that Dr Gonsalves gave at the university and I have attempted to ask these questions and I have been met with answers that “this is not what we are here to talk about today, it is an issue that can be talked about at another time”, which is exactly the kind of answer, the kind of response, that led to this loud and very vocal protest. But this is not a private issue. It is easy for us in the Caribbean to sit down and criticize Donald Trump for, most recently, his relationship with a prostitute, a consensual relationship. I don’t understand how in the Caribbean we don’t raise and keep a lot of noise about these kinds of questions too.
I’ve been told that this protest was an assault and I find this language so surprising, because if this was an assault what about the people who are claiming that they were physically assaulted? What does the theme for International Women’s Day, #PressforProgress mean to you? What is progress? I would hope that progress is not just in the superficial way that says that I can be a lecturer at University of the West Indies and that is progress. Actually, it is [progress] because there was a time when there may have been few women who were lecturers at the University of the West Indies, but we have to see deeper progress . . . and we are seeing that progress.
The fact is that sexual harassment is being taken more seriously. In the United States of America there is a #MeToo movement, not that the United States of America has to be our example. I think that we continue to see emphasis placed on going past the superficial of how many women are lawyers, doctors, judges, and prime ministers.
These are important things but so also are women’s issues and concerns being seriously addressed. What principles do you live by? Carpe diem—Seize the day, enjoy life and be personable. What advice do you have for young girls this International Women’s Day? Don’t think you have to play with dollies to fit into the stereotypical “girlie” box . . . . Feel comfortable acting as yourself. You don’t have to feel like you need to fit in to any kind of girl box.