Politicians, businessmen, community activists and religious leader led what some people described as a historic march on Saturday in Tobago, vowing to end crime and violence against women in all forms.
The group declared they had had enough of what they considered to be a threat to the fabric of society and promised a united front in combating the scourge.
The event, titled Tobago Men Making A Difference, was organised by community activist Jaiye Melville in response to the abduction and murder of Andrea Bharatt and follows a movement across several villages and groups in Trinidad over the last week.
Bharatt was kidnapped on January 29 after boarding what she believed to be a taxi at King Street, Arima and her decomposing body was found dumped off a precipice at the Heights of Aripo on February 4.
The 23-year-old court clerk was cremated on Friday after a motorcade and funeral service at Faith Assembly International Church, Arouca. An Arima man has been charged with Bharrat’s murder and investigations are continuing into the deaths of two other suspects while in police custody.
On Saturday, the men, dressed predominantly in white and toting placards, gathered at Douglas Street, Canaan. They were accompanied by police as they walked along Milford Road, ending at Crown Point.
An emotional Melville told participants the walk was much more than an acknowledgement that it was time to take a stand.
“The hard thing is where do we go from here after today. How do we treat with moving forward?” he asked.
Melville said Tobago must be the standard by which all men are judged
“Tobago, let me tell allyuh something, ‘When we stand up as men, all the women all over the world must want to come Tobago because we must set the standard as to how men must behave.”
He urged them to find their purpose as fathers, husbands, lovers, providers and protectors.
“We have to wake up and take back our responsibility as men.”
Melville said he has often been chastised for using the word predator when referring to men who abuse women.
“But it was not about the men but a mindset. Because how could a man watch a woman, kidnap that woman, rape that woman, kill that woman, throw that woman over a precipice and then live amongst we. We say, no more, we not taking that.”BMEN president and motivational speaker Michael Stewart revealed he was reluctant to attend the march.
“People come out to marches because it is a trend and not because it is a cause,” he said.
“Trending things do not cause people to go to the extent of willing to give their lives for it. But I am hoping that this walk about domestic violence is not going to be trend.”
Stewart said too many families are hurting. “Too many women are hurting. Too many families are in tears. And we cannot, therefore, just wait on another incident and come out in droves and say, ‘I support it.’ There must be something that is sustained after today (Saturday).”
Stewart urged all gender-based organisations in Tobago to unite, under one banner, to fight violence.
“I am issuing a new initiative coming out of this – that we have an association of gender support groups.
He challenged them to get together in seven days, “not one year, not two years.”
Stewart also said violence must never be made a political issue.
Women of Substance founder and president Onika Mars said Bharatt’s murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
She said society was fed up of the violence.
“We call for unity. We call for accountability. We call for law reform. We call for prayer. We are fed up.”
Mars, a domestic abuse survivor, added: “As we speak, some woman is being abused, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, financially or otherwise.
“As we speak, some women in some part of the globe is being murdered. Today, I say enough is enough.”
She applauded Tobago men for taking a stand.
“They decided to be the change they want to see and started a movement.”
Founder of Hope and Action Dr Joan Bobb-Ward said her organisation started in December after the murder of teenager Ashanti Riley. The dean of Costaatt’s Tobago campus, Bobb-Ward said she quickly assembled a team of 40 women to make a difference.
She said it was not enough to simply say to men, “Stop the violence.”
“They will not stop. People need to be educated, empowered and strengthened.”