Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
THE ruckus this past week involving the leader of a political party has made me descend to calling for what should be already agreed upon. If you missed his critique of a television interview of members of that party by a woman journalist, it included a threat “to drag you to hell and beat you among the flames” because he felt he and the party were attacked. It included bringing up her private life and her past, her appearance, and using words like “stink” and “dutty.” It’s almost as if ole mas reached the party too early in the Carnival season.
The interview wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse from Fazeer Mohammed, and from radio hosts who thought sexist block talk was professional journalistic engagement.
I thought the women representing the party were excellent. I’ve been on air and annoyed with media hosts for asking what I thought were baseless or biased questions, distracting the public from getting the point, and pressing me to justify my position in ways that I knew others would not have to fight for legitimacy.
One of the women looked visibly annoyed at times, as I have, but also held her own, as one learns to. I liked her pitch and representation of principle, just as I like when citizens – including a younger generation – rise up and organise against those who have ruled far too long and overseen far too much injustice – and here I’m pointing all my fingers at both the PNM and UNC.
After over 20 years of observing elections, I’m not the cynic others have become. While one must always count polling divisions to calculate wins, losses and draws, I’m up for the role that third, fourth, and fifth parties play. They galvanise those who have stopped voting, represent those at the margins, raise outstanding issues, and remind parliamentarians that they do not have a sacrosanct hold on the great house. Such civic engagement makes the strongest form of democracy.
In such a democracy, violence of any kind, including in language, in images distributed, and in physical attacks, undermines broad participation. Across the world, women are notoriously more vulnerable in politics and particularly affected by such violence. They are inappropriately and unnecessarily sexualised. Their personal lives are targeted for public shame. They face sexist and threatening language to a greater extent.
Few women who have entered politics – whether as candidates or as public commentators – are unfamiliar with this, as seen in images of Marlene McDonald, supposedly in lingerie, shared around the internet, or in endless totally hypocritical man-talk about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sex life, or in Keith Rowley’s many infamous double entendres – women as a golf course, a woman prime minister as a cat, or backlash gossip against women in media who say or write words others think they shouldn’t.
The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy writes, “An often neglected form of violence to consider is political violence against women. Whether this is outright violence towards women running campaigns or sexist discourse undermining women’s political credibility.”
Women face “literally twice as much psychological abuse/violence during elections than men,” and have “a starkly different experience of the political world.”
In a 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, involving 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries, the “findings reveal troubling levels of prevalence – particularly for psychological violence, the most widely spread form, affecting 81.8 per cent of the respondents from all countries and regions.
Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44.4 per cent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term.”
Further, “65.5 per cent said they had been subjected several times, or often, to humiliating sexist remarks…on social media and, to a lesser extent, by telephone or e-mail, or during political meetings.”
Their appearance, conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life were all subjects of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision.
In 2016, the National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost campaign: “a global call to action to raise awareness to stop violence against women in politics. The campaign’s title reflects the fact that many women are told that harassment, threats, psychological abuse (in person and online), physical and sexual assault are ‘the cost of doing politics.’” Key is holding perpetrators accountable.
Working in the media doesn’t justify women’s (or anyone’s) risk of violence. Elections don’t justify it either. Political non-violence should be a commitment printed in manifestos and promised on platforms. It should be ensured by “women’s arms,” “youth arms,” and all men ruling party hierarchies, including the blustering and agitated party in the television interview.