DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
SOCIAL movements always need both action and reflection. The protests and vigils of the past two weeks have been immense. It was unbelievably powerful to see thousands take to the streets to express their horror at continued violence against women. This was a landmark moment in Trinidad and Tobago history, one which we should take some time to understand.
Many ideas mixed in those crowds, from those who believe mothers have primary responsibility for whom sons become to those who think that boys need strong male role models to become better men. Looking on, the confluence of views and messages was complex, and at times problematic.
I was intrigued by women and men’s hope that such public outcry, including businesses closing or women staying home, would result in real change. I was hopeful too, but more focused on the work that would continue after everyone went home. Would our advocacy be more immediately effective following these massive numbers? Would the Government make soothing pronouncements on which it didn’t follow up? Would those who came out also try to make a difference in the long term, and in what ways? What opportunities had we gained for systemic change?
Men joined with signs and statements in numbers I’ve never seen, organising rallies and sharing their solutions as citizens, police, business leaders, and poets. Others became women’s-rights activists overnight, leaving us to hope they understand the painstaking work it takes to shift gender socialisation, ensure women’s reproductive rights, end homophobia, reduce male domination in leadership, and orient state policy and action toward advancing gender equality and social justice, for that is what it will actually take to end gender-based violence.
Machel put out a song about protecting women, despite the fact that women don’t want protection. What we want are rights, justice and freedom.
It was amazing how many ideas people had. We found taxi drivers leading in creating safer transport for women and girls, through their own self-organisation. Others recommended finally filling vacant positions in social services and policing, which can help improve state response. Some recommended mandatory mediation between victims seeking protection orders and abusers, despite the fact that this potentially further endangers individuals who fear for their life.
The State approved pepper spray, now putting women’s protection even more in their own terrified hands. There was no promise of a gender-sensitive transport policy, though measures such as a mobile app, lights which would be fixed to hired vehicles, a QR code which could be scanned, and a renewed registration exercise for all drivers were announced.
Fascinatingly, the PNM used the moment to reintroduce the old idea of a monorail, even though that wouldn’t help women get to the far reaches of the country where transportation is most insecure.
Andrea Bharatt’s casting as a “perfect victim” perhaps also allowed us to cross a line forever in victim-blaming, but it saddened me that 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, going to her grandmother’s on a Sunday, was not equally considered to have been perfect or a tipping point for us all.
These weeks achieved something, perhaps many things, but we are not entirely sure what.
Varying agendas gained ground. It’s clear that there has been some social-norm change. It was heartening to see feminist language about women’s rights and transformation of masculinities on placards across the country. State language may become more careful, for what prime minister will again tell women that he is “not in their choice of men,” given how many girls go missing, how many serial rapists roam, the increase in women’s reports of domestic violence since March last year, and state culpability in failing to adequately resource any real prevention strategy thus far?
What is not clear is whether our society is actually any safer. I’d be surprised if anyone thinks it is. There were attempted kidnappings of women travelling by taxi last week alone.
Our challenge now is not about ideas, but implementation and accountability. Rather than mushrooming into disparate initiatives, we need to partner with core groups working on these issues for decades. There is more work going on than most realise and this is the moment to build impact and reach.
Over the next weeks, I will be highlighting such work, and invite groups pursuing solutions to share them with me. If we agree that our society is no safer than before, what are our next steps?
We need to know what each other is doing, share our analyses, strengthen our collaboration, and agree on effective strategies.
Diary of a mothering worker