ACTIVISTS for women’s rights and mental health have described Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh’s public criticism of a woman as “inappropriate.”
On Saturday, a woman posted a video on Instagram from what she claims is “her own private beach on her own private land,” adding that she cannot be charged for breaching covid19 protocols since the beach is not public.
But unknown to her, there are no private beaches in TT. The police are trying to find her.
At the Health Ministry’s virtual press briefing on Monday, Deyalsingh said he was “holding back no punches,” and said the woman represents “the worst of young people in TT.”
He also said she represents a “clear and present threat” to his livelihood and “worships at the altar of denial.”
A representative from local feminist organisation Womantra told Newsday Deyalsingh used “aggressive” language,” which is “a manner that is unlike his usual approach to addressing the nation.”
The representative said the approach was unproductive because the woman is “not unique in her breaches,” referencing the recent pool party held at Bayside Towers in Cocorite.
“She is not the only middle- to upper-class person of privilege who is wilfully breaching the regulations and guidelines outlined in the Public Health Ordinance and the WHO. She was also not the only person present at her ‘private beach’ and his response, as a government official, should not have been to verbally chastise her on an individual level.”
But the representative added that the woman’s actions represent a pattern where people “with money” feel a sense of comfort as they believe they are above the law.
“This hasn’t changed with covid19. Reference to her family’s ownership of a ‘private beach’ as a reason for being able to flout regulations reflects an assumption about the power of wealth as a protective barrier against not only the laws of the land but also against the plights of ‘common folk.’”
Director of MindWise ( a mental-health advocacy NGO) Elysse Marcellin told Newsday while Deyalsingh’s response was inappropriate, he “is just another person with complex feelings who is likely experiencing varying degrees of frustration and fatigue trying to manage our local pandemic response.
“His ability to admonish a single private citizen on national television is one only afforded to him because of his specific portfolio as an elected representative of the people. This power dynamic is one that is exacerbated by both the gender and age differences between himself and the recipient of his buff.”
She said the pandemic has caused a “dramatic increase in psychological burden and stress,” especially to decision-makers in the country.
“Much like the scores of people walking the streets without masks or improperly wearing masks, I think this video suggests that there needs to be an emphasis on empathetic leadership and a commitment towards implementing a social and behaviour-change communication strategy. People are being asked to behave in radically different ways to what they’re accustomed to, and we need to find innovative ways to support the transformation we expect to see.”
Rather than rely on “public insult and punitive measures,” she urged leaders to implement preventative measures.
“The exponential increase in cases over the last two months is also enough evidence that it is time for us to switch gears and move away from reactive interventions towards instituting proactive measures to curb the spread.
“Operating from a framework of person-centred and community-based interventions is likely to be our best route to figuring this process out. Perhaps the minister can use this opportunity to reflect on his response and to think about what the goal of his communication is.
“If the goal is behaviour change, then maybe this is an ideal opportunity to develop information-driven, measurable strategies to facilitate change and impact that helps to prevent future similar incidents.”