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Culture Clash: Mottley cruises to electoral wipeout

On May 24, 2018, Barbados elected its first female prime minister. Mia Amor Mottley led the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to victory, winning over 74% of the votes. This election brought an end to ten years of governance by Democratic Labour Party (DPL) led by Freundel Stuart since 2010. The BLP won all 30 seats in the House of Assembly—a first in the country’s history. Political parties in The Bahamas should look at the BLP’s campaign and collateral as there is a great deal that can be learned and practiced.

Mia Mottley, now the eighth prime minister of Barbados, has served as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Assembly twice and Attorney General. Her political career has been impressive since her entry in 1991 at the age of 26. She has held ministerial portfolios including Education, Youth Affairs and Culture, Economic Affairs and Development and worked on a National Youth Development programme. Mottley also served as Deputy Prime Minister from 2003 to 2008. Mottley has now joined the ranks of other first female prime ministers in the English-speaking Caribbean—Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Janet Jagan of Guyana, Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica, and Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Campaign

The Barbados Labour Party ran a campaign focused on the main issues of concern with significant emphasis on the economy. In the lead-up to election day, the party reminded the people of its values and commitments. The DLP, on the other hand, resorted to cheap tactics, including a speech from former Minister of Environment and Drainage Denis Lowe stating that “the Barbados Labour Party is led by a self-proclaimed wicker.” (“Wicker” is a Barbadian pejorative for “lesbian.”) He claimed she “doesn’t have any liking for men, except those men who don’t have balls,” and the men in the BLP have been neutered. The DLP put its energy in the wrong place, expecting fear and hatred to rule the ballots.

The BLP has worked to be transparent and involve citizens in the governance of Barbados. In January, the party shared its draft Integrity Commission Bill, calling on the public to offer comments which would be considered. It noted that enactment of the bill would be a matter of priority if elected. In her statement on the occasion of Barbados’ 51st Independence, Mottley committed to a journey of “certainty, consultation and a common gaol that brings everyone on board.” The messaging from the BLP was consistent, calling for everyone to work together to bring a collective vision to fruition.

The manifesto

The BLP manifesto, while short on details, is easy to read and digest. The two-part document separates longterm goals from the more immediate agenda to be carried out in the first six months. The latter includes rebuilding foreign reserves, dealing with debt, tax relief, improving sewerage systems, putting buses back on the road, and preparing for natural disasters. The list includes action steps for each of the 17 items which give an idea of what the BLP intends to take.

The transformational agenda for the five-year term is divided into X pillars—Better Society, Strong Economy, Good Governance, Repair and Renewal (of infrastructure), Blue and Green Economies, and Engaging the World. The website allowed people to view sections based on their identities such as youth, senior citizen, and middle class, and had an audio version which made the manifesto more accessible.

Focus on youth

Recognizing one of the largest voting blocks, the BLP made a youth-specific manifesto available on its website, making it easy for young people to see its intentions. In this plan, the six-month rescue plan is set out in three step—fix the economy, fix infrastructure, and create opportunity. These are later divided into more specific steps like lowering the cost of living through measures including the abolition of road tax and repeal on the municipal solid waste tax and returning free UWI tuition to Barbadian students. The second phase of the plan goes beyond the first six months with sections called live (including health and the justice system), learn (including prioritization of STEAM), create (including a talent showcase), do business (including procurement), play (including entertainment), work (including the development of new industries), and dream (including the creation of citizen wealth). At the end, it offers information for first-time voters.

The success of the Barbados Labour Party and its campaign and collateral are indicative in a necessary shift in the culture of politics in Barbados and throughout the region. Party loyalty is almost nonexistent. Citizens are not interested in petty back and forth arguments on rally stages. People are beginning to understand the importance of civic participation that goes beyond the casting of ballots. Good governance has been a requirement, and political parties are being called to exercise it within their internal systems. Personal attacks sully the names and characters of the people launching them. Voters are paying attention to track records, plans, and the level and frequency of engagement.

Good feelings

The BLP win and Mottley’s win feel good. They feel like progress. They seem like a change with a promise to never go back. Still, there are unknowns and there are harsh truths that must be faced. Barbados has its first female prime minister, but still only has six women in the House of Assembly. In its manifesto, the section on gender equality has only four points—equal pay for equal work, paternity leave, male participation in tertiary education, and female entrepreneurship. These leaves a lot to be desired. There is, for example, no mention of women’s political participation or the introduction of a quota. It must be noted that it could be difficult for Mottley to push a women’s rights agenda. Being a woman and the prime minister is not a panacea. Women’s rights advocates have to continue their work and the press for progress.

Like having a female prime minister for the first time, a clean sweep feels good. It is an undeniable victory, and a clear message from the nation. This has its own challenges, and The Bahamas is becoming familiar with them. There is nothing to celebrate in not having an opposition, and it is critical that the people resist the inclination to relax and believe that all will be well and their jobs are done. The lack of opposition makes the role of the citizen even more critical. There will likely be no one in Parliament to see and hear the questionable and make statements to the press that will inform the public. Who is going to pay attention? The people have to pay attention. To take notes. To ask questions. To challenge ideas. To offer commentary. The citizens have to step up.

As Mottley said in her first address after the election, “All ideas must contend. Even before a government has the right to take a decision, all ideas must contend.”

Published in The Tribune on May 30, 2018.

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Culture Clash: Don’t Be Blind to Cosby

Most of us know Bill Cosby as Heathcliff Huxtable. He is a doctor married to lawyer Clair Huxtable and father of five children. He is a funny, playful character with endearing eccentricity. Everyone loves Cliff, and wishes he could be their father. The Cosby family was aspirational, and The Cosby Show gave us somewhere to be when our own lives, homes and families did not quite manage to bring us joy. Young black people got to see themselves on television in a positive light. Doctors and lawyers, split-level homes, families they could support and the ability to work through anything that came along. Bill Cosby had come to represent all of this. Positive representation of fathers and husbands, visibility of black families, years of family-friendly entertainment and hope for a successful, happy future.

Now we see someone else.

Accusations of rape and other forms of sexual violence against Bill Cosby did not just start in the past few years. This has been happening — and largely ignored — for decades. One of the most recent events was the lawsuit brought by Andrea Constand in 2005 who alleged Cosby had drugged and molested her in 2004. During the process, 12 women made similar allegations and Cosby denied them all. In November 2006, the lawsuit was settled out of court.

In October 2014, the conversation picked up quickly, increasing in volume and reach, after a clip of Hannibal Buress’ stand-up went viral. Buress takes exception to Cosby’s touting of respectability politics. Buress said, “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby.” Likely due to the wildfire spread of the clip, the Daily Mail ran Barbara Bowman’s rape accusation wherein she called Cosby a monster. From then on, women have been coming forward to share their stories. Cosby’s colleagues have done their best to cast doubt on those claims, swearing his innocence.

Cosby admitted in a 2005 deposition that he put quaaludes in women’s drinks. There is no mystery around the use of drugs and drinks in sexual violence and it corroborates stories that scores of women have shared about their experiences with Bill Cosby. He drugged and raped women. Some remember parts of what happened to them at his hands while others do not.

Last week, Cosby was found guilty of aggravated indecent assault and could face up to ten years in prison. Not yet sentenced, he is free — though confined to his Pennsylvania home — on $1m bail. His legal team is likely to appeal and almost a dozen women have civil suits pending against him. Responses to the verdict vary greatly. Some are celebrating and recognise the #MeToo movement for its role in calling for justice in high-profile cases of sexual violence. Some express their certainty that 60 women lied, and Cosby is innocent. Others pretend to be on a line between the two, claiming they want women to be safe and access just justice, but do not think it is right to send Cosby to jail for a crime white men have committed and evaded prison.

“They are trying to ruin a black man’s legacy,” they say.

“Those women were lying. Their stories are too similar,” they say.

“They definitely lied. Their stories don’t match,” they say.

“Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein are still free, so why does Cosby go to jail?” they say.

We can talk about race. We can talk about how much the US justice system hates black men. We need to talk about the systems — white supremacist and otherwise — that have allowed white men to terrorise women and never have to face the public disgrace and consequences they deserve. We simply cannot have that conversation as a way of excusing or protecting other criminals. We cannot use that conversation to detract from the ongoing conversation about sexual violence, particularly perpetrated by men in positions of power.

We cannot have a conversation about race at the expense of women. It has always been far too easy to forget the black community includes women.

People look at Bill Cosby through Heathcliff Huxtable-coloured glasses. They see the loving husband and father he played on The Cosby Show. They see the weird sweaters, hear the funny jokes and feel the sparks of hope and pride at seeing a happy black family on television. They confuse the character with the actor — the real person, Bill Cosby. They ignore the power dynamic that emboldened Cosby and allowed him to sexually violate women and get away with it for a long time. They see a cultural icon.

Compare the rhetoric of the pro-black anti-woman rape apologists in support of Cosby with his respectability politics campaign that registered high on the self-hatred scale. He framed the issue of racism in the US as a black people problem — one AfricanAmericans created for themselves and can solve for themselves. How? By wearing their pants differently, of course. By changing the way they speak. By giving their children more Anglo names. A few changes in behaviour would be all it took to end racism forever, right?

If you have never heard Bill Cosby’s speeches denigrating black people — especially young black men and parents — start with the “pound cake” speech he made on the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Apply his logic to his situation. He says a black man did not have to get shot if he did not have pound cake in his hand. He did not have to go through these trials if he did not always have quaaludes in his pocket.

Maybe Cosby only got to court because he is black. Maybe the system is rigged. Maybe there is something to be angry about. If so, we need to carefully think about what should make us angry.

Is it that a black man is charged and convicted of a crime of he committed, or that a white man is not charged and convicted of a crime he committed? Do we want to fight for the freedom of black sexual predators, or do we want to fight for justice to be served, regardless of the identity of the predator? We need to deal with our inability or unwillingness to separate people from their work.

R Kelly is not even a discussion in most spaces. He has been known to violate young women and girls for years. Story after story reveals his predation. We are horrified by the accounts of those who get away, but many of are not bothered enough to stop supporting him.

By now, we should all understand that we do not have to take money out of our pockets for him to make it, but just playing a song on YouTube helps to finance his den where the women are cut off from family and friends, must ask to go to the bathroom, are completely subject to his abuse and control. Does this disgust you? Is it changing the way you consume?

How far have we come since the OJ Simpson trial? Think about all you consider before coming to a decision on high-profile cases. Race, gender, age and popularity tend to heavily impact judgment. There are stories we immediately dismiss and positions we feel obligated to take.

It is not easy to consider multiple identities, but we must. We need to find ways to be honest with ourselves about our own biases, learn to value justice, and resist the call to automatic solidarity. People are not always as they seem. They are not their work and they are not what they pretend to be. We have to look at what they do. When it comes to justice, our favourites cannot be exempt.

 

This was published in The Tribune on May 2, 2018.

Culture Clash: Lessons from Beyoncé at Coachella

Coachella, the annual music and arts festival held in California, was renamed “Beychella” — to the sound of air horns — by DJ Khaled last weekend when Beyoncé headlined with a two-hour performance. Not only did she become the first black women to headline Coachella, but she brought the HBeyCU theme, a play on HBCUs and “Greek life”. Beychella is arguably her best, most talked about performance to date, possibly rivalled by Superbowl 50.

The Beyhive has been endlessly posting on social media about its blackness and feminism. The commentary almost mimics that of the Superbowl 50 performance, but this time it is more accurate. This might not be because of Beyoncé’s dedication to black feminist politics, but a reading of the market, from its interpretation and reaction to Formation — and, more broadly, Lemonade — and understanding the benefit of feeding this narrative. Beyoncé, as we all know, is a businessperson first, and strategy is key.

Beychella brought some of the most celebrated aspects of African American life and culture. There were more than 100 dancers, a live marching band, a drumline led by Don P Roberts with members from Florida A&M University, Alabama State University, Norfolk State University, Bethune-Cookman University and Tennessee State University among others, and step segments. There was baton twirling, a crane, guest performances, and outfit and nail polish changes. Beyoncé presented a fictional sorority — Beta Delta Kappa — and for part of her set, wore this sorority’s sweatshirt with short shorts, cheeks out. She told the audience she had been dreaming of this performance since she cancelled on Coachella due to her pregnancy with twins, and everyone could tell.

There is no question about the work that went into Beychella. Not just the lighting, choreography, musical arrangement, or auditions, but the imagination. How many hours must have gone into the planning and orchestration of the performance? What fears had to be overcome to see it as a possibility? Is this an ability that comes with money and fame, knowing that whatever you dare to envision can come to life because you can pay for it and your fan base will sing your praises in response?

Beyoncé lives a life of tremendous privilege. She has one of the largest, most loyal fan bases that dedicates copious amounts of time and energy to celebrating her, following her every move, predicting her next steps and defending her at all costs. Who needs a PR team? Whatever she does is well done in the eyes of the Beyhive. It has been interesting to read responses to Beychella on their own, but also to compare them with the rhetoric around other women of colour.

Beyoncé brings other people to the stage with her and she is gracious, kind and a team player. Another artist brings other people to the stage and she is tired, lazy and knows she cannot carry the show on her own. Beyoncé drops unexpected expletives in her music, and she is righteously angry, turning a new leaf and keeping up with her audience. Another artist sings or raps explicit lyrics and she is unintelligent, attention-seeking and stereotypical. Beyoncé wears booty shorts and she is empowered and empowering. Another artist wears booty shorts and she is an unladylike embarrassment.

Everyone has a favourite. There are people we want to excuse, no matter what. We find it easy to explain away their (perceived) wrongs and manage to find good reasoning for actions that go against our own values. We find ways to align behaviours with values that, in our minds, would not otherwise match. What is the difference between the defended and the defenceless? What makes us want to support one person while maligning another, and for similar behaviour?

Video clips of Cardi B’s Coachella performance have been shared on social media over the past few days – the responses have been a far cry from those to Beyoncé’s performance. The two performances were, of course, quite different. They are different genres and different personalities. It is easy to believe all that exists between Beyoncé and Cardi B are differences. It is easy and expedient to deny obvious truths and ignore commonalities.

They are women of colour. They are performing at levels no one could have predicted. They each have their own following. They have their own social media strategies and regularly make decisions about how much of their lives they will share. They are in control of their image. They use profanity. They wear, say and do things that make them feel like themselves or, at least, the people they want to be. They have presence. They demand attention for more than their talent.

Cardi B’s 30-minute Coachella set included Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, G-Eazy, YG, and Kehlani and four acrobatic dancers on scaffolding, seemingly an homage to her past as a stripper. While the crowd enjoyed the show, social media jumped to conclusions and judgments.

Why is Cardi B performing while pregnant? Does she have all of these guest performers because she can’t hold her own? How dare she twerk while pregnant?

People simultaneously lambaste Cardi B for twerking-while-pregnant, but reference guest performers as insults to her stamina. This is a perfect example of the impossibility of pleasing everyone. The same people who went wild over the booty shorts worn by Beyoncé — mother of three — and raved about how empowered they felt came down hard on Cardi B for daring to wear all white, highlighting her pregnancy, while unapologetically doing what she does.

Myles E Johnson wrote about Beychella for the New York Times, hailing the performance as “[writing] the book on black respectability politics.” While exciting and gratifying to think about, the assertion could not be further from the truth. He is clearly heartened by Beyoncé’s refusal to “divorce herself from black culture,” which is certainly debatable, but even if we take this as fact, there must be consideration to platform and stature. Beyoncé can afford to do that. Light-skinned, rich, and quite literally untouchable, she does not represent the most oppressed among us. Her performances do not change our reality, or even revolutionise the way we treat one another as black people, as women, or as black women in particular. In one weekend, we have seen Beyoncé celebrated for the same things that bring Cardi B and other “regular degular schmegular” women ridicule and disgust. Respectability politics remain alive, well, and reinforced by systems from white supremacy to internalised racism.

Beychella seems to have meant the world to black women, but not enough to change the narrow-mindedness the world has about blackness, womanhood, and sexuality. We cannot get any further ahead or do any better if we continue to change the rules based on who we put on the stage or under the microscope. If we are going to celebrate, encourage, and live a black feminist politic, we need to do it all day, every day, without exception. There has to be room for everyone. Single, married, child-free, and parent. There has to be room for people of different religions, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, and locales. There has to be room for various forms of expression and ways of living in our bodies, refusing to be stifled or made invisible due to misogynoir and hypersexualisation.

In the words of Beyoncé, “Are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough? Show ‘em.”

Published by The Tribune on April 18, 2018.

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Culture Clash: What are the Women in Your Life Worth?

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress. The annual year-long campaign inspires people all over the world to consider the issues women face year-round, think about solutions and bring people together to take action for change.

Last year, the US women’s hockey team adopted the #BeBoldForChange theme, rallied for equal pay and caused a stir when it refused to play in the national finals without a satisfactory deal. They were inspired by the campaign and found a way to use it to their benefit. Throughout the rest of 2018, we are called to press for progress.

We have to do more than think, ask and wait and we certainly cannot settle. Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about work — what we do and do not see as work, what we think deserves pay and who we think should do specific kinds of work. Work is political.

As a gender rights activist, I spend at least a part of every day thinking about feminism, gender equality, the current state of affairs and what it will take to create the change we need. Around International Women’s Day, I think more deeply about where we are and what the campaign theme inspires. This time around, admittedly, my thoughts are at least partly guided by social media activity.

As I scrolled Facebook on Monday, I noticed a number of friends had shared an interesting article — “The Invisible Workload of Motherhood is Killing Me” — from the Scary Mommy website. It clearly struck a nerve with many mothers, in The Bahamas and elsewhere, who relate to having a long list of tasks no one else notices unless they go undone. Many of them seem like small things, like remembering birthdays, but when considered cumulatively, we have to admit they can be overwhelming.

We see some of the work mothers do. Meal preparation, laundry, shuttling children to and fro and constant cleaning are in plain sight.

This article, though, was focused on the mental and emotional work undertaken by mothers.

Knowing everyone’s likes and dislikes, remembering which grocery items need to be used before they expire or spoil, keeping track of permission slips and field trips, planning celebrations and making childcare arrangements are all in a day’s work.

How often do we think about these things and recognise them as labour? If someone outside of the household was responsible for this work, would we pay them? If we had to do this work for other people, would we expect to be paid?

I was reminded of the old song, “No Charge.” You’ve probably heard the Shirley Caesar version, especially if you spent any amount of time at your grandparents’ house listening to 1540AM. It’s about a little boy who went to his mother with a bill, itemising and pricing all of the tasks he’d completed. He charged five dollars for mowing the lawn, 50 cents for a trip to the grocery store and even charged five dollars for his own good grades.

It’s cute and funny, imagining a child demanding payment, but interesting that he recognised it all as work.

Seeing it as a teachable moment, the mother listed some work of her own, emphasising that she didn’t charge a dime.

For the nine months I carried you, holding you inside me, no charge

For the nights I sat up with, doctored you, and prayed for you, no charge

For the time and tears and the costs throughout the years

There is no charge

When you add it all up the full cost of my love is no charge

Summing it up in the last verse of the song, Caesar sings about Jesus giving his life for her, paying the price so she had no debt. On one hand, it’s a beautiful, moving comparison. On the other, how costly and how sad is it that mothers are, all at once, our salvation and our source of endless unpaid labour?

Unpaid labour doesn’t begin and end with mothers. It extends to sisters and daughters too. At a recent Women’s Wednesdays event, we heard from a number of women who talked about the burden of unpaid labour in their own homes.

They told stories of expectations and demands, made to do work that wasn’t required of their brothers. Cooking, cleaning and taking care of other siblings are duties generally relegated to girls and the pattern continues into adulthood.

Who is usually responsible for the care of elderly relatives? It was even pointed out that we understand the need to pay non-relatives when they cook, clean and care for us, but do not put the same value to work by our family members. Many of us don’t even think to offer our help.

In another Women’s Wednesdays conversation, this time about money, panelists agreed women should consider getting paid help in the home.

This led to two other points — every woman can’t afford to pay for help in the home and the women who are paid to help in others’ homes are generally underpaid. The conversation was a reminder and perfect example of how layered these issues are and how much work is left to be done.

We can agree it’s great to have help in the home, but what about the people who can’t afford it? How can we better at sharing the workload? It’s great to find affordable help, but what is the cost to all of us when they don’t get a living wage?

This International Women’s Day, I am imagining new ways of thinking and going about our work. I’m thinking about the women who have ten jobs, but only get paid for one. The people who get home from work to work even harder than they did at their full-time jobs are on my mind. I’m putting myself in the shoes of the people who are so desperate for help they don’t think about the long-term effects of underpaying the people they hire to help.

I wonder what I can do, you can do, we can do to see work — no matter where it’s done or who does it — as work, and figure out appropriate compensation, or how to share the burden.

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Culture Clash: Yugge Farrell

Yugge Farrell. That is the name echoing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and throughout the Caribbean. It is the name of a young woman being vilified and victimized by a powerful dynasty desperate to make her disappear. Hers is a terrifying story of what happens when corruption runs rampant, nepotism is the order of the day, and court decisions can be bought. Yugge’s story is one we need to hear and remember, and she is a woman we need to defend.

Who is Yugge Farrell?

Yugge Farrell, 22, was arrested on January 4, 2018 on an “abusive language” charge. It is alleged that she calle Karen Duncan-Gonsalves — wife of Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves a “dirty bitch.” She appeared in court the next day and pled not guilty. After her plea, the prosecution made application, without supporting documents, for psychiatric evaluation. Magistrate Bertie Pompey ordered her to the Mental Health Center for two weeks.

Why the drama?

It is no secret that many politicians, and others in positions of power, groom and prey upon young women. Youth and poverty are just two characteristics that make women more vulnerable to those of means. In most of these cases, relationships are kept quiet — at least out of the spotlight — so the powerful maintain airs of superiority, family life stability, and moral high ground. If threatened, they exert their power in hopes of silencing the people who know their secrets. If they cannot succeed one way, they try another, and another, and another. This is why a father and son seem to have done all they can to lock Yugge away.

Since her detention, videos have circulated online with Yugge saying she had a sexual relationship with the Minister of Finance. While SVG Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has made comments on radio stations about the case, he advised his son, Minister of Finance, to hold “dignified silence.” The Prime Minister is also Minister of Legal Affairs, and insists that a magistrate can order a defendant to a mental institution based on information provided by the prosecutor outside of court.

#Iamcrazytoo

While under evaluation at the Mental Health Center, Yugge was given antipsychotic drugs including Risperidone and Lithium. Her pro bono lawyer Grant Connell addressed this matter in court on January 23, 2018, drawing attention to the difference in her behaviour. At her first court appearance, Yugge was composed, but on the second, she made howling noises — clearly affected by drugs forcibly administered to her. Connell noted that the report provided to the court was not signed by a psychiatrist, and suggested the facility is not equipped to handle patients “with the allegation of some mental instability.”

The report from the Mental Health Center stated that Yugge was unfit to stand trial, and she was sent back to the facility. Outside of the court, Yugge’s sister insisted that her sister is “not crazy.” She suggested that Yugge was being victimized by more powerful people who want to keep her from talking. She also said she suspected Yugge was given medication the night before her court appearance because when she saw her on January 21, she was fine and not presenting as she did in court.

People are responding to the vilification of Yugge, especially under the premise that she is “crazy” — an overused, ableist word meant to discredit. To fight back, people in SVG and around the region are using #iamcrazytoo to express their support. A group of people held signs with messages included “I too am crazy” in protest of what was happening with Yugge’s court case and her detention. While politicians and the court work to make us see Yugge as separate, different, and “crazy,” the people choose to see commonalities and recognize that this injustice can be done to anyone.

Dirty business

A number of issues have been raised regarding this case, not the least of which being abuse of power. There have been arguments about information being shared with the magistrate, but not in open court. Specifically, the information that led to Yugge being court-ordered to the Mental Health Center was not presented in court, and not made available to the defense. In addition, the application for her psychiatric evaluation came after she entered her plea. The legality of this has been questioned, and no answer thus far has pointed to legislative support. One of the most recent issues is that the report from the institution was not signed by a psychiatrist. The prosecution claims none of this of any import.

Lawyer and human rights activist Kay Bacchus-Baptiste spoke out against the handling of Yugge’s case. She referred to Yugge’s detention at the Mental Health Center as “a human rights issue that should be properly investigated.”

On January 29, 2018, Yugge was released on bail, and her case has been put off until December 2018.

#JusticeForYugge

Your first instinct may be to find everything that separates you from Yugge Farrell. You’d probably like to think this could never happen to you, or anyone you love. Even if you’re right, Yugge does not deserve to suffer. She has been hauled before the courts to face a charge of “abusive language” because a government minister’s wife was insulted. She has gone through undue stress and had her rights violated because the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are afraid of her and what her story could do to their political careers, family, and legacy.

Since they don’t, it’s up to us to recognize and affirm that Yugge’s life is more important than their reputations. It’s up to us to take action, support Yugge in word and deed, and push for a system that would not leave room from others to be victimized, dehumanized, or silenced. With the next court date at the end of 2018, we need to be vigilant, steadfast, and vocal in our support of Yugge and her rights. We know this is not the end, and this may not be their final attempt to silence her. Use #YuggeFarrell and #JusticeForYugge to read more about Yugge’s story and the work being done to help her through this case, both legal and otherwise. It will take community to keep her safe and strong, and prepare her for her next day in court. Look for the petition on thepetitionsite.com and the empowerment fund on gofundme.com. If it could happen to her, it could happen to someone else, and that’s not the kind of world any of us deserve. We don’t have to settle; let’s agitate for the change we need and support the people making it happen. Yugge’s could be the case that changes more than a law.

Published in The Tribune on January 31, 2018.

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Culture Clash: Violence Cannot Be Tolerated – In Whatever Form It Comes

Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that often goes unrecognised and unchecked. We all know it exists, but our understanding of it can be quite limited in scope and type.

In discussions about violence, emphasis is generally put on direct violence which includes physical acts like hitting and pushing, with little focus on forms of violence that are just as damaging. Direct violence also includes sexual violence, from harassment to rape, and less frequently discussed acts like human trafficking, exploitation of domestic workers and online harassment.

We have fallen into the habit of excusing direct violence. We find ways to put blame on the survivors and victims of violence. This is sometimes because we want to protect the abusers, but in most cases, we fail to recognise certain acts as violence. We use words like “teasing” and “flirting” to downplay harassment, refusing to see the distinction between them.

Women and girls are seen as unfriendly or “stuck up” when they dare to say or show that attention is unwanted. Men and boys are allowed to make nuisances of themselves because there is more value on their performance of masculinity and seeking to fill their own needs than the comfort and safety of women and girls.

Far too many people concern themselves with what a women or girl was wearing, where she was, who she was with and why she was there with whomever was in her company when she reports sexual assault. This refusal to recognise the violation in favour of misplacing blame for the violation is another act of violence.

Indirect violence includes systemic issues and the stereotypes with which we are familiar, even if we do not recognise them as such.

Yesterday, in a session focused on the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, a differently-abled woman spoke out about the lack of access to spaces — public and otherwise — and increased vulnerability of differently-abled women.

She identified the exclusion of differently-abled women as an act violence. This is a form of violence we do not often recognise or acknowledge, but is part of the lived reality of differently-abled people and compounds the marginalisation of differently-abled women. Women do not get to be only women. We are women and black, women and queer, women and poor, women and elderly and any number of other layered identities.

Every year, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence — a global campaign — run from November 25 to December 10. It opens on the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and closes on International Human Rights Day. These observations underscore both the pervasive and possibly most easily identified forms of gender inequality and the recognition of women’s rights as human rights. This campaign coincides with National Women’s Week in The Bahamas which this year began on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the first time Bahamian women voted.

The Department of Gender and Family Affairs planned Orange Day, a church service and the information and walk-through of the CEDAW report. The Department also disseminated information on NGO-led events and initiatives, including the Zonta Says No town hall held last night and the series of events and actions organised by Equality Bahamas.

These included a Day of Silence, screening of Marion Bethel’s Womanish Ways — a documentary on the Bahamian Women’s Suffrage Movement — and open mic at Expressions at Bistro Underground being held tonight, featuring Tingum Collective from University of The Bahamas, Blue Elite dance troupe and poets Zemi Holland and Letitia Pratt.

This 16-day campaign includes a broad range of activities which are aimed at raising awareness and driving action. Beyond wearing orange and attending events in droves, it is critical we advocate for the change we need, systemically, to end gender-based violence. As Donna Nicolls, of Bahamas Women’s Watch, stated at a few events thus far during the campaign, we need to continue our action and remember that 16 days is not enough.

The campaign is beneficial for introducing people to the issues, increasing and deepening understanding of those issues and connecting with organisations and individuals working on women’s rights and ending gender-based violence year-round all over the world.

Last year, the Life in Leggings movement started in Barbados, swept across the region and encouraged many Bahamian women to share their stories of sexual violence. For most of them, it was the first time they had spoken about their experiences.

While the campaign was not launched as a part of the 16-day campaign, it connected thousands of Caribbean women and highlighted the similarity of stories, laws and systemic issues. This year, just before the beginning of the campaign, people in Guyana stood in support of high school girls who reported sexual violence by a teacher and rebuked the headmistress who shamed girl students for not supporting their teacher. They pushed for a response from the Ministry of Education with regard to the teacher and the headmistress. It is clear none of us can wait for annual campaigns, nor can we limit our advocacy and activism to these limited periods.

Everyone is not able to participate in global campaigns or contribute to ongoing work in the same ways, so it is important to consider various levels of involvement, time commitment, and frequency of activity. As the holidays approach and the season of giving makes us more willing to part with money, think about how can you support an organisation advocating for the rights of women or providing support to women and girl survivors of violence.

While money is always helpful, a phone call or email to find out about items needed is always welcome. The Bahamas Crisis Centre, for example, is currently in need of nonperishable food including noodles, tuna, corned beef and small packs of rice.

Whether you can give a can of tuna or a case of tuna, it would be appreciated by both the organisation and its clients.

There are always people who want to help, but are not able to give tangible items, and there is space for them too. Bahamas Sexual Health and Rights Association (BaSHRA) is running Baby Can Wait — a comprehensive sexual education program — in a few high schools this academic year and could certainly benefit from more volunteers willing to be trained and assigned a class to teach for one hour per week for ten weeks. There are many ways to take action and Equality Bahamas is sharing a new idea every day during 16-days.

The first step is to think about violence in its various forms, where it shows up in your life and how you respond to it. Every act of violence is not intentional, but is still wrong, so it is on the individual, along with organisations, to be intentional in our actions and inclusion of women and girls and all other marginalised people.

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on November 30, 2017

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Culture Clash: Where Next For Legislation On Gender Equality?

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced last week the current administration will amend legislation in order to allow Bahamian women to automatically transfer citizenship to their children at birth in the same way Bahamian men already do. At present, children born to Bahamian women and non-Bahamian men outside of The Bahamas must apply for Bahamian citizenship between the ages of 18 and 21, and registration as a Bahamian citizen is at the discretion of the Minister.

The Bahamas Nationality Act — not the Immigration Act — speaks to the acquisition of Bahamian citizenship which, in many cases, must be granted by the Minister. By use of the word “automatically” in his statement, it appears Minnis means to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act so there is no application or, at the very least, no interference by the Minister. It is not clear how he intends to do this or the form the new process will take, but it is not “overturning” the referendum vote. Minnis has proposed a completely different action which will not have the same effect as a constitutional amendment.

Recall the conversation about the constitutional referendum of 2016. The Constitutional Commission repeatedly made the distinction between the right to automatic citizenship and the right to apply for citizenship. While bill one — specific to Bahamian women married to non-Bahamian men being able to transfer citizenship to children born outside of The Bahamas — would have made citizenship automatic if it had passed, bill two — specific to Bahamian women transferring citizenship to their non-Bahamian husbands — would have allowed for an application process that would not have guaranteed citizenship. This is an important distinction to make and understand: the right to apply for citizenship is not the same as the right to acquire citizenship.

Constitution vs. legislation

Since 2014 when the constitutional referendum was announced, some insisted the same goal — equal rights to transfer citizenship to spouses and children — could be achieved through legislation. They insisted the PLP administration, if it was serious about gender equality in citizenship, should just use the Bahamas Nationality Act to get the same results as a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum. They did not, however, acknowledge the difference between the constitution and legislation.

The constitution is supreme law. Article two states, “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.” Legislation, such as the Bahamas Nationality Act, fits the “other law” category. This means what is written in the constitution overrides any legislation. That is why it was important to go through the referendum process, making an effort to change the constitution so gender equality in the right to transfer citizenship would exist in supreme law rather than in the Bahamas Nationality Act (which is superseded by the constitution).

What if the Bahamas Nationality Act is amended to allow children born outside of The Bahamas to Bahamian women married to non-Bahamian men to automatically access Bahamian citizenship? In theory, it would be great.

There would be no need for applications to the Minister, more paperwork going through Cabinet, or waiting for the age of 18. What if, however, there is a legal challenge? What if someone, or a group, decides it is not constitutional? If taken to court, based on Article two of the constitution, we know supreme law holds. This means Article nine — which says those “born legitimately outside The Bahamas after 9th July 1973 whose mother is a citizen of The Bahamas shall entitled, upon making application on his attaining the age of eighteen years and before he attains the age if twenty-one years… to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas” — would carry more weight than any allowance made in the Bahamas Nationality Act.

No change the current administration makes to legislation is the final word. This is the reason the previous administration spent money and other resources on the constitutional referendum of 2016. Is it a step? Maybe. Is it a cure-all? Not at all.

Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Many Bahamians were first introduced to CEDAW after the 2014 announcement of the constitutional referendum. CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by The Bahamas in 1993. Though we have signed the convention, The Bahamas has made reservations on some Articles including 2(a) on the elimination of discrimination against women in “national constitutions or other appropriate legislation”.

This reservation exists because while Article 26 of the constitution is on protection from discrimination, it does not list sex as a prohibited ground for discrimination and cannot be changed without a simple majority vote by Bahamian citizens.

Article 54 of the constitution states changes to Article 26 — along with many others including 8, 10, and 14 which relate to transfer of citizenship and were included in the 2016 referendum — can only be made following a vote of at least three-quarters of both Houses and a simple majority of eligible Bahamian citizens.

The Bahamas also reserved on Article 9 of CEDAW on equal nationality rights including the ability to acquire, change, or retain nationality and the same rights with respect to their children’s nationality.

Both CEDAW and The Government of The Bahamas recognise the constitution as supreme law and understand the process of changing it. This is at least a part of the reason for The Bahamas’ reservation on the two Articles mentioned here, the decision to go to referendum in 2016, and the response from the Constitutional Commission to the argument that legislation would get the good done just as well.

Power of the Houses

It is critical we understand democracy, governance, law, and power. It is difficult to participate in national discussions without an understanding of the constitution, legislation and how they can be changed. Legislation is being tabled and amended on a regular basis, largely without the public’s attention, much less understanding or agreement. We need to pay more attention to what our Members of Parliament are doing, especially if they are looking to increase their own salaries.

“The People’s Time” can’t just be a snappy slogan; it needs to be a way of life. The people need to set the agenda, supervise our employees, and actively participate in democracy.

It is easy to see Minnis’ announcement as a victory for those of us who wanted a ‘yes’ vote in 2016. It is easy to become distracted by seemingly benevolent actions and to be assuaged by convincing rhetoric. We need to ask questions. What difference will legislative amendments make?

How is this administration acting to shift culture? Does the current composition of Parliament or the Senate reflect an interest in gender parity? How can we learn more about our constitution and existing legislation?

Who is the government, and who is responsible for protecting democracy? Where does the power really sit, and it is being used effectively? How have we contributed to the current political environment? Are we ready to change it?

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on November 9, 2017

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Culture Clash: A Twerking Schoolgirl – Where’s The Real Problem?

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on November 1, 2017

Once again a video of high school students has made its rounds on social media. As usual, many clicked the play button with the intention of getting another excuse for perpetual disdain for anyone younger than them. The general public is all-too-ready to point fingers at them, blame them for their circumstances and allow negative story lines to completely eclipse successes, progress and actions worthy of celebration. This time around the country is scandalized by a video of high school girls participating in a dance competition on an in-school fun day. Even if you haven’t seen the video, you probably have an image in mind and it’s probably no more exaggerated than the view of those who have seen it. While it is perplexing that such an event took place on public school grounds, much of the conversation about it has blown it out of proportion and conveniently oversimplified some elements while amplifying and projecting preconceived ideas and prejudices on to others. Rather than examine the content of the video and its implications, I’m interested in focusing on the way we, Bahamian people of other (older) generations, talked about it and revealed our own truths.

Objectification of Women and Girls

The bodies of women and girls have long been seen as dual-purpose — meant for the enjoyment of men during sex and repopulating the earth through its reproductive functions. Misogynoir complicates this for black girls who deal with a double whammy — the intersection of gender and race. As girls’ bodies change, they are subjected to the lustful attention of men and boys, but also to the judgment of society at large which makes absurd assumptions about them. As breasts grow, hips widen and curves form, people start to wonder about their sexual lives. Are they having sex? How? Do they have boyfriends? Do they know how they look, particularly to men and boys? Are they dressing appropriately, deflecting attention and avoiding the male gaze?

In conversations about the video, there were far too many comments about the bodies of the girls shown dancing. Most people seemed to mistake one of the students for a teacher. They decided, of course, this was her fault. How could her body be that size and shape? Why would she move it in that way? What made her wear that? Didn’t she know how she would look?

Already, before getting to the content or the context of the video, this student was at fault for something. She is deceptive. She made us think she was an adult. She is a teenager living in a body that could easily belong to an adult. She might be considered sexy by boys and men alike. Whose fault is this? Who should be punished? What could she do better, or just differently, to stop our minds from arriving at the wrong conclusions? Is it her job to fix or control our thought processes?

Girls Get the Blame

This is not unlike the recent debates in the US about girls being sent home for wearing clothes school administration considered potentially “distracting” to boys, or the trial women and girls are on when they report sexual assault. There are always people and policies insisting we must have done something wrong to attract unwanted attention, and that it is our job to regulate the behaviour of men and boys because they, by nature, have no self control.

From a young age, girls are taught to dress, sit, walk and speak in specific ways so that as girl, and later on as women, can protect ourselves. We are told to make ourselves smaller and quieter. The goal is to go unnoticed. Girls are not to laugh too loudly, speak too much, or show too much of their bodies. By doing any of these things, we become human and our existence is noticed. When our presence it noticed, the first thing people see is our bodies because it is the most visible part of ourselves. Still, our bodies are not seen like the bodies of men and boys. Our bodies are automatically reduced to orifices and incubators and some would have us believe this is the natural order of things, that men and women are wired this way, but that is far too convenient for one sex. It is far too dehumanizing for the other. It is the easy way out of a serious conversation about the outright refusal to see women and girls as human beings.

Sexualization by Adults

The girls in the video dance, and the way they dance is not unlike the way people in their 20s or 30s dance, or danced when they were in high school. It is not a great departure from the body movements of our ancestors, or their celebrations of womanhood. There has always been gyration, expressions of happiness and what we may now see as theatrics. The dances practised now are obviously inspired by more than our history, including trends in music and music videos and new takes on old moves emerging across the African diaspora. Being shamed for the ways our bodies move, for whatever reason, is an assault on ancestry, culture and body autonomy. Reducing dance to a mimicry of or motivation for sex is a gross misinterpretation at best and misogyny in the form of the objectification and dehumanization of women at worst. There is no way to look at the video and determine the sexual histories or proclivities of the people in it. The way they danced did not provoke this kind of thinking. Adults are responsible for the sexualization of children and it can start in small ways. Look at the onesies that label babies as “sexy” and the like. Note the comments on baby pictures advising parents to get a gun, or predicting which infants will be heartbreakers. Who is really the problem?

Fear of Sexuality?

We are afraid of sexuality. This fear has held us back from necessary action. It has prevented parents from talking to their children about sex. It has locked schools and teachers into teaching abstinence only, knowing it is not realistic for everyone. It has made room for men and boys to wear their sexuality proudly and boast about sexual experiences while encouraging women to either be “pure” or pretend to be pure to avoid disparaging labels men and boys do not worry about wearing. Why can’t we acknowledge we are sexual beings? How can we all have sex, but pretend no one else does? Even for those among us who are not sexually active, is it impossible to be sexual? Do we think sexuality is specific to or limited to sex? Were there not women before us who celebrated their daughters’ first periods, and their own fertility? Did they never dance, without inhibition, in whichever ways the music moved them?

We have a problem with sexuality, and we are not the only ones.

This difficulty is tied to misogyny, homophobia and historical trauma. Until we, as adults, abandon our comfort zones of suppression and false superiority, we will not be able to raise sexually aware children who can assert themselves to practice body autonomy, seek consent, care for their bodies, and make healthy decisions for themselves. They don’t have to wait for fun days or dance competitions to express themselves sexually. Perhaps we should be more concerned about what we don’t see, all because we’ve taught them to be invisible.

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.