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

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

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.

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.

Sunday Sermon: Maybe It’s Not You

I spend a fair amount of time reading articles, blog posts, and email newsletters full of expert tips, advice, feel-good material, and any number of other kinds of material. Today, I read an article about fitness — which really isn’t my favorite topic — and one paragraph in particular really stuck with me, and I decided to share it here.

Women are conditioned blame themselves all the time, because everyone blames us—literally us, and not difficult scenarios—at every opportunity. I’m here to say to you—no. The path for anything is not straight and you will not always get it right the first time. Expect difficulties, expect setbacks, expect to have to look at everything with clear eyes and realize it is both possible for things to not be going smoothly *and* for that to not reflect on you as a person.

For me, that take-aways are:

  1. Sometimes things are difficult.
  2. Not winning or not succeeding in a task or moment does not mean you suck.
  3. You’re not the sum of things you didn’t do perfectly.

Keep trying. Get better. Celebrate success on your own terms. You deserve all of that.

Video: Women & Sex

The Women & Sex panel — part of Equality Bahamas’ Women’s Wednesdays series — centered women’s health, focusing on care for the body, negotiating use of contraception, the definition and practice of consent, and ways to talk to young people about sex

Panelists:

Glevina McKenzie, Volunteer Sex Ed Instructor

Nurse Tamara Donaldson, HIV/AIDS Center

For more information on the Women’s Wednesdays event series, like Equality Bahamas on Facebook.

You Got It, You Got It Bad

It being misogyny. And/or fatphobia.

 

I’ve been paying attention to the public dialogue about charges brought against Usher for knowingly exposing women to at least one STD — herpes — without disclosing. This is vile, manipulative, and an abuse of power. It’s disappointing to see where people have put their focus. Most comments I’ve seen are either about the stupidity of the women who they presume engaged in unprotected sexual activity with Usher, or the incredulity about Usher engaging in sexual activity with a fat women. Which one pisses me off more? I really don’t know. Overall, I’m outraged by the continued scapegoating of women, even in a situation where a man is clearly at fault.
I’ve commented on a few threads about this story, and decided this morning that I would pull out the key pieces to share here, both because I am tired of talking to people who don’t actually want to listen, learn, or admit to their fuckups, and because it’s important to document these ideas and positions since, unfortunately, the same things come up over and over again. I definitely plan to drop the link to this post in comments all over Facebook and walk away, refusing to do any more free labor.

 

Here are nine points that kept coming up:
  1. Fat women have sex. Maybe someone told you fat women are unattractive, asexual, or undesirable, but you should cut that liar all the way off.
  2.  Casual sex is a thing. It’s fine. Don’t like? Don’t have it.
  3. Exposure to STDs is not limited to penetration.
  4. Comprehensive sexual education has NOT been made available to everyone, and access to health care resources and services is not universal. Judging people with limited or no access is indicative of cognitive dissonance. Or a character flaw.
  5. Shaming and blaming are counterproductive activities if you have the least bit of interest in improving sex ed and/or access to services and resources. It’s really good for feeding your superiority complex and reducing the likelihood of your friends and family members coming to you if they need help though, so there’s that.
  6. We are all suffering the effects of the abstinence-only “education” peddled for decades. Similarly, we continue to suffer the effects of the monogamy-only rhetoric. Learned early enough, these ideas take root, shaping negative narratives around anything different and, if you’re not careful, result in closed-minded judgmental positions you are opposed to shifting, even in the face of new information and/or different contexts. This inflexibility is not a strength.
  7. There’s inequality in access to contraception. Ever seen condoms in a pharmacy, gas station, or grocery store? Ever seen dental dams in any of those places?
  8. The likelihood that you have, whether knowingly or unknowingly, put yourself at risk of contracting STDs is pretty high. Blow job without protection? Yeah, that’s one. Kissing people without seeing results of their sexual health screenings? Another one. (Hello, herpes!)
  9. There is a power dynamic too many people love to ignore. It exists between men and women. Employer and employee. Parent and child. Priest and parishioner. Celebrity and fan. 40-year-old and 20-year-old. That power dynamic affects engagement.
 
We have a long way to go. If you’re not running the marathon with the people doing this work, it’d be nice if you’d at least work a water station. If you’re not going to help at all, it’d be appreciated if you don’t get on the route to elbow or trip those of us pushing to get to next mile marker. Your judgment and lack of information/understanding/global context is not helping anyone get the resources and services they need, and is definitely contributing to the shame that keeps people from actively searching and asking for what they need. Get out of the way.

 

 

Edit to add: I’ve seen reported that Usher does not have herpes and plans to sue for defamation. While that may be the case, all I have said stands as it is a direct response to the commentary around the accusation rather than the accusation itself.

 
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Video: Sexuality and Online Harassment

The Sexuality and Online Harassment panel — part of Equality Bahamas’ Women’s Wednesdays series — centered the woman’s body and explored ideas of access, presentation, expectations, and vulnerability.

Panelists:
Erin Green, LGBT+ Advocate
Jodi Minnis, Interdisciplinary Artist
Tamika Galanis, Artist-Scholar
Princess Pratt, Storyteller

For more information on the Women’s Wednesdays event series, like Equality Bahamas on Facebook.

Women’s Wednesdays: Sexuality and Online Harassment

Join Equality Bahamas and National Art Gallery of The Bahamas tonight for our third Women’s Wednesdays event.

The Sexuality and Online Harassment panel centers the woman’s body and explores ideas of access, presentation, expectations, and vulnerability. Questions framing the conversation include:

-What is sexuality?
-Who owns and controls the woman’s body?
-How does the state support/impede bodily autonomy?
-What have we learned, and what do we need to unlearn, about our bodies and sexuality?
-What is harassment? Who is at risk of harassment?
-What is our responsibility in protecting ourselves and each other from sexual violence?

Our Sexuality and Online Harassment panelists are:
Jodi Minnis, Multidisciplinary Artist
Princess Pratt, Storyteller
Erin Greene, LGBT+ Advocate
Tamika Galanis, Artist-Scholar