Itations 'n' Reflections, Mapping the gender justice journey

July9,2018. Sending Love and Healing to Haiti in a Time of Resistance

There is a stillness felt in Georgetown that is not felt in Haiti right now. It is a stillness quite unlike the unease I feel in my spiritual connection with Haiti. CARICOM leaders have returned home from their annual meeting in Jamaica, one of the region’s closest neighbours to Port-au-Prince. I’d also hope that those leaders felt uneasy sitting, eating, passing gas among Haiti’s president even as his country burns.

CARICOM, through its chairman Andrew Holness (Prime Minister of Jamaica), managed to conjure up a scanty seven-line statement of concern from its back-pocket on the situation in Haiti. The statement called, alarmingly in my opinion, for the assistance of the United Nations in monitoring the situation. I’d prefer not. After decades of the dark history of rape and sexual violence, lethal violence, exploitation, political manipulation, abandonment and cover-ups surrounding the UN’s Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the UN is the last thing the Haitian people need.

Regional leaders have come out one-by-one to support the lifting of visa restrictions for Haitian nationals travelling to their countries. Some still have reservations. Haitians moving freely through the Caribbean have the power to transform the image of Haiti, to change the flawed narratives that many of us have, and to contextualise and position the anger and frustration of the Haitian people so that we can join and stand with the resistance. And at the same time, I expect that Caribbean people would work towards building regimes that support the inclusion of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers moving within the region.

How quickly do we in the English-speaking Caribbean forget the mercies we received during our own time of need. Caribbean people owe a debt of gratitude to Haiti for showing us that we could be free even while our smaller rebellions were being quashed.

Haiti opened its doors to many enslaved Africans who secured their freedom once they touched Haitian soil during the early 1800s. That was a key part of Haiti’s constitution. I’ve seen correspondences from Haitian leaders during that time refusing to hand over runaway enslaved Africans to the British. Those stories need to be told.

As the Haitian government today continues to implement IMF-supported measures which blindside, anger and increase financial and economic burdens on their people, many of whom live on less than US$2 a day, the masses respond how they know best. When you live in a country where the ruling political, economic and foreign elite are merciless, where NGOs are plenty but somewhat ineffective, where your poverty is fetishized in the media and academic writing, where sex and sexual violence could be the currency for survival, where failed institutions reduce the people’s power, where people are seen as surplus labour waiting to be exploited by foreign companies, and where the legacy and history of structural violence from the state against the people is long, the people will respond in kind with a resistance aimed to cripple the heart of the elite—the economy.

The western media is picking up on the reports. Their coverage focused, of course, on the pillaging of foreign-branded businesses like the Marriott and Best Western Hotels as opposed to deconstructing and contextualizing the pain of the Haitian people grappling with decades of foreign manipulation of their political and economic systems, hunger and abandonment from their government which acts more as an agent of foreign investors than a guardian of the Haitian people.

But this has always been the case with Haiti. Resistance has always been necessary for a country still punished for disrupting a racist global order. Resistance is the very foundation on which Haitian democracy is built and preserved. It is this shining beacon that led many enslaved Africans from the colonies across the Caribbean to seek refuge in this first black Republic which snatched its independence from direct white supremacist rule decades before British powers rebuked slavery.

I see the IMF continuing its movements through the Caribbean and I worry. Even now as Barbados boasts its first woman Prime Minister, the country moves swiftly into a structural adjustment regime as a quick band-aid for its ailing economic regime. Institutions like the IMF remind us that our decolonization project is incomplete and that the comfort we find in national flags and anthems do very little to draw us out of the rabbit hole of dependency we continue to fall deeper into.

Eudine Barriteau writes on structural adjustment in Barbados during the 1980s:

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IMF policies are unpopular but Caribbean governments continue to seek them out willingly. Despite Caribbean governments’ duty to their people, the mandates and unnegotiable conditions for accessing international financing set by the powers of the global political economy threaten to break democracies and polities even in face of proclaimed sovereignty and self-determination.

Ayiti is not short on love, but it damn well needs some healing. It is love that fuels our revolution—love of ourselves, love for our family, love for our communities, and love for our countries. The Haitian people have never stopped fighting for their independence and we must see and stand with their struggle and look within ourselves to gather all the love we can generate in our still, comfortable, quiet spaces and send them northward that it may cover that shining beacon of black resistance which is our revolutionary sister-nation so that she may find a long-deserved healing for her people.

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Mapping the gender justice journey

‘What zero tolerance?’ a Dec. 15, 2016 Stabroek News Editorial

Taken from Stabroek News: <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/opinion/editorial/12/15/what-zero-tolerance/&gt;

 

The recent case of Selina Ramotar, who almost died as a result of stab wounds she sustained at the hands of the father of her child, with whom she had reportedly severed a relationship, is one that should cause the authorities to question their proclamations of zero tolerance for domestic and gender-based violence.

The fact that Ms Ramotar’s sworn testimony in court was enough to cause the charge against her assailant to be dropped, should have set off alarm bells. As a matter of fact, the charge should have been proceeded with. But moves should be afoot even now to prevent a recurrence in any other similar case.

Ms Ramotar was not by any means the first woman to have decided not to testify against her attacker in court. This has happened thousands of times. It has also happened, in many instances, long before charges were brought against the abusers. We have all heard the countless stories of women who made reports to the police and then went back to withdraw their statements so that their spouses/boyfriends could be released. Ms Ramotar was perhaps the most severely injured woman, physically, to have done so in recent memory, hence the consternation.

Sadly, in several cases where this occurred, the women in question were subsequently murdered or maimed. The reason is that whatever twisted or heinous thoughts the attacker had that would have caused the action in the first place tend to persist. There is therefore every likelihood of a second attack unless the victim is far out of reach as a result of having left the jurisdiction.

Ms Ramotar may or may not have obtained a protection order as prescribed in Guyana’s now outdated Domestic Violence Act of 1996. But there have been cases in the past where the protection order was violated and the victim was attacked. Men who abuse their wives and girlfriends are no respecters of any laws anyhow. They know that the abuse they are committing is a crime. Is a piece of paper which sets boundaries going to be adhered to? Not likely.

Last Saturday, December 10, was Human Rights Day. It was also the culmination of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which started on November 25, the observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This global campaign, also observed in Guyana, was touted as a time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The theme was ‘Orange the World: Raise Money to End Violence against Women and Girls’ in recognition that one of the major challenges faced by the global organization UN Women in preventing and ending violence was the substantial shortfall in the financing needed for interventions and initiatives.

While that may be the case in individual countries as well, there is a lot that can still be done throughout the year to address the scourge of gender-based and domestic violence. One means would be carrying out ongoing education and awareness at every given opportunity, rather than waiting to hold specific workshops or seminars. Another would be ensuring that women and children who are attacked or otherwise exposed to such violence receive counselling.

In the case of Ms Ramotar, while she did not say so herself as she declined to be interviewed, this newspaper was told that she was not afforded counselling, which is unfortunate. Counselling is a mechanism which allows women to get beyond blaming themselves and being embarrassed by a crime which was committed against them. Often, too, it is counselling which helps strengthen women’s resolve to seek justice, escape abusive relationships and not become victims over and over again. Counselling is important for the abusers as well as it has helped some of them desist from lashing out violently.

While there have been cases where magistrates have ordered couples to attend counselling sessions when matters appear in court, and while many police stations now have designated spaces to deal with domestic violence complaints, the nexus between these and the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit at the Ministry of Social Protection is not known.

The manager of that unit was reported as saying at a forum last week that the ministry ‘continues to offer counselling services to victims of any form of violence’. However, the method by which victims are reached was not stated.

Finally, and these are by no means the end all and be all of addressing this scourge without incurring further costs, the Domestic Violence Act should be amended to specifically allow the police and the court to proceed with the prosecution of perpetrators in the face of withdrawals by victims.

Two years ago, at a special session on the issue, Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh had said that domestic violence must be seen as a critical human rights issue because it impacts and infringes on the constitutional guarantee to the right to life, liberty and security of the person. He had added that the role of government in the elimination of this scourge cannot be ignored.

Justice Singh had stressed that it was not just the laying out of policies and programmes that were important but implementation coupled with meaningful interventions at all levels of society. How many more women have to die before zero tolerance truly becomes a reality?

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