We are officially almost seven days into the 16 Days of Activism for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. It is a very intense period for advocates and activists to share messages and refocus the challenges that women and girls still face with issues of sexual violence, domestic violence and intimate partner violence specifically.
This year, there are many people working together to create a variety of activities and I am grateful to people like Kristina Hinds, Lecturer in Politics at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, spoken work artist Adrian Green and our National Organization of Women Champion, Patrick Salt Bellamy. These individuals continue to give of their time and intellect to make people aware of the issues that women and girls continue to face.
I also want to recognize and appreciate UN Women and Women of Purpose, one of the groupings under the NOW Umbrella. There are two activities I want to discuss in this space. The first was the balloon rise that we did in two primary schools on Monday. The idea was conceptualized and facilitated by Women of Purpose. We allowed the children to raise balloons and promise to protect school mates who had lost parents to domestic violence or who they knew were affected by it.
Last week, I made the point that women do not fight for the right to be seen as equal and capable to spite men. I have discovered that for the women’s movement to move forward with gains in Barbados, we will have to take some time to both hear men and continue to ask them for their support and partnership. In light of that concession, I want us, during the first eight days of the 16 Days of Activism to focus specifically on girls and boys and the impact of the fallout of domestic violence on children.
Girls are, in so many ways, vulnerable to gender violence. They are preyed upon by men who cannot have a relationship unless their partner is emotionally, sexually or financially inferior. More importantly, when men are abusive toward women, girls and boys are invariably caught in some very volatile and toxic family environments. If we both agree that the children of Barbados are important then it gives us, men and women, a common ground from which to work.
The thing that strikes me every time we do a school programme is how many children will come across and disclose to either being victims of domestic violence or to have witnessed domestic abuse in their homes. It is quite easy to understand the significant linkages between the wayward and violent behaviour in school and the wayward and violent behaviour in homes across Barbados.
The second event I want to mention here was not one planned to mark the 16 Days of Activism specifically. It was the panel discussion to mark the establishment of the Institute for Global African Affairs at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. The panel included Principal of the Cave Hill Campus and Pro Vice Chancellor of the UWI, Eudine Barriteau and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles.
The panel offered critiques of the recent Marvel block buster movie, Black Panther. It is not a secret that I gave the Black Panther six stars out of five. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the panel interrogate some of the more serious themes in the movie. Sir Hilary explained the symbolism of the plot of the movie to the discourse between Africa and its diaspora in relation to several issues, including how we can work together, the mistrust we harbour for each other and what our future interactions could or should be.
Professor Barriteau focused on the portrayals of women in the movie and expressed concern that even in a futuristic world, black woman had not moved beyond supportive roles in the movie including queen mother to the heir of the throne and science whiz sister.
In response to the points on gender made by Professor Barriteau, Sir Hilary suggested that the gender relations in the movie were not a part of the core narrative. He used the analogy of writing a paper and having to decide what material would go into the text of the paper and what would be included in the footnotes.
I sat and ruminated on my interpretation of what Sir Hilary was suggesting. On the second day of 16 Days of Activism to highlight the plight of women and girls across the world, and indeed, in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the roles of women in societies, futuristic societies no less, were being described as peripheral enough to be subjugated to subtexts.
This view of women and their lives is not new or uncommon; neither is the place women occupy within the Pan Africanist struggle. Men involved in Pan Africanism seem to believe that women should help them fight for their liberation first and then, I think vicariously too, once they become free, women will be free. I sometimes am even left with the sense that these men see women as support for only that – perhaps even as necessary evils.
Barbados and many of the country profiles in the Commonwealth Caribbean are consistent with international trends. More women than men live in these islands. There is no good reason for us to deny or overlook the greater parts of our population when we are setting the agenda with Africa.
There were two things I learned from Sir Hilary’s intervention. The first is that if women want their concerns and needs fore-fronted in reparations debates or payments, they will have to be responsible for their own negotiations instead of leaving that to third parties. The second thing is how the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, retains his prominence as a leading progressive and an asset to the Pan Africanist cause.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: email@example.com)