Culture Clash: Time For A Fair Deal For The Fairer Sex

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 25, 2017

According to tabloid reports, a Progressive Liberal Party stalwart councillor said at a leadership candidacy event that Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin needed to know her place was in the kitchen. Perhaps more unfortunate than the statement was the ensuing silence. This seems to be the way it goes when people in positions of power make careless, hateful statements. Less than four years ago, a Member of Parliament “joked” about domestic violence yet no one in Parliament saw fit to respond with anything but laughter or silence.

The hatred of women and devaluing of women’s lives has become commonplace. We ask where we can find better leaders, how we can improve the economy, and why young people are not returning to The Bahamas, but jokes about violence against women continue, the masses vote en masse against gender equality in the conferring of citizenship and women daring to challenge men for positions of leadership are dismissed, ridiculed, and bullied.

Misogyny and patriarchy make their presence felt in the public and private spheres, creating environments where men can succeed and women must work harder and longer for the slimmest chance at success. Hatred and subjugation ensure women are continuously seen and treated as objects — tools to be used for the purposes of men.

Women determined to be more than the biblical “helpmate” and unwilling to play “the lesser sex” are frequently in a position we understand best in racial terms.

In African American families, it is not unusual to be told one has to be twice as good to get half as much. This is just as true for women; perhaps more so for black women.

In strategising and acting in direct response to hostile environments and people, women often find it necessary to prove knowledge, experience, capability and overall capacity, often having to explain away presumed obligations to family and household.

Zeal and ambition when recognised by counterparts can be used to turn women into pawns, disallowing full participation in the game because the pawn’s focus is on performance and perception rather than the whole game and its prize — power.

This dynamic is highly visible on the political stage. Women involved in frontline politics fight for the right to access the leadership pipeline in the face of dismissal, ridicule, and bullying — all while the country watches.

The political participation of women in The Bahamas, the Caribbean and the world has room for substantial improvement. Women in parliament in The Bahamas have accounted for 11-13 per cent of all MPs over the past few years.

Bermuda’s former Premier Paula Cox, Trinidad and Tobago former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Jamaica former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller are among recent women leaders in the region. Globally in June 2016, only 22.8 per cent of parliamentarians were women, doubling over a 21-year period. This year, only in Rwanda and Bolivia are women more than 50 per cent of single or lower houses of Parliament.

The under-representation of women in Bahamian politics is cause for concern, particularly when society depends heavily on women for a broad range of needs. Much of the work undertaken by women is unpaid labour.

In a presentation on the Economic Cost of Women’s Unpaid Labour at Equality Bahamas’ Women’s Wednesdays in September, Gender Specialist Audrey Roberts said: “Work falls into two categories — productive and reproductive. Productive work is paid for while reproductive or social reproduction is unpaid or low paid work.”

She highlighted the contrast between a woman doing domestic work in her own home and doing the same work in someone else’s home. In the first instance it is unpaid and in the second it is low paid. She noted unpaid work is vital to society, but primarily performed by women.

The alleged comments by the PLP stalwart councillor about Hanna Martin’s place being in the kitchen is a clear example of the devaluation of domestic work. He recognised there is work to be done in the kitchen, but ignored the obvious — Hanna Martin has paid work she must do and anyone can undertake the unpaid work in her home.

The demand for her to do unpaid work was clearly meant as an insult, though quite weak as it says nothing of her character, work ethic, or performance. It made a foolish assumption based on her gender and attempted to reduce her to her biological characteristics and gender norms.

Growing up and living in a misogynistic, patriarchal society is not easy. It is rife with challenges, many of which seem impossible to surmount until we do. Bahamian women have become experts in navigating this world and participating in frontline politics seems to sharpen those skills.

Hanna Martin’s years of experience in politics may have made her almost immune to such comments and similar behaviour of male colleagues, but what about younger women?

What about girls who aspire to make this country better for themselves and for the generations that follow? Are we moving forward, creating space for increased political participation for women and other marginalised people, or are we discouraging their participation and limiting ourselves to the usual suspects and their children and grandchildren while expecting change?

To see a shift in political culture and political participation at all levels, from involvement in frontline politics to voting, we must change our own behaviour. Beyond that, we need to change the way we respond to the behaviour of others.

Women are more than 50 per cent of our population, but only 10 per cent of Parliament. Is it time to push for a legislated gender quota as a temporary special measure to address under-representation of women in Parliament?

We must not forget even with the Free National Movement winning by a landslide, we still only have four women in Parliament which means the party did not focus on gender representation. The Progressive Liberal Party did not do much better with its own slate of candidates, even after pushing the gender equality referendum.

The Democratic National Alliance had more women than any major party, but was under the leadership of McCartney who refused to support the marital rape bill or the gender equality bills.

Is it time to demand more from political parties, ensuring their policies and actions are in line with their words? In addition to all of this, it is on us to hold women in Parliament and Cabinet accountable, pushing for them to speak to the issues directly affecting us, engage the media, and refrain from deflecting questions. While we are not a monolith, we know we are judged by the deeds and misdeeds of those representing us. Let’s do what we can to ensure that others have the same opportunities or better and do not suffer because we failed to support or to correct our own.

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Culture Clash: Sexual Harassment Is An Act Of Violence

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 18, 2017

‘MeToo’ — a campaign started by Tarana Burke and promoted by actor Alyssa Milano encouraging women to let people know they have experienced sexual harassment or assault has populated social media with evidence of the pervasiveness of sexual violence.

While it is empowering for some to be able to share their stories, or even say they have experienced something without naming or describing it, it is difficult for some people to see and understand.

It has sparked necessary conversations about sexual harassment and made it clear we need to clearly define the term and consider its effects.

In a 2015 survey conducted by Hollaback! Bahamas and Cornell University, 71.9 percent of respondents said they first experienced sexual harassment before the age of 15.

Seventeen percent reported their first experience of sexual harassment occurred before the age of 10.

We often think of sexual harassment as benign comments causing minimal harm if any at all, but over 50 percent of respondents were groped or fondled in 2015, and 80 percent had been followed by a man or group of men which made them feel unsafe.

Seventy-nine percent chose not to go out at night, 85 percent changed their route home, and 72 percent decided not to interact with a person as a result of street harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and includes verbal and physical acts of a sexual nature which violate dignity and/or create an intimidating and hostile environment.

It often depends on and abuses an existing power dynamic, used to coerce people in order to access or maintain employment or enrolment in educational institutions.

For example, in the workplace an owner, manager or supervisor may use their position and subsequent privileges to sexually coerce employees.

Suggestive remarks and inappropriate touching often go unreported because those experiencing sexual harassment fear being ostracized, terminated or facing discrimination at work.

Not limited to the workplace or educational institutions, sexual harassment frequently occurs in public spaces.

This is known as street harassment. From whistles and “Hey, baby” to following and groping, it is a daily experience for many. It disproportionately affects women, people of colour, differently-abled people and members of the LGBT+ community.

Generally, the more people are in a public space, the higher the frequency of street harassment, so those who walk and/or use public transportation are at a higher risk.

Why does this matter?

Sexual harassment, even when taking the form of comments and suggestions, is not harmless.

It is an act of violence. It is easy to dismiss this as an exaggeration, but it does not take long for an unwanted comment to escalate to physical aggression. Sexual violence is a spectrum, and while sexual harassment is seen as the lower end, it is not far from rape.

A sexual harasser ignores the same concepts and messages as a rapist. They impose themselves on other people.

They refuse to acknowledge or respect boundaries. They do not bother to get consent.

They are okay with making people feel uncomfortable.

They prioritize themselves.

They look for ways to exert their own power.

They do not care if the person says no or shows fear or anger.

They want to do what they want to do, no matter how it makes another person feel or impacts their life.

If a person can sexually harass someone in public, or in private where their job can be at risk, what else are they capable of?

What can they do behind closed doors, with no one to see, intervene or report?

Sexual harassment and the casual manner we respond to (or ignore) it contributes to the normalization of violence. It creates a world where people are free to do as they wish without consequence.

We assume everyone has the same experiences and interpretations of events as we do, and expect them to respond in the same ways.

We are slow to consider other points of view, and recognize the problem with predatory, violent behaviour whether or not it directly affects us.

Our failure to teach and talk about consent has manifested itself in generations and generations of people who have no spatial awareness, no understanding of boundaries and a belief they have the right to other people’s bodies.

What is the difference between a compliment and sexual harassment?

In discussions about street harassment a lot of time is always spent dissecting compliments and trying to draw a line between a compliment and harassment.

This is an exercise in futility because there is no clear, solid line.

This is obvious in the definition of sexual harassment which uses “unwanted” as a descriptor of the act. By definition, an act is deemed sexual harassment when the person on the receiving end does not want to experience it.

One person may find a comment acceptable while another does not. While one person may be flattered by a comment, another may be offended, angered, or fearful.

The difference between a compliment and sexual harassment is how the message is received.

This means we need to be mindful of other people’s feelings and pay attention to social cues.

If someone walks by quickly, avoids making eye contact, or is engaging in another conversation or activity, recognize that person as uninterested in your attempts to engage.

If you decide to offer a greeting and get no response, accept the lack of interest and move on. Resist the urge to impose yourself on another person.

If you give what you believe to be a compliment and get no response or a response you do not like, move on without taking up more time and space.

If your “compliment” has another result, something has gone wrong. Remember that compliments are about making other people feel good; not about making yourself feel good or reaping a reward.

Impact vs. intent

People often find the seemingly blurred line between a compliment and sexual harassment frustrating, especially when their focus is not on ending sexual harassment, but on their own desires.

If your “compliments” make someone cross the street, leave the office, or find other ways to put distance between themselves and you, you have had a different impact.

It is not unusual to affect people in unexpected, unintended ways. Sometimes we want to make people laugh, but offend them instead. There are times when we want to lighten the mood, but our actions only make things more uncomfortable.

At these times, our focus should not be on excusing or explaining ourselves. A message was not delivered properly, and it has affected other people.

Instead of considering our own feelings and getting lost in ideas of our rightness, this is the time to recognize the impact our actions had on the other people involved. Our impact is more important and deserving of our attention than our intent.

Bystander Intervention

Most of us have witness sexual harassment. We see people pull strangers by the arm to force conversation.

We hear whistles and kissing noises.

We see people being cornered by strangers. By not doing anything, we condone this behaviour and communicate that we don’t care what may happen next.

If we understand the importance of consent and ownership of our own bodies, it is on us to condemn acts of sexual violence.

We can do this by directly addressing the harasser, distracting them with a question (like which bus to take or directions to the nearest bank), asking others to help stop an act, and checking in with people who experience harassment in our presence.

There is always something we can do to help.

For more information on ending street harassment, visit facebook.com/hollaback242.

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Culture Clash: We Need Leaders We Can Trust And Who Share What We Want

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 13, 2017

Everyone is talking about leadership. While people battle for top positions in households, corporations, and countries we redefine and re-conceptualize leadership in response to community needs, mindset changes and shifts in power dynamics.

Quotes on leadership are endless. They say great leaders take less credit and more blame, lead from the back and lead with the heart. Leaders have the responsibility to turn a vision into a reality by uniting people with a common purpose and empowering them to act in ways that make transformation possible. For every vision, leadership is required to have and practise a rare combination of characteristics and skills, from emotional intelligence and influence to willingness and ability to serve.

Joanne Ciulla said: “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

There was a time when supervision was seen as leadership, but there is a distinct difference. Supervisors give orders and ensure they are followed while leaders are involved in the process, and work to ensure others are also included in decision-making. Leaders are not obsessed with concepts of seniority or hierarchy. They are focused on the realization of a vision. They primarily concern themselves with the daily work of influencing others to give the greatest amount of effort possible to achieve a shared goal.

Today, leadership is contingent upon relationships built on trust and common ground. People are not interested in being led by anyone who shares nothing with them. There must be synergy. Have we come from the same place? Do we have the same values? Do we share a vision? People do not want to work with anyone who is set apart from them. We want to be able to talk to leadership and have confidence that they understand our experiences, capability, and needs. We want to know they are prepared to lead, and for the right reasons.

During election season, we have conversations about party leadership every day. We share ideas about party decisions and how we think they were made. In many of these cases, we excuse weak leadership choices with statements like, “No one else can do it.” No one rallied behind the FNM leadership team on its own merit, but as an alternative to an option they considered relatively worse for whatever reasons.

We settle for leaders we considered seasoned, based only on the fact they held the position before, refusing to address the problems with their methods and performance because we do not want to take the risk on a new person.

In some cases, the decision is made by the wrong people, too few people or compromised people. This is the root of the upset with the PLP leadership race where the voices of the average Bahamian citizen were not heard, and did not appear to matter. In some cases, leadership is relinquished and it is, most often, too late. Only time will tell what will happen with the stagnant, silent DNA which must now adjust to the resignation of its leader.

The FNM, PLP, and DNA all had — and continue to have — leadership issues. Why? Where do these issues come from? How can they be resolved? What needs to happen for political parties in The Bahamas to have better leadership teams? How can Bahamians get the representation we deserve?

We need to take a look at the motivation of leaders and potential leaders. Do they like to compete? Do they think they have all the answers? Do they like being in charge? Do they want to be well-known? Are they trying to get rich? Are they continuing a family legacy?

Do they see a gap and how to fill it? Do they want to serve? Do they share the vision and have the ability to encourage and motivate the community? Are they influencers?

Every person interested in leadership is not interested in community. They do not always want to work with others, or develop and maintain inclusive processes. They often want to undo or undermine the work of the previous leader. They may want to make their own mark. While leadership should be an act of servitude and evidence of commitment to a common goal, it is often used as a stepping stone to something else. Some people try to use it to build reputations, gain access to resources, expand networks, and increase income. While these can be benefits of leadership, self-aggrandizement should not be a primary motivator. A leader needs to believe in the project or task at hand because the role requires enthusiastic participation that cannot be faked.

As two political parties — PLP and DNA — work toward selecting new leaders, we need to be alert and as involved in the process as possible. While most of us do not have votes, we have tremendous influence. These parties intend to seek our support in the next election, and will look to us before the next general election to help them set their new agendas.

With every public statement they make in response to the current administration’s intentions, decisions, and actions, they affirm our power and prove their need to be heard by us. We can demand they listen if they want to be heard, and it is time to demand better processes and better leadership.

If faced with a choice between two evils, with four an a half years until the next general election, now is the time to recruit new members. “Better than the next” is not good enough for the Bahamian people, so it can’t work for political parties in The Bahamas.

Who do we want to see leading the political parties in this country, and how? Who do we believe when they say they care about the same things we do? Where can we find people with both social influence and commitment to building the best version of The Bahamas for Bahamians? How can we interest them in the opportunity to lead, politically and otherwise?

We can’t wait for “them” to do it. We know the people who walk among us, speaking to the vision of a better country and actively working toward it in their own ways. We know the absence of MPs, the closed constituency offices, the unheard voices during crisis and the faces behind the people who deceive us regularly. We know the problems.

Do we know the solutions? Are they in us? We need better leadership and we need better options when we have the opportunity to definitively and directly choose. The conversation is now open. What questions should we be asking?

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Culture Clash: Violence Breeds Violence And It Begins In The Home

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on October 4, 2017

Crime is never off our minds for very long. News reports, stories from friends, social media evidence and personal experiences guarantee our awareness and vigilance. It’s difficult to manage our own fear of crime. For many years crime has been viewed as an evil affecting other people. The likelihood that we, as individuals, would become victims of crime seemed low enough to allow us a relatively carefree existence. Now, with numbers rising — particularly violent crimes like murder and rape — we all feel a bit closer to the issue. It could be our homes, businesses, cars, or bodies next.

Our fear of crime is not irrational. It is a threat we know too well and consider far too often as we perform the most mundane tasks. We do not want to lose what we’ve earned, we want to avoid pain and we want to live. Unfortunately we will not survive without sober consideration of crime and its root causes. From poverty to conflict there are a number of issues to study and remedy. One of the most pervasive issues in Bahamian society is violence and the way we perceive, perpetuate and perform it.

Violence includes physical and nonphysical acts intended to cause harm. For now, let’s focus on the former. Physical violence exists in the media and entertainment we consume including television shows, movies, music and video games. In many instances it is the selling point. We have become so accustomed to on-screen violence it hardly elicits a response. We expect it. We ignore it. We encourage. We find endless ways to excuse acts of violence, insisting the victim deserves it because of some act or failure to act. Perhaps more disturbing this attitude is not limited to the fantasy worlds we enter through screen. It accompanies us in our daily lives.

We have a communication problem. Physical violence has become our go-to form of expression. It is the quickest and easiest way, it seems, to express displeasure. Someone thinks their partner is cheating on them. They respond with violence. Someone loses their job because a former co-worker didn’t take responsibility for a mistake. They respond with violence. Someone’s personal property is accidentally damaged. They respond with violence. Where have we learned this behaviour? Why, when we feel we have been wronged, do we respond with acts of physical violence?

It’s difficult for many to talk about, but there is an issue with the way we raise children, and it is manifesting itself every day in our society. In many cases, children are not regarded as human beings. Their participation is limited, they are heavily guarded and missteps are met with violence under the guise of discipline. Parents and guardians convince themselves that beating children is the best way to control their behaviour and mould them into what they deem to be acceptable human beings. Little thought, if any, is given to the negative — largely psychological — effects of corporal punishment. It is simply known as the quick fix that “worked for me.” It is believed to deter children from doing “wrong” and serves as an immediate means of correction. As with every action, we must consider impact versus intent. Sure, parents and guardians may intend to do their best in raising law-abiding, mannerly, well-behaved people, but what else are they doing when they beat children? Might this send the message that when someone does wrong, the appropriate response is to cause them physical harm?

What if we taught children to think critically? Can we teach them to stop and think before acting? To acknowledge their emotions and recognize what they feel in any given moment may not be the most important thing? Could it be useful to teach them self-control? We could do all of this, but probably not before we learn and model them ourselves. We must first come to the realization that punishment is not the most important thing, nor is it the most effective.

Our obsession with punishment is evidenced by our rigid positions on corporal punishment for children and the death penalty. We are more concerned about exerting power and using fear as a control mechanism than we are about building character and addressing environmental and societal issues that influence behaviour. In addition to the use of fear, punishment is frequently meant to cause embarrassment and prompts children to hide their mistakes instead of talking about and learning from them. This focus on negativity leaves little room to acknowledge and encourage good behaviour. Positive reinforcement is severely lacking and, in combination with the glorification of heavy-handedness in punishment, is causing harm to the psyche.

It is critical to our wellbeing that we exercise more intentional thoughtfulness and constructive criticism of current behaviour and the long-lasting effects of the same. It is not safe to assume that our survival of our parents’ methods is indicative of their merits. In fact, being in-one-piece is not all there is to survival and many of us carry the trauma of childhood abuse with us. Some among us are fighting mental illness, diagnosed and undiagnosed, further complicating navigation of everyday life. There are apologies we may never get. Wrongs that may never be made right. Healing that may never come. Nothing could make any of these things worth the loss or grief, but admitting to ourselves that what we witnessed, survived, or mimicked has caused harm and choosing to find better, healthier ways is a start to tackling the seemingly unsurmountable issue of crime.

This, of course, is not the only reason for the rate of violent crime in The Bahamas, but that needs individual, family, and community response.

It is the beginning of a vicious cycle that teaches us, over and over again, that violence is an appropriate response. Corporal punishment has not remedied any social ills. This form of “discipline” in many Bahamian homes is a lazy, emotional response that forms the root of a larger problem. It’s one that demands our attention on a daily basis and will not go away without a shift in our thinking and behaviour. Why not start in our own homes?

Featured image by nitpix at Morguefile.com