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When Activists Shut Conversations Down

Over the past few months, I have been facilitator and participant in scores of conversations. In most cases, they were informal, but generative. They gave attention to issues and root causes, but also invited participants to explore different ways of addressing them that could lead to solutions. Still, it was not unusual for someone to point out that “all we’re doing is talking” or “we need to do more than talk”.

It seems as though people are not only interested in seeing someone else drive action — because they are not taking it upon themselves to do it — but they want to skip the important exercise that is conversation. It is not just about spewing words. Through conversations about human rights, justice, equality and creating change, we are able to build community, learn about each other’s interests and skills, establish trust, share ideas, identify the nonnegotiable matters and collaborate on direct action.

Even in movements that begin with rapid response, conversation plays an important role. Its usefulness is often underestimated and people tire of it quickly. This may be a signal that we need to move toward a different, more fluid form of organising that allows conversations to happen while action is underway, even in the early stages.

There is always frustration about the amount of time change seems to require. It is possible the “change takes time” rhetoric has been a tool to keep us complacent. Maybe it has been an excuse for us to take it easy and do the minimum, thinking that more effort would not bring more reward.

Change can take less time if we have more of the other ingredients. More people, more energy, more action, more dedication, more willingness to be uncomfortable and unpopular. Our desire for change has to be great enough for us to commit to doing the work and our commitment has to be greater than the competing desire for comfort. We have to be more uncomfortable with injustice and inequality than we are with the sacrifice required to wipe them out.

Among our unfortunate comforts is ignorance. Far too many people would rather pretend to know than ask a question, read an article, or watch a video to get to the answer.

Another damaging comfort is what can be termed oppositional contempt. This is the pessimistic view of all people who are not clearly and decidedly on the same side, whether or not they are in the moveable middle — the people who hold a position loosely and can be persuaded to move toward either side. Oppositional contempt leads people to shut conversations down right before a transformational engagement can take place. An example of this is fresh in my mind because I saw what could have been an unfortunate exchange on Monday.

When a question is really a quest for knowledge

Darren shared a post about discrimination against Haitian migrants regarding access to Bahamian citizenship. The post made Darren’s position clear — that children born in The Bahamas should be able to apply for Bahamian citizenship. Whatever your views on the issue, put them aside for now so that you don’t miss the point. Janae replied with questions about what this might look like in practical terms and how we would establish boundaries. Her questions boiled down to:

  1. If you designed the system, how would it work?

  2. What would be the requirements and restrictions?

Janae was seeking understanding. She could not picture a version of The Bahamas in which the children of Haitian migrants could access Bahamian citizenship. It is likely that, when she tried, she envisioned crowded classrooms and public clinics which is a predictable picture because education and healthcare are the two services Bahamians frequently cry are being monopolised by Haitian people.

She wanted to know how, if we extend these human rights, we would manage our resources in a way that allows us to continue to function at the same level. This basic question is one that governments have to answer all the time. Our government contended with this issue when it implemented a lockdown. With so many people unable to work and receive pay – and with the government’s obligation to provide for its people – how would it be able to meet its other obligations when money has to be spent differently because of the unexpected situation?

These kinds of changes to budget, legislation and policy are infrequent at this scale and level of visibility, but not unheard of. The public is not typically involved in these processes, so Janae’s questions, while possibly frustrating, are not invalid.

Some interruptions are fissures, meant to disconnect

Myrtle came along and decided to intervene with what we like to call “attitude”. She asked a rhetorical question meant to make Janae feel embarrassed for asking a question Myrtle obviously considered offensive. Janae stayed the course, however, and clearly stated that she was not seeking to cause offence, but to get a better understanding of Darren’s point of view.

Myrtle had already successfully derailed the conversation and the next few responses were to questions Janae did not ask. Janae then said that she had seen these conversations before and has never seen anyone propose a solution. She wanted to support Haitian migrants in their fight for human rights, but needed to understand the end goal. She added that, given the limited resources of the country, she would like to know if and how The Bahamas, if it grants access to citizenship, could reasonably state that it can no longer accept applications for citizenship.

Janae’s engagement remained respectful in the face of a toxic politeness — the skillful use of careful tone and wording adopted by someone who knows they are being aggressive and do not want anyone to be able to call them out on it — even when Myrtle came back to tell her she was unfairly burdening Darren with her questions and should seek out an organisation, activist, policymaker or academic instead.

Interestingly, Darren is an activist, personally known to Myrtle and perfectly capable of saying he was not interested in having the conversation. He, however, is a consistent and active participant in these conversations, often starting them on his own. Myrtle noted that she knows Darren and would prefer to engage him and understand his perspective.

Some interruptions are bridges, meant to (re)connect

At this point, Darren stated there was no simple answer and pointed to systemic issues of political and economic exploitation which directly impacts migration, the need for migrant labor and the usefulness of a focus on controlling migration rather than attempting to stop it completely.

These are valid points, but did not quite answer the questions, so it was a relief to see Rufina enter the conversation and deliver seven helpful points which included action steps including regularisation of people already here and a direct challenge to the idea that migrants are a strain on resources. If a standing ovation was possible on Facebook, it would have happened at this moment. Someone read the conversation, saw the questions asked in sincerity, chose not to lambaste or embarrass anyone, and provided thoughtful responses.

We like to believe we are ready for change. That change should not take such a long time. That we spend too much time talking. That we need to get to the action. Somehow, however, we prove every single day that we are not on the same page. We are not prepared to engage one another with respect and share knowledge, even when it is to the benefit of the communities we care about.

The issue of immigration is one example, but there are many other issues on which we do not agree. There have been thousands of conversations that could have resulted in conversation, but participants gave in to oppositional contempt or toxic politeness rather than doing the work — the action — of sharing information and ideas with a person in the middle who could be moved by what they said.

If we are not prepared to properly engage even the moveable middle, then no action we take will be successful. We cannot rush to move when we leave behind the people who make a movement. Conversation matters — the content, the tone and the motivations of the people in it.

To be the smartest, the loudest, or the one with the hardest shutdown should never be the goal. We have to move the middle.

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Minister of Social Services Doesn’t Understand Domestic Violence

Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell spoke in Parliament about the work being done by the Department of Social Services. He noted, without call it by name, that the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence had been raised numerous times. I waited, with the tiniest bit of optimism, for him to announce systems and services to address this pervasive issue that is only exacerbated by current conditions. Instead, he said: “This is a time when [abusers] should reflect on the errors of their past and try to make amends[…] repent of their ways and seek to build those bridges that they would have broken down.”

First, not many people watch Parliament. This was made clear by the comments on the livestream which indicated that viewers had no understanding of processes (which, admittedly, are often time-consuming and make little difference). Second, abusers do not tend to take instruction from Ministers of Social Services through a screen. Third, abusers are not short on “apologies”. They do not, however, relish taking responsibility for their actions, being remorseful, or taking the necessary step to reform. This is why there is a cycle of abuse and there are many PSAs that show the stage where the abuser brings the survivor flowers, convinces them to stay – then repeats the abuse.

Campbell did not offer a solution. He did not even offer support for survivors. He noted the issue was raised and did exactly what everyone thus far, including the Prime Minister has done. He said words that meant nothing.

We need a hotline specifically for domestic violence. We need police officers trained on domestic violence intervention to answer those calls. We need more safe housing for survivors. We need a residential programme for people going through withdrawal from alcohol and putting their households at risk. Systems and services, not apologies. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs should be leading on this. It, apparently, has a gender-based violence coordinator. What, exactly, is the department doing? It is definitely not responding to requests for meetings to discuss issues of gender in the country, so the least it could do is use whatever expertise it has in its own staff to anticipate, identify, strategise and respond to issues and give advice to the minister who is clearly out of his depth.

Government Caused Panic

Following the weekend lockdown on short notice, introduction of a grocery shopping schedule and the announcement of a complete shutdown from Wednesday night to Tuesday morning was no great surprise.

Grocery store lines have been wrapped around buildings all week. Some stores chose to ignore the shopping schedule. Even worse, senior citizens and people with disabilities – given Tuesday mornings to shop and the option to shop on the day assigned by last name – were turned away from several stores on Monday. When challenged, store staff told them they could use “discretion”. This is disgusting and unacceptable. Community members and advocates have been pushing for policies that consider and respond to specific vulnerabilities.

It is cruel and reprehensible that anyone wielded power, claimed “discretion” and denied entry to senior citizens and people with disabilities who made their way to the store at the appropriate time. Those people need to be dealt with and the government needs to make clear its orders are not open to interpretation or discretion. They are to be followed and the dignity of people doing their best to navigate this crisis must be kept intact.

Dr Minnis and his team need to reassess their tactics and realise they are creating the panic they are trying to avoid. They, unfortunately, promised not to close grocery stores and have not honoured that. No one knows what to expect. The uncertainty, lack of trust and loss of control will not serve us; nor will incremental, ever-changing measures that result in large crowds assembling in order to meet their most basic needs.

Why are some people shopping so often? Why did some people wait so late?

Some people had no idea their households would consume so much food in one week. Some people are using it as an excuse to be on the road. Some people usually just eat takeout. Some people stocked up for a week or two and now need to replenish. Some people are not very good at planning? Some people were waiting for cheques to clear, to get prepayments for services or to collect benefits. Some people have no other choice.

There have been many criticisms as a new world is shaped by COVID-19. Our lives are changing based on the decisions made by governments and residents. Our government is far from perfect. It has made many mistakes that are fairly easy to pinpoint now. We, however, are not blameless. We have also made mistakes and we continue to err. We make bad judgments, posture as experts after very little study and believe ourselves better than everyone else. We are frequently unable to see beyond on our experiences and cannot be convinced to even try to look a little further. This is one of the reasons so many people, however close they may be to it, do not understand poverty.

Poverty is not a choice. It is not a series of decisions. It is not the consequence of a personal failing. It is a both a system and the failure of systems. It linked to race and gender, thrives on the inequal distribution of wealth and other resources and depends on us to blame it on the people living through it. Poverty steals decision-making power. It is a beast, looming every day, taunting the people trying to get around it.

Poverty is not just a minimum wage cheque. It is no cheque at all. It is five dollars here and eight dollars there for hair-braiding or coconut water. It is only having enough to get two of the five ingredients you need to make a meal. It is almost daily visits to the grocery store because there isn’t enough money to get food for the week. Minnis has memory of this and painted the picture in Parliament on Monday, but offered no relief to the people who know it best today. The grocery shopping schedule gives people three opportunities to shop every week except this week. What is going to happen, over the next five days, to the people who do not have more than five or eight dollars to shop at a time?

Tips to get through

For those who are not accustomed to spending this much time at home, this is a difficult situation. It is also challenging for those who enjoy being at home, but also appreciate the freedom of being able to go out to eat, sit by the beach, or visit family members and friends. Being restricted, in and of itself, feels like a punishment. In addition to thinking positively about this exercise and the lives we are saving, it is important to figure out how we function best and create the environment we need.

  1. If you are working from home, give yourself an office space. This could be a desk or a chair at the kitchen table. Try to separate work life from home life. Keep rest and work separate and allow yourself to have more restful sleep at night.

  2. Get active. Even if you did not exercise before, find ways to move your body for physical and mental health benefits. There are thousands of free videos and apps to get you into yoga, jumping rope, pilates, running, Zumba and many other physical activities.

  3. Introduce friendly, virtual competition. Do some of those puzzles making the rounds on Whatsapp. Start a game of Chopped on Lockdown by choosing three ingredients and challenging others to make a meal with them that their household would enjoy.

  4. Discover new music. YouTube makes it easy for you to find music you might like with its recommendations in the sidebar. Check out Bahamian DJ Ampero’s Mixcloud for great mixes with artists you already love and others you will want to know better.

  5. Read more. The are books that will take you on journeys to parts of the world you have never seen, introduce you to entirely different worlds, and help you to understand or rethink the way you live in this one. Ebook and audiobook versions are widely available.

  6. Learn something new. Have you always wanted to learn French? Do you need to finally learn the Electric Slide? Do you still need that website for your new business? Would you like to finally be able to twist your own hair? There is a how-to video for everything. Seriously, my friend showed me one for grating carrots.

  7. Schedule virtual dates. The friend you were going to visit next month, the person you partied with in college, the former coworker now working in another country, and the cousin you never see any more are just a Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, or Hangout away. Have a catch-up session.

We do not know how long this will last, but let’s prepare ourselves as best we can. Let’s do our best to help others. Let’s follow the guidelines and flatten the curve. Maybe we can find joy in the little things for a little while.

Published by The Tribune on April 8, 2020.

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Schools Are Closed, Now What?

COVID-19 is forcing us to change the way we live. It demands that we change our behaviour in order to stop the spread of the virus. We are not yet taking it as seriously as we should. We should not have waited for a confirmed case before taking action, especially when we have thousands of people moving in and out of the country, directly engaging with a large proportion of our population through the tourism industry. We are behind and rushing to make decisions when we could have been far ahead, learning from the experiences of China, South Korea, Italy and Spain. Finally, we are making adjustments, but it is coming slowly. We are not being given much time for transition. We have to be ready for sudden changes. It should not, however, fall completely on us.

The government has a responsibility to ensure everyone has a reasonable chance to get through this, and that means introducing feminist policy rather than making sweeping changes that leave gaps that increase the vulnerability of people who were already vulnerable. They need to give us the tools to survive their decisions. As an example, we can look at the decision to close schools. The closure of all schools was a good call. That said, it should have come with a comprehensive plan to manage all of the components that are missing as a result of the closure. It needed to consider the safety of children, the income of parents, food security and education.

This is no village

We have created a culture of selfishness. We do not care as much about our neighbours as we like to pretend. We do not live in little proverbial villages. We expect people to take care of themselves or suffer the consequences of their inability to do so. We also expect them to do it quietly. This was made clear by the comments on one of the livestreams of the prime minister’s address on Sunday night.

The prime minister made the announcement at eight o’clock on Sunday night that schools would be closed for one month starting the next day. This gave parents and guardians less than 12 hours to make other arrangements. People, obviously unprepared and unsure of what to do, commented on the video to ask what they were supposed to do with their children. Others responded that those children were their problem to deal with, the prime minister need not figure out their lives for them and they should let the same person who watches the children while the parents party watch them – no one.

The responses were rude, callous and evidence of the erosion of the moral fabric we pretend to have in this society. People are uncaring. Not only that, but we have a limited understanding of the responsibility of governments, and we have gone for such a long time without the government properly providing the services and resources it should, depending heavily on non-governmental organizations, that we are ready to accept it and ridicule others for daring to even question it.

Schools meet more than educational needs

Schools are primarily the site of education, but they are also providers of supervision, safety, lunches and routines. School closure does not just mean children will not be at school, potentially spreading the virus. It means many children will be without adult supervision. Parents and guardians have to be at work. Working from home is not a common option here and, even at this time, employers refuse to consider it. The foolish idea that people are only working if you can see them working prevails. This makes it impossible for people to ensure their children are safe when out of school. Add to this low wages and high cost of living and it is not difficult to see how many cannot afford to pay a sitter.

Children are, no doubt, currently at home alone with instructions to be quiet and not let anyone know they are there, or given responsibilities like taking care of the younger children and walking to a neighbourhood store to purchase food. Parents and guardians are forced to trust family members and friends to drop by and check on their children, hoping they do not, instead, cause them harm. We cannot close schools without making commensurate adjustments to worklife.

There are children on lunch programmes. The number is limited and the criteria strict, so it is obvious these children need to be provided with free lunches. What will they eat when they are at home? They receive free lunches at school because their families cannot afford to feed them otherwise. This does not change when they must now be at home. How can we close schools without thinking about the nutrition of the children who will be behind closed doors?

The disruption in children’s education must also be considered. We all know what happens after a school break when children have not reviewed their work. When they return to school, teachers have to go over old material with them. We cannot have them at home with no curricula to follow and expect them to return in a month and prepare for exams in a few weeks.

What will be done to ensure their education continues? Every child does not have internet access, so virtual school will not work for everyone. Will teachers prepare packages with review material and schedules for them to follow? Who will assist them if they need help? Will there be radio programming to occupy, educate and entertain them while they are at home, and guide them through their days?

These are only three consequences – changes in safety, nutrition, and education – of the closure of school in isolation. The government has not put any measures in place to support families through this change. There has been no announcement of assistance for families that have no one available to stay with their children free of charge and no money to pay someone to do it.

There have been no arrangements made for people to pick up or receive deliveries of the lunches that would have been provided at school. The government is making decisions and leaving gaps. These gaps are huge, and they are directly linked to poverty, hunger and child safety.

If this is an indication of the actions the government intends to take in the face of COVID-19, we are in trouble. We have to speak up now. We have to pay attention to the gaps, point them out, recommend solutions. If we fail to do this, we fail ourselves and our communities. We do not want to be left wondering why there are so many reports of sexual violence or cases of malnutrition in the weeks to come.

How do we make feminist policy?

Have you ever been in a running club? Or a cycling club? One of the strongest runners or cyclists is always at the back. They could go faster, they could be in the front and they could finish first. Clubs, however, are not about that. They are about building community through the enjoyment of an activity, and part of being in community is making sure everyone is safe and no one gets left behind. Someone is always at the back, making sure the slowest, least skilled, or newest person is in their sight.

Feminist policies leave no one behind. They consider the most vulnerable people, put them to the front and design policies that will work for them. This is different from typical policymaking which focuses on the majority and sees vulnerable people as outliers. If the policy will not work for the people with the greatest need and who are the most marginalised, it will not work. It will create greater gaps, and we do not need that.

We need to close the schools. Okay, let’s think it through. Who are the students with the greatest need? We will need to consider those from families with low incomes, those with specific learning needs, those with no one to care for them during school hours, those with disabilities, those with medical needs, etc.

We still need to close schools, but what programmes and services can we implement to ensure they are not left more vulnerable? These could include stipends for caregiving, lunch drop-offs, modified lesson material and scheduled visits from a medical professional. Beyond this, we need to look at other household needs like the ability to work from home and increased food stamps or stipends. Feminist policy identifies existing needs, anticipates the needs that would arise from the proposed change, and directly addresses those needs.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Unit shared an assessment of potential challenges and solutions arising from the COVID-19 crisis, from food (in)security to economic (in)equality, and the necessary response on through its social media channels.

It is important for everyone – government actors, non-governmental organizations, advocates, employers and citizens – to review, consider and act upon the recommendations made in the chart the SDG Unit produced. It is designed to help us to move forward without leaving anyone behind, and we should all be committed to that.

We, the Bahamian community, have to do this together to survive.

Published by The Tribune on March 18, 2020.

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A Little Disappointment Shouldn’t Kill the Dream

Last week was quite busy as I worked with the all-volunteer team of Equality Bahamas to plan and execute our annual International Women’s Day events. Every year, this process leads me to think about a range of issues, circumstances, gaps and solutions. From people – primarily young women – adding to their regular workloads as volunteers with non-governmental organisations to the response of the public to initiatives designed for and by women, there is no shortage of necessary discussions.

After the march and expo, I came across a Facebook post by someone I’ve known since elementary school. This is not a person I spend time with nor have intimate knowledge of, but I know basic facts such as her name, profession, close friends and other bits and pieces anyone can glean from shares on social media. I did not know anything about her position on political or social issues. Then I saw a days-old post about the (then) upcoming march I organised with a team of dedicated, enthusiastic young women. The post basically said she would definitely not be marching after being duped by We March which proved to be something other than the organiser had suggested.

There were three main commenters, two of whom completely agreed with the post. One person noted it was an unreasonable position to take, unfair to paint women organisers with the brush of a reckless person, and important to properly use non-violent forms of protest.

I struggle to find a word for the way I felt when I read this thread. “Disappointed” is not quite it. I know better than to expect everyone – or even most people – to get on board. I have come to expect naysayers and finger-pointers. I know people find it easy to call other people’s work garbage – and this is a euphemism for the word used – than to do the work themselves. Still, it is almost as though I expected more from this particular person. Why? Because I “know” her? Because she has never shown any signs of being against the expansion of women’s rights? Because she is a young woman and business owner who has surely experienced misogyny and sexism, and has definitely been disadvantaged by the systemic issues we have yet to properly address? Because I think she should care?

In reflecting on this experience, I have been reminded of two important lessons I have learned over the past few years. The first is that it is important to take conversations about rights, justice and feminism outside of the comfortable spaces. The Equality Bahamas team can talk about national issues and what needs to be done to tackle them all day, every day, but it would not change anything. We have to take our critique, our ideas and our plans of action outside of our own space, engage others in the conversation and convince them to take action with us.

To be clear, we do this regularly, but the reminder helps push us to think more about where we have not gone yet and what we need to do to get there. The second is that our greatest opponents in the fight for equality are systems and social constructs – not people. People – including some we know – embody those systems and constructs and they act in the ways that are dictated by those systems and constructs. For many, those systems and constructs are all there is. They have not had the chance to think about a world without them.

The day-to-day hustle to get to and from work, figure out how to pay the bills and keep groceries in the house and take care of the unexpected does not leave us much room for imagination. All some of us have is the memory of what has already taken place and the heaviness of the current situation. Reality does not encourage us to dream. If we never take the time to think beyond what we have, to envision what we do not yet see, we are doomed to a future that looks exactly like the present. To get beyond this point, we have to identify and deconstruct the systems that find homes within people and we have to create opportunities for people to imagine, create and realise more.

Leaders of organisations, movements and people have a responsibility to the people under the sound of their voices. They have to be more than charismatic. They have to be honest. Loyal. Communicative. Accessible. They have to be able to answer questions about where they want us to go, why and how we will get there. They have to be willing to go the distance, to train, mentor and elevate others to take the position they must eventually vacate. They have to do what they said they would do. They have to prove themselves worthy of the trust and support they receive. When they fail to be and do all of this, and without apology, we end up where we are now. We find ourselves surrounded by people who are disappointed, hurt and unwilling to act.

No one fighting for a cause can hope for another’s downfall. The failures, missteps, compromises and disappointments of one can negatively impact others, even when they seem completely unrelated. How can we reactivate imaginations that have been dormant for so long? This may be the challenge of this generation of changemakers – to reactive imaginations so we can see something better, then believe we can make it happen.

Why whistles don’t get to the root of the issue

When Philip “Brave” Davis suggested the government provide women and children with whistles, there was no way to keep it out of the headlines. Yes, he made other recommendations, but this one deserved a response. The knee-jerk reaction grazed the surface, but did not quite go deep enough to explain what is really wrong with the suggestion.

The whistle is not a new idea. Many of us are familiar with the “rape whistle”. We are expected to be equipped with these whistles and, should we feel unsafe, we are to blow the whistle.

The first issue is that the answer to an issue is not in the response of the person on the receiving end. Gender-based violence is a systemic issue. Gender is a social construct that prescribes ways of being for people based on the social and cultural expectations of each gender. Gender-based violence is the name for harm caused that is directly related to understandings of gender and how it controls us.

The man who attempts to harm a woman because she is seen as weaker and meant to be submissive is not likely to be scared off by the sound of whistle for various reasons. The whistle has to be accessible enough for the woman to blow it. If is it around her neck, it can become a weapon for strangulation. If it is loose, held in her hand, it can be knocked out. If she gets it to her mouth, she risks more physical injury because she could be caused to choke, or she may be struck. If she manages to use the whistle to make noise, this could aggravate the man and lead to further harm.

The second issue is the uncertainty about its effectiveness. Do we know what to do when we hear a whistle being blown in a parking lot? Is a Junkanoo group on the way? Is someone practising for sports day? Did a child get a new toy? What are we, as citizens, supposed to do when we hear a whistle. Do we know when it is a distress signal as opposed to something else, and do we know how to intervene if we determine it is a distress signal? On Saturday, we distributed whistles and one of the women decided to blow it in a public space when approached by a man she knew. Luckily, she was in no danger, but she noted no one paid any attention at all.

Women and girls are always told what to do and what not to do in order to prevent acts of violence against us, especially rape. Nowhere near as much effort is put into teaching consent, making a distinction between sex and rape and engaging men and boys in conversations about gender-based violence prevention. We need to get to the root of the issue. The problem is not that women and girls are not scared enough, vigilant enough, or bombarded with enough products – like mobile apps to indicate to friends that we’re in distress, pepper spray, and date rape drug-detecting nail polish – to prevent violence against us. The problem is that all the focus is on us and ways we can make sure the less prepared women or girl is the victim instead of us. We do not want to make someone else the statistic. We want to change the statistics. To do that, we need to start at the root, and not create another path to stress and further harm.

Published by The Tribune on March 11, 2020.

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Culture Clash: Lights Out All Around

We know it happens and with greater frequency during the summer months, but we are frustrated by the disruption and inconvenience of electricity outages. No one wants to be left in the dark, least of all to sweat and wonder when we will see the light again. When the electricity unexpectedly went off for hours on Sunday, multiple times in some places, we were not asking for much. We wanted to know what caused the outage, how long it would be and when each area could expect an outage.

It was a simple ask, but seemed to be too much for Bahamas Power and Light to handle. It would not give us a schedule of the electricity outage it was obviously controlling. It used its Facebook page to share the details of what led to the outage and how the issue would eventually be resolved, but it did not answer what many clearly stated was the most important question. We want reliable electricity, but since that does not seem immediately possible, we would like to know when it will be available so we can iron, do laundry, have hot showers and charge our devices.

We are not in control of the electricity provided by BPL. If it would provide a schedule, at least we would be able to plan accordingly. We do not only need electricity for what many consider to be frivolous activities such as watching television and powering other electronic devices. Electricity impacts sanitation, storage of food, entertainment, business operations and medical devices among other functions. In fact, a parent commented on the BPL Facebook page about reliance on electricity to administer medication to a child. This was a reminder of the essential nature of electricity and being able to plan around outages.

There is no discernible reason for the failure of BPL to provide a schedule. We should be able to visit its social media pages and website to see when our areas will be off. We should be able to call and find out – whether through an automated system or agent – what we can expect for the next 24 hours at the very least. We have good reason to complain about the failure of BPL to do its one job and its refusal to properly devise and share a schedule when it fails at that one task.

Some have attempted to shame the people making valid complaints, directing them to buy generators, as though they can be picked up from the side of the road. Generators are expensive, not only to purchase, but to maintain and fuel. The assumption that everyone can afford a generator demonstrates a lack of understanding of issues of class. The suggestion that it is an individual’s or household’s responsibility to provide its own electricity when paying for the provision of service and facing barriers to alternatives reeks of privilege and a lack of understanding of the provision and and maintenance of infrastructure.

For many, purchase of a generator is out of reach. For others, it is an unattractive option because it signals resignation to dealing with a system that does not work and becoming part of the growing number of people who are willing to buy their way out of discomfort while leaving others to suffer and complain on their own. Buying a generator may feel necessary, but it can also be a political decision. Either way, loud generators and burning more fuel is not the answer to the energy crisis we are experiencing in a supposed paradise of sun and sea, both of which are waiting to be part of the solution.

Let’s wake up and teach youngsters about sex – they’re doing it anyway

Deputy Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party Chester Cooper, in an address to the Women’s Branch, spoke of initiatives related to family planning and equality that his party is considering. Among them is an increase in the age of consent from 16 to 18. Similarly, an increase from 18 to 21 was suggested by someone else last week. There are numerous issues with these suggestions and those issues are connected to the intent and the most likely outcome.

An increase in the age of consent is often suggested to deter young people from having sex and to make the age of consent the same as the “age of maturity” at which we can access health care — and, by extension, contraceptives — on our own.

It is an undeniable challenge that young people can legally give consent for sexual activity for two years before they can access sexual and reproductive health care. The answer to this problem is not to increase the age of consent. That will not discourage young people from having sex. They will continue to have the same desires. We desperately need to ensure — through comprehensive sexual education and access to sexual and reproductive health services — that young people are prepared to appropriately respond to those desires. To effectively do this, we have to first recognize that abstinence is not the only way, nor is it realistic for everyone. It is possible to promote abstinence while providing information on the other options.

Comprehensive sexual education is needed in schools and it would be helpful for parents to play a role in providing accurate information, answering questions, quelling anxiety and providing resources for young people in sex-positive ways, whether or not they are sexually active.

Understand there is no harm in providing information. The danger is in lack of information, resources and access to the same. Comprehensive sexual education does not encourage people to have sex, but ensures they are equipped with the information and tools that enable them to make the best possible decisions for themselves and their sexual partner(s).

If the PLP is interested in initiatives that contribute to gender equality and improve family planning, it should engage with organizations working in these areas. Organizations including Equality Bahamas would encourage the party to push for the marital rape bill to see the light of day and work on its positive response (through action) to the recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee on numerous issues including women’s conferral of citizenship, sex-based discrimination, access to abortion, and elimination of discrimination against vulnerable people including migrant women and LGBT+ people. The PLP could pledge to institute a living wage, support domestic workers and create systems that enable women to safely report gender-based violence and easily gain access to the range of services they need.

Raising the age of consent does nothing for women, girls, or family planning. It is not a good idea, will not reduce the number of young people having sex and will not change their sexual practices. We need to change the way we talk about sex and include both consent and pleasure in our conversations. We need to ensure young people are able to access the resources we mention and know how to properly use them.

Have you ever opened a condom with your teeth? Started to put it on the wrong way, then turned it around and used it anyway? Put two on for extra protection? Stored it in your wallet? Have you engaged in sexual activities without protection because you thought they were safe? How old were you when you did those things, and when did you learn you were wrong? People of all ages are making these mistakes every day and this does not have to be the case.

We need to change the way we respond to challenges. No electricity? Get a generator. Young people are having unprotected sex, experiencing teen pregnancy, being preyed upon by older men? Raise the age of consent. If only we were ready to face reality and implement solutions that address the problem. If only.

Published by The Tribune on June 26, 2019.

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Bring On Political Quotas

Last week, when questioned about the lack of representation of women in parliament, Leader of the Opposition Philip “Brave” Davis said 30 to 40 percent of the Progressive Liberal Party’s 2022 slate of candidates will be women. He noted the best proportion could be higher, but it depends on who makes themselves available. Both the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement both had outrageously low numbers of female candidates in the 2017 general election. It is clear political parties in The Bahamas are not paying enough attention to issues of gender, how they contribute to them, or the ways they can bring transformation.

Public sentiment about political quotas has been negative over the past few years. The topic draws commentary from people who are not only annoyed by conversations about gender equality, but do not understand how quotas work. Political quotas are not about arbitrarily putting women in seats. They are about creating environments in which women have the opportunity to receive the necessary training, education and experience, present themselves as candidates, receive party and public support to run for winnable seats and represent their constituencies well. Quotas encourage political parties to make adjustments that result in increased access for women. If every political party has to ensure 30 percent of its slate is women, they will have to invest in better recruitment and training practices because they want to win. Their wins are inextricably tied to the performance of individual candidates and women should be included.

It is important to dispel the most widespread myth about political quotas. We do not advocate for a political quota only to see a high number of women candidates in a general election. We want great representation. Our support will go to exceptional candidates who show understanding of issues of national concern, critical thinking skills, ability to develop solutions and other characteristics and relationships that ensure they will be effective (such as the full support of the political party and its leadership). Today, we are not convinced candidates with the greatest potential truly have access.

Can they engage in the process to become candidates? Do they have the support they need, especially if they are not already well-known? How can they compete with people who embody what so many believe a leader to be, just by being men?

Women, feminists and women’s rights advocates want true representation and are as concerned about the quality of candidates as everyone else, if not more. We have seen what appointing a woman just because she is a woman can do. We want excellent candidates. A political quota would help us to ensure such candidates are able to participate and not blocked because it is more politically expedient to run someone who is more readily seen as capable because he is a man. We have to intentionally make space for women and, by doing so, change the way we see women, leadership and women in positions of leadership.

In some countries, there are political parties that have instituted quotas. Voluntary quotas have been adopted by political parties in Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Germany, Kenya and Malta among others. If the Progressive Liberal Party is serious about ensuring women are given equal opportunity to participate in frontline politics by responding by the inequalities in systems and practices, it has the opportunity to set a precedent. It can be the first political party in The Bahamas to reserve a proportion of its slate for women and develop a process for recruitment, training and campaign management that accounts for gender relations. This needs to happen and it is imperative it is not a one-time deal, but is embedded in the party’s constitution, pushing others to do the same. The political quota is not the only need, but will prompt the systemic changes we need in order to move toward gender equality more broadly and proper representation in frontline politics in particular.

When we begin to see women as leaders and as effective representatives, we will no longer need a political quota. For now, it can only help us to move further along with people in parliament who look like us, live like us, understand us and can advocate for our specific needs as a constituency.

Published by The Tribune on June 12, 2019.

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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.