Posts

, ,

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.

,

Choose Life, Play by the Rules

We are almost two weeks into our new and temporary way of living. It has been extended, as many of us expected, and it is in our best interest to follow the guidelines provided.

It became clear from very early that there are people determined to be defiant. It is not clear whether those people are just ignorant or have other issues. Many of us were concerned about the emergency orders and the power it put in the hands of a few from the very beginning. Most of us, however, have been able to reconcile that it is critical for us to take guidance from medical professionals, practice being “together alone,” and do our part to flatten the curve.

This is not a conspiracy. This is a matter of life and death. By staying in our homes, except for essential tasks, we choose life not only for ourselves, but for each other. We know the healthcare system does not have large capacity and COVID-19 could complete overwhelm it. It is currently within our power to prevent that from happening and protect the elderly and immuno-compromised.

I remain concerned about the most vulnerable among us and more people and organisations should be talking about and advocating for them. At one of the first press conferences, a journalist asked: “What about homeless people?” It was distressing to see and hear officials in the room laugh in response, as though the unhoused are not people, they do not deserve consideration and it is not required of officials to intentionally make provisions for them. Days later, we saw that unhoused people were arrested for breaking the curfew.

Let’s be clear. This is not funny, and this is not the fault of the unhoused. This is an embarrassment. It is evidence of the need to consider vulnerable groups. What are people without homes expected to do? Did anyone check the hotspots and attempt to provide housing for those without it? Well, they could not even be bothered to give serious thought to the simple question posed at the press conference.

Little has been said about women experiencing domestic violence. We can expect their situations to worsen as they are effectively trapped in their homes with abusers. Abused children are in the same situation. There were no messages directed at them. They were not even given a phone number to call if they felt unsafe and wanted to be rehoused for safety reasons.

There was no promotion of domestic violence hotlines or ways to reach police officer trained to respond to domestic violence reports. Again, a journalist asked about domestic violence and the expected surge, and all the prime minister said was they could call the police. In case you have never had to call the police to report domestic violence, let me tell you that it is not always helpful. It is often difficult to get officers to take it seriously under regular circumstances. How much worse would it be now, with a curfew?

We must hold this government accountable for the effects of its decisions and its refusal to put safeguards in place for vulnerable people. Unhoused people and those experiencing domestic violence are just two groups. Who else is being left out, and what are we, as citizens of privilege, prepared to do about it?

More questions please

A group of people, always on the job and keeping us informed, is one we do not always remember or thank. We see them on television screens and livestreams of the news and read their stories, but a lot of the work they do is invisible. They are members of the press. They tell us when Members of Parliament have failed to disclose their assets and liabilities. They report election results. They attend Parliament and let us know what took place. They find the right people and ask the right questions in order to keep us informed.

These days, they are focused on COVID-19 and the way the government is handling it. They are keeping abreast of the numbers, watching as things unfold in other countries, researching the virus and the varying national responses to it, and asking questions that help to give us a better understanding of the virus itself, what is being done to contain it and how effective our efforts will be over time.

It is important to note many of the journalists attending press conferences and covering the COVID-19 crisis are young people. They are researching, monitoring social media, thinking critically and asking questions we all want answered. The answers do not always come easily, or at all, but they are persevering. It must also be noted they remain professional in difficult circumstances, including in the face of outright rudeness.

The question and answer portion of the press conferences are quite limited. It seems each journalist is allowed a maximum of two questions and there is little room for follow-ups. It lacks flow, completely impeded by an unnecessary moderator. There is no need for anyone to interrupt the question and answer portion. Questions should be asked and then answered by the person best equipped to give accurate information.

It is also unhelpful for the journalists, already in the room so presumably checked and approved, to be badgered about where they work and how many people present are from that particular media house. Those issues need to be sorted at the point of entry. With less time spent on micromanaging journalists and offering largely useless commentary, it would be possible for them to ask more than two questions, or at least be permitted to follow up as needed.

A cursory look at the comments on the live feeds and social media commentary makes it clear many are frustrated by this “moderation” and would appreciate the facilitation of the media doing its job – getting pertinent information to us.

Focus on what matters

There is no denying this is a difficult time. We are practicing social distancing, losing income, trying to find credible information, being duped or trying to help others not to be duped by false information, unsure about how long this crisis will last, tired of the people in our households, upset that we cannot walk or run our usual strip and worrying about people in other households. It is amazing that so much is going on when we are not even moving. We have to do what we can to improve our mental health.

We need to limit news consumption, especially if it is a source of stress. There is no need to be online all day, every day, taking in reports from all over the world, anticipating the challenges we will face and getting riled up by radio talk shows. Take breaks. Decide how much news you can consume in a healthy way. This may be the morning news and evening news, it may be one or the other and it could be 15 minutes on social media. Decide what works for you, set the limit, and stick with it.

A lot is out of our control. This can stressful. Some of us want to stop our neighbours from going out. Some of us wish we could cook for our grandparents who live somewhere else. Some of us have no idea how we will pay the next bill. While these are valid concerns, we need to focus on what we can control. We cannot visit other homes, but we can call daily to check on people. We cannot make money appear in our bank accounts, but we can work on our resumes and cover letters, and we can work on passion projects. Let’s so what we can, and think less about what we cannot change.

One of the things we can do to restore some normalcy and bring joy to our days is connecting with loved ones. Check on those aunts, uncles, godparents and long distance friends. Set up video chats. Have virtual lunch dates, watch TV shows together and show off your gardens. I have had at least one video chat per day since Saturday and it has been great to catch up with friends I have not seen in a long time.

Admittedly, we talked a lot about the situations in our countries, but we also got into more pleasant conversation about favourite TV shows, best books we read so far this year, new relationships and what we are cooking. Talking to friends about ordinary matters is a reminder that we are people, there is good in the world and human connection feels good.

Let’s do our best to connect, find and spread joy and put our attention on the things we can control. Whatever energy we have, let it be put to good use, produce what we need and help people whose needs are greater than our own. While tourism is paused, let us be more hospitable to one another.

Published by The Tribune on April 1, 2020.

, ,

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.