Two things occupy my mind space this week. The first is the continued discussion we keep having in Barbados about the low birth rate and its impact on sustainability. I cannot understand how out of sync the policies with respect to child rearing in Barbados are with the desire for procreation of our population.
The attitudes of employers have largely remained unchanged in relation to a facilitation for parenting and employment to coexist mutually. Instead of seeing parenting as a type of national duty, many parents are still punished for the decision to have children. From rigid work times to environments that do not offer creche capabilities to workplaces that downright refuse access to children, parents’ struggles are endless.
There are also companies that have social responsibility mechanisms but these are not extended to the families of staff members first. For instance, I know a woman who has a child that competes in sports competitively. Every time the child is to go overseas to represent Barbados, she struggles bitterly to raise the money for travel, tournament fees and miscellaneous costs. Her workplace is a large agency but there is no mechanism for her to tap into either loan or grant facilities. How then exactly, are we as a country trying to incentivize people with respect to parenting? Not only are children costly due to the economic climate, but they add a serious layer of stress because parents often seem to be asked to choose between parenting and employment.
If we are looking at boosting productivity among Barbadians, both in the bedroom and the workplace, a greater synergy and national policy in the area of population generation will be necessary. As it is, we are running counterproductive systems and ‘ole talking’ around what is going to be a real and problematic issue for our economic sustainability very soon.
The second is the culmination of the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls. We have just three days left of the efforts for sensitization and awareness. The National Organization of Women closes out our calendar this year with a consultation hosted by us and our partners, The Bureau of Gender Affairs and UN Women.
The national consultation on case management in intimate partner violence (lPV) aims to allow space for a number of critical service providers to meet, tease out the issues in the sector and then to agree on forward movement objectives. I remain unhappy about some of the connectivities in the sector. The chasms between services leave women vulnerable and exposed at their most critical times of need. I believe that it is critical for a number of non-governmental stakeholders, government service providers and related concerns to sit down and have a frank and honest conversation about the cohabiting challenges and characteristics to intimate partner violence in Barbados.
I also wanted to create a space for survivors of intimate partner violence to tell their stories in the first person. A best practice in advocacy and activism now is for the individual in the role of advocate or activist to create moments for the people on behalf of whom they work to take the centre stage. It is one thing to hear a sanitized or even intellectual account of a person’s experience. It is another to hear a first person account with raw emotion and the experience of a human. It makes me feel like I am providing the type of support that moves my survivors toward empowerment when they are willing to claim opportunities such as this one.
Of course, intimate partner violence cuts at the very core of what a civil society is. In its most sinister form, which I believe to be emotional abuse, and not physical abuse, IPV can rob a woman of agency, of her will to be a productive citizen. It can leave children unsupported and themselves, battered. It creates a perpetrator who invariably believes his way is the right way and leaves other women in contact with him in vulnerable positions.
I say that to make the point that although we have tried for a wide cross section at the consultation, IPV is a holistic concern that needs a holistic response. Workplaces must consider what they can do to support survivors, banks, supermarkets. I think we underestimate how deeply damaged women who survive IPV are. We also underestimate how much it takes for a survivor to put her life back together in a coherent and ‘normal’ way.
It is easy for us to ask why victims stay in abusive situations but until and unless we create friendly mechanisms to support women leaving IPV, it will seem like a pointless and insurmountable task from their positions of vulnerability.
I am thankful to our partners for their facilitation and I am also thankful to Peggy Antrobus for her years of service to the women and girls of the Caribbean and also for being willing to continue to lend me her ear and guidance in my own effort to make my contribution in this moment.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)