JANELLE DE SOUZA and LAUREL V WILLIAMS
It is time men stop men committing acts of violence against women and girls, an alliance of non-governmental organisations demanded on Saturday, joining the national outcry over the murder of 22-year-old Andrea Bharatt.
In a joint statement, the Alliance for State Action to end Gender-based Violence says it is not enough to grieve for those who have gone missing, been kidnapped or been killed. But the “whole of society,” especially men, is obligated to act.
The organisation, a coalition which includes the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, CAISO Sex and Gender Justice, Coalition against Domestic Violence, Caribbean Male Action Network, Silver Linings and others, offered its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bharatt.
A clerk at the Arima Magistrates' Court, Bharatt was kidnapped after taking a car she believed to be a licensed taxi to go home after work on January 29. After a six-day search, her decomposing body was found off a precipice in the Heights of Aripo on February 4. This triggered spontaneous protests across the country, and outside the Parliament on Friday. Her killing resurrected the nation's pain over 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who was also murdered and found decomposing in Santa Cruz, on December 4. Like Bharatt, Riley also went missing after she took a PH taxi to meet relatives to visit her grandmother.
The alliance called on the government and men’s organisations especially to take action because violence against women and girls is a national emergency. It said one in three women experience domestic violence in the home while a recent survey report stated that one in five are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
“These statistics come as no surprise to women who must be on high alert on the streets, in the workplace, and in public transportation because sexual harassment can quickly escalate into physical and sexual violence.”
It again called for a national action plan, accompanied by a budget, to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. It should improve policing, fund shelters, and improve judicial services so reduce delays, and include messages of gender and sexual equality and respect in the education system.
It also asked for a gender-sensitive transportation policy that takes into consideration that women use public transportation more than men and they are vulnerable getting to or from work or to their families.
Men’s organisations, organisations led by men, and those working with men and boys were questioned about what they were doing and saying to help make the world a more equal and safe space for women.
“We talk about violence against women. But what we should be talking about is men’s use of violence as an expression of power and control over women. Violence against women is inextricably linked to gender inequality and sexist attitudes and behaviours. Too many men continue to receive the message that being a man means being dominant, being the ‘head of household,’ being in charge, having access to women’s bodies whether there is consent or not, and controlling women’s lives.”
The organisation said men should take responsibility and take action because “women are human beings and are equally entitled to lives of dignity, peace and safety.” It then called on men to organise a “public show of solidarity” now as women need to know men are committed to a world in which they are safe from men’s violence against women.
Bharatt's killing has deeply affected people who knew her, including teachers at North Eastern College, Sangre Grande, who lamented that they've had to mourn for two of their students: Bharatt and 16-year-old Rachael Ramkissoon who was murdered in 2017. Ramkissoon, a form four student, left her Talparo home on January 13, 2017, to go to school but never showed up for classes.
Police later found her body in some bushes on a track at a short distance from her home. An autopsy later found she had been strangled. To date, her killer remains at large.
A Facebook post on Friday by a staff member from the college showed a photo of Bharatt with a group of students.
"I am so saddened. I can't begin to comprehend the horror she would have experienced. Another North Eastern College student gone in tragic and horrible circumstances. Another young person who would not realise their full potential due to the scum who walk TT," the post said in a reference to the two former students.
"I stand in grief with all teachers, past and present, and all her former classmates of North Eastern College. As each day went by since her kidnapping, I grew more despondent of the outcome, hoping against hope that she would be found alive. But it was not to be. May God comfort her dad and the rest of her family."
Still grappling with her death, Ramkissoon's grandmother, Kamla Ramkissoon, says the murder of Bharatt has brought back painful memories.
"At the end of the day, a murder is a murder. I was devastated when I heard they found her body. I got depressed. I see the facial expression of her father (Randolph Bharatt) and I could imagine what that poor man is going through," Ramkissoon said by phone on Saturday.
"I do not know when I will be happy again. I cannot shake off that feeling of losing my grandchild to murder. God does not like wickedness. Her sister made it to 17 today. Rachael would have turn 21 in August this year, almost the same age as the girl (Bharatt)," Ramkissoon said.
Before completing her A-Levels at North Eastern, Bharatt attended Bon Air Secondary School from 2009 to 2014 where she did her O-Levels.
A Facebook post from Bon Air Secondary School on Thursday extended deepest condolences to her bereaved father, family, friends, co-workers and past classmates.
The post referred to Bharatt as an exemplary student and senior prefect who received many school awards and certificates for excellence.
"We mourn her tragic death and pray for God's comfort and strength for her loved ones during this time of grief and loss," the post added.
In 2019, Bharatt graduated at the University of the West Indies with honours with a degree (major) in sociology and a minor in criminology.