Permit me to connect a few dots worth the effort. The first set has to do with the limbo surrounding the Supreme Court Complex. I want to state that I am wholeheartedly in support of the workers opting not to compromise their health [by] remaining in the building. Too many people in Barbados have died, nameless and faceless [to everyone except] the close relatives that miss them daily because they suffered various symptoms and ailments but tried to continue working in spaces that were not safe or healthy. The second issue [concerns] a further explanation of the national discussion I am trying to encourage about non-national women living in Barbados. The last is a side note about how we encourage our children to expect ambiguity and mediocrity and not to value principles like transparency and accountability at early ages.
The closure of the Barbados Supreme Court is, to my mind, just not a travesty because of the long-term implications it could have on workers’ health; it is a further diminishing of the pillars of government in Barbados. The Parliament of Barbados automatically dissolved on March 6, 2018. Since then we have been seeking to run our democracy with only the legislature and judiciary. The closure of the main building supporting the administration of justice and related services in Barbados essentially means that of the three pillars our chosen system of governance requires, we only have about one and a half.
We have developed a habit of ignoring these occurrences. Anyone who draws attention to these matters of rudiment is accused of creating hysteria. The fact that I am always trying to keep these matters cued suggests that I think they should not be too far from our mind and sight. It is because we do not see the critical importance between there being no parliament and the slow functioning of the registry and other departments of the judiciary that I think we cannot get Barbados righted. When we reconcile that policy-making and administration are key components [of] productivity we will have the beginning of [a] forward strategy.
Not every woman in Barbados supports a womanist agenda. Not every woman understands or believes in the issues that women activists defend and support. Simply having a woman as the head of an organization or institution does not mean that she understands the issues of women or sees herself as a women’s advocate. All these are important distinctions to be made.
Having said that, let me reiterate – intimate partner violence (IPV) is a confluence of a complicated set of factors. Some are internal to the individuals in the specific situation. Perpetrators may be suffering from undiagnosed mental illnesses, have issues with addiction and substance abuse and are shaped by deep and problematic beliefs about women and men and the balance of power between them. While intimate partner violence can, theoretically, affect any woman as life circumstances change, there are women and men who are at higher risks of being affected by and perpetrating intimate partner violence, respectively.
This has to do with some of the precursors and variables that are seen as co-occuring with, even if not causing IPV. These categories for women at a higher likelihood of IPV include women who are forced into transactional relationships due to poor wages and opportunities and women who were abused sexually as children. Women who immigrate from various parts of CARICOM, including Guyana,, are usually at cross sections of the categories outlined above. Child sexual abuse is rife in Guyana as it is in Barbados and many of the other islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Immigrants from Guyana, other CARICOM regions and female immigrants in general, usually work for low wages and are vulnerable until they get their status in their host countries regularised. For [those] reasons alone, women coming to Barbados from Guyana, other Caricom countries and other immigrants generally, are more vulnerable to IPV. That is not a contrived statement. It is a pattern and one seen [not only] in Barbados.
Further, the attitudes of Barbadian men toward women, which largely mimics that of other men across CARICOM member states, adds to the vulnerability of Guyanese and other immigrant women seeking to exist in the space. The issue is about domestic violence in Barbados generally, but it is also about the factors that make Guyanese and immigrant women at a higher risk to IPV and how we can reconcile and expose those.
The final little ‘lightbulb’ came as I watched one of my sons negotiate a life experience he recently had. Prefects were chosen from all around him at school; he and other members of his class felt [that] if other people made the grade, certainly he should have. He agonised about it and I told him to initiate a chat with someone in authority at school. He was convinced even before he tried that it would not make sense to have a conversation with ‘the system’.
He and his friends were convinced that nothing would change because the choice of prefects was not one with any strong checks and balances attached to it. This perception and the recourse will be etched in my son’s mind not only as a school happening. He and his friends are forming and shaping views and opinions about the wider society and whether Barbados is a free fair and transparent place to live.
The children now are not as naïve and simple as we were. Even as we question what national habits and values we want to inculcate, we must accept that our school system is broken in many ways and still showing our children that colorism, racism and nepotism are still very much the preferred modus operandi. Changing Barbados will demand a court building fit for purpose, but it will also demand that we reflect on what really is and not what we think is. It is also about recognizing that we are setting examples for future Barbadians and we need to model what we want to see.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])