I begin today’s reflections by recognizing the courage of Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw, for identifying as a woman living with breast cancer. She joins an army of strong women across the length and breadth of Barbados who live with this affliction daily. They are working, mothering children, fulfilling obligations within their partnerships, riddled with the prohibitive costs of treatment and the trauma associated with the diagnosis of cancer.
My contextualization of Santia’s challenges within the wider subset of women fighting the exact challenge is not in any way to diminish her personal struggle. If anything, I think it embodies the spirit of her disclosure which itself will encourage us to be more understanding and considerate of cancer sufferers. There are a few issues outstanding with respect to how people with cancer are managed in the workplace. Some of them are denied flexible hours and still others are forced into being boarded due to their challenges. I look forward to a comprehensive discussion on these issues as we move forward in support and admiration of Santia Bradshaw.
I want to publicly thank the Champion of the National Organization of Women (NOW), Patrick Salt Bellamy for staying resolute in his support of our activism. When we decided to engage Salt in the role just over a year ago some questioned the choice based on a song he did years ago. The executives of NOW were adamant that the men we were trying to reach were not perfect. They were men like Salt who had grown up seeing a type of behaviour with respect to women. They bought into that behaviour much in the same way that they had invested in many other social constructs given to them.
However, by a process of reflection and critical engagement, these men were now shedding and reshaping cultural norms with respect to women. In this way, Salt represents and will continue to represent an awakening and a struggle that men are negotiating. His journey is authentic, and he continues to grow. Salt messaged me Wednesday morning to alert me about an advertisement posted on the official Facebook page of Carib beer which is distributed by Bryden Stokes in Barbados.
The ad seemed to encourage men who perceived that their women were nagging them about the amount of time they were spending at CPL to hit them for six. After they were finished ‘correcting’ the nagging girlfriends and wives, they were encouraged to return to the action of cricket and not let anyone control their consumption of either Carib beer or their (sporting) entertainment.
Salt took about fifteen minutes to persuade me that he was not pulling a prank on me and that we actually had a company so bold, so insensitive and so blatant in their political incorrectness. When I realized that the advertisement was real I called Bryden Stokes. I explained who I was to the secretary and after being transferred to about ten different lines – all of which went to voicemail – I made one last attempt to find a company manager I could converse with.
I finally spoke to a female voice who indicated that the advertisement had originated in Trinidad. I am not saying that she was using that as the explanation of what transpired but I read her to be suggesting that. After all my trouble, the response about the advertisement seemed to be – it is a Trinidadian advertisement, no real need for alarm in Barbados.
We know that domestic violence and intimate partner violence in Trinidad and Tobago are at crisis levels. Since that is public knowledge, I would have thought that the corporate communication departments of companies doing cross border business between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago would have a policy that governs how advertising is approached. I would have thought that this policy would be iron clad and tangible in the context where the Commissioner of Police of Trinidad and Tobago himself has spoken in the media about the levels of lawlessness and the difficulty in policing bars there.
Given the link between alcohol abuse and intimate partner violence, I would have thought that Bryden Stokes would have done all to ensure that they were positive corporate citizens and that any companies they engage with, either in Barbados or beyond, would not be able to erode our societal values.
Over my years of activism in the womanist space, I have come to the sombre conclusion that a vast majority of Caribbean men are not at ease with their women folk. It is alarming that such disdain could be translated into a thinly veiled ‘advertisement’ about male control of women and their opinions, and that in 2018, ‘hitting’ could still be validated as a legitimate way to negotiate that.
So, where will you be buying your alcoholic beverages this Christmas? More importantly, do you abhor school violence? Where will you be buying your textbooks?
Carib Breweries later Wednesday issued a very blasé apology. In the minds of many Trinidadians and Barbadians it simply was not enough recompense for the poor lack of judgement and corporate social responsibility displayed by the company. Up to press time for this article, no representative from the company had reached back to me or returned my call.
Without training for their top brass and possible linkages to a group doing work in domestic violence so the company understands the underpinning issues, Bryden Stokes cannot redeem itself in my eyes. It would also be interesting to understand how the company has structured its approach to the new sexual harassment legislation of Barbados – it is not beyond imagination that a company that struggled to understand the errors it made in advertising could also struggle with work place attitude and corporate culture.
Meanwhile, up to late Wednesday, the company still had this ad appearing on their social media platforms. The apology means little and I am still imploring Barbadians to spend their hard earned money reflectively and purposefully.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)