DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
DECADES OF advocacy to end gender-based violence have led to some changes worth commending. The latest step is the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill which expands protections for children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and some dating and visiting relationships.
Debated in the Senate on Monday, it was assuring to see support on both sides for preventing domestic violence and protecting victims. Senator Wade Mark himself mentioned that amendments proposed by the UNC in 1999, which would have allowed police to enter a home without a warrant to stop domestic violence, were not supported. Over 20 years, global and regional advocacy continued to press for a response that prevents and protects, changing legislation all over the world, creating new norms, and making this the now accepted and required response.
The bill also removes the need to preserve the institution of marriage from the court’s consideration in determining the terms of a protection order. After decades of women being told by police and magistrates to try to make a violent relationship work, for the sake of marriage and family, advocacy also created greater recognition that this repugnant norm should no longer have legal teeth.
In their speeches, senators – Khadijah Ameen, Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Sophia Chote, Anthony Vieira and Charrisse Seepersad – spoke in favour of expanding protection to those adults sharing a home who are not related by consanguinity or affinity, meaning blood or marriage.
The Alliance for State Action to End Gender-Based Violence has argued such expanded protection would reflect the diversity of those sharing domestic spaces today. In the oncoming economic contraction, many unrelated people will have to share homes as they are less able to afford rent or expenses on their own. All people who ordinarily or periodically reside in the same dwelling deserve equal access to protection by law from domestic violence.
The AG described this as a “Pandora’s box.” In Greek mythology, Pandora’s box released great and unexpected troubles on the world when opened. “How will we draw a line on who is a member of a household?” he asked. So, the brouhaha is not over provisions, but over definitions.
Here, the role of legislators is not to determine which consenting adults can or cannot be members of a household, but to protect those who are. This is why Colin Robinson, in his column, argued that “member of a household” could simply be changed from “a person who habitually resides in the same dwelling house as the applicant or the respondent and is related to the applicant or respondent by blood, marriage or adoption” to a person who shares the house and/or is related by blood, marriage or adoption. It’s hyperbole by the AG to make inclusion of an “or” the cause of many unforeseen problems.
The consequences are well-foreseen by the AG, and they relate to changes to what he has identified as 23 pieces of legislation, such as related to immigration, sexual offences and children. He’s repeatedly said he is “urgently” waiting for Jones v TT to be decided by the Privy Council so he can get guidance on amending these laws.
This is a bit of balderdash. The AG can amend all these laws without waiting for the judgment, and Parliament has the authority to pass all such amendments if it boldly chooses the right side of history.
A Privy Council decision will compel the AG to make those changes. It will lord over any legal challenges, protecting him from having to defend these evolving norms himself. The Pandora’s box isn’t ours, and it isn’t about legal conundrums. It is his, and it is entirely political.
Senators were not oblivious to this, nor to their own parties’ complicity, which is why recommendations to expand protection were voted against by 16 PNM senators with UNC senators abstaining, and only four Independent senators, Anthony Vieira, Paul Richards, Sophia Choate and Charisse Seepersad, voting in favour.
Yet, the call for a larger definition of “member of household” is not only about same-sex relationships. What we watched on Monday was the way that intent to deny protection to those relationships left others also excluded. It shows our deep interconnection with each other, and the jeopardy of thinking some can be denied rights without consequences for us all.
The Pandora’s box isn’t the risk of opening broad inclusion of domestic relationships. It is the release of the harms of discrimination, of sacrifice of some citizens for votes, of cowardice by representatives who well know what is right.
In the Greek story, all that was left in the box was hope. So, we continue to advocate for state response to all victims’ needs, and for a culture of tolerance, rights and peace, knowing that this is what we must do so legislators that today deny necessary provisions, tomorrow will agree.
Diary of a mothering worker