I think it is somewhere between ironic and prophetic that as the news of the student protests at the Grantley Adams Secondary School broke I was at the 13th Annual Child Conference. The conference gives top Caribbean and Latin American academics working in all aspects of child research the opportunity to share their research and form linkages.
Apart from that important collaboration, the conference serves as an entrée for children from third to sixth form to learn research skills and to have their papers presented and judged by a panel of older academics. Additionally, each panel was assigned two chairs. There was an adult chair and a child chair.
Most of the adult chairs served as support roles for our co-chairs. They were able to practise the oral and small group presentation skills as well as synthesis and summary skills needed to administer the panel. I personally will never forget my co-chair. She was a vibrant, bright 17-year-old girl. She learned with the least ability and claimed the freedom she was given to command the space and experience she was having.
The child conference is to come to Barbados next year and I thought if what I saw play out in Trinidad can be replicated in Barbados. Based on the saga playing out at the Grantley Adams School, there will be much ground to cover in the year.
When I read the story about the vendors being removed from the school, I assumed it was the Ministry’s effort at clamping down on unhealthy foods in and around schools. I admit to being non-committal about the children’s actions. However, as the saga unfolded and the reasons emerged for the dismissal of the vendors I realized that although these children had not been given space like the ones at the child conference, they had taken space. They took space, found agency and organizational skills to be able to express their concerns in a safe way.
I am disappointed that as a system and society Barbados has failed to show them that their voices and concerns are important. What Trinidad showed young people through the child conference is that if they work hard and harness their ability, they can excel. What we are teaching Barbadian children through the Grantley Adams saga is that even when they harness their talents and work hard, they will not be heard or given a seat at the table of reason and decision-making.
It is tragic that in Barbados we still view children as incapable of voice and agency. The children at the Grantley Adams Secondary School deserve to be heard. If they are dissatisfied with the canteen service, listen to their dissatisfaction. If the prices are too high then the response that health officials have found nothing wrong is not the right response.
It gratifies me even more that this response has risen up within the Grantley Adams School. These children are usually judged even before they are given support and coping mechanisms. They have, however, shown that they are strong enough and empowered enough to be a new and very necessary type of engaged citizen in the Barbadian space. I think their protest is worthwhile.
Every protest or response is not made from a genuine place. As I found myself pondering International Men’s Day celebrated November 19th, I could not help but feel like the people responsible for the Day have made a mockery of the work being done in the women’s space.
I know that many men think that the women’s movement is fuelled by hatred for men. I hope that if I am able to do at least one thing in the women’s space in Barbados, it is to show men that I fight for my validation only because I deserve it as a human being. I do not want my validation to come at the consequence of men’s validation and that is not really what happens.
Woman’s equality is a political activity with political outcomes. Politics is about power and the retention of power. Just the fact that men feel displaced as women fight to secure basic rights is confirmation of what women have been saying – we have not been seen as equals to men at any point in time historically. I accept that there are disparities between white men and black ones.
I accept that black men have not been in positions to exert the same levels of ownership over black female bodies as white men at all points in history. However, I also realize that many black men have aspired finally to become Massa over black women as opposed to permanently dismantling the system. That has left black women at the bottom-most tier of a vicious system of exploitation and powerlessness.
If we accept and understand that reality of black women, we should want our daughters to experience something different. We should encourage our mothers and wives to redefine themselves. What then would be the place of International Men’s Day? The primary thing that women fight in their quest to be validated is toxic masculinity and patriarchy – the system that sets men up as paramount just by the virtue of their maleness.
So is International Men’s Day the recognition that toxic masculinity hurts not only women but other men too? Have we finally come to the conclusion that men need a safe space to talk and need love and attention in the same way that women do? Are we at the point where we realize that all cheating and infidelity hurt and that the black family needs restructuring?
Is that what International Men’s Day is about? If so, then any day that we celebrate women, men can join us. They can accept the need for female validation and ask for restructure and partnership. There is nothing that needs to seem like mockery or a diminishing of the work done on behalf of women. Men are in charge of the world, sexuality and permission to be. If it is not working for them, they alone still have all autonomy to change reality.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])