Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? […]
And the Lord said, If I find […] fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
[…] Peradventure there shall be forty found there.
[…] Peradventure there shall thirty be found there.
[…] Peradventure there shall be twenty found there.
[…] Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
(Genesis, Chapter 19)
The verses quoted above is an example emphasizing how difficult it can be to find honourable or admirable individuals within any human system. On the issue of gender-based crimes and gender discrimination more broadly speaking, one could look around the political class in Trinidad and Tobago and end up wondering if there are 50 or 30 or 20 or 10 of them who are disposed to take the matter seriously and consistently so. Both the PNM and UNC (not to mention any other small parties) are a mixed bag on the issue, though they each would point the finger at the other. Peradventure it could be possible for them both to get their acts together? This post will focus on the ups and downs – or rather downs and downs – of the PNM and UNC where gender matters are concerned.
“Woman Is Boss”, goes the 1988 Denyse Plummer hit. In Trinidad, not so much though; according to the report The Best and Worst Countries to Be a Girl by the global NGO Save the Children ranking 144 countries on the basis of indicators such as secondary school completion, numbers of woman MPs and child marriage, published in Newsweek Magazine late last year, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 39th overall and 2nd in the Caribbean trailing only Cuba. This in itself is quite good. We were, however, outranked by Algeria. In that North African country female genital mutilation is still practised in the southern region of the country bordering Niger where the problem is rampant, and as recently as 2012 the country’s authorities were said to be dragging their feet on having the practice outlawed. It is worth nothing, though, that we outstrip the Algerians in terms of child marriage, as 3% of girls are married before age 18 in that country, compared to 8% in Trinidad, according to UNICEF statistics. This certainly shows that while we may not be badly ranked, we should be concerned at who is even better ranked despite the obvious problems still plaguing their societies and which are generally unheard of here at home.
The PNM – Turning putting one’s foot in one’s mouth into a fine art:
Peradventure 2018 will be a better year, but it is undeniable that the end of 2016 and the first few weeks of 2017 thus far have been rocky for women in Trinidad and Tobago to say the least, with numerous heart-rending cases of femicide sadly reminiscent of the mid-2000s rash of child killings, the “life in leggings” movement against sexual harassment facing a measure of derision and pushback and the issue of child or teenage marriage and the dumbfounding defence of it in some cultural circles grabbing headlines.
Peradventure Prime Minister Keith Rowley intended to communicate openly with the populace in order that they better understand his plans for addressing the country’s problems, including women-related ones, but his communication manoeuvre didn’t quite bear fruit. The PM held a public meeting dubbed Conversations with the Prime minister, 2 nights ago at which he fielded questions from the national community on a variety of issues including the economy and public utilities. That said, most of the focus centred on crime, including questions about the death penalty, crime detection rates, a possible state of emergency, crimes against women and hiring more police. Invariably, following the discussion the most notable takeaway has been that the PM is turning a blind eye to injustice against women in society, and placing the blame for the prevalence of this problem at the feet of the victims themselves. In response to a question about women being victims of violence in their own homes, the PM opined that “‘you have the responsibility to determine who you associate with and know when to get out” as a woman.
The problem is all inside your head she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be 50 ways to leave your lover
(Paul Simon – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover)
Peradventure the PM had been listening to some Paul Simon before his conversation with the nation, and this is not the message PM Rowley meant to send so the Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement saying that the PM’s remarks had been misinterpreted and been taken out of context. The explanation goes that the PM was seeking to empower women to make smart choices about the people they frequent (because, as we of course all know full well, all bad men can be seen coming a mile away). The government is reportedly hard at work on new legislation to deal with the issue.
Peradventure it was thought that this explanation would suffice, but not so; an online petition calling for a no confidence vote against the PM has been launched and has racked up some 4000 signatures. No doubt those signing the petition reason that PM Rowley’s choice of words make him akin to lawmakers in Russia recently reducing penalties for domestic violence. That said, the PM could have showed a video of himself personally arresting someone guilty of a crime against women and the swarm of angry birds that are his devotee default detractors would have launched the petition anyway because he had roughed the guy up too much.
Peradventure PM Rowley is on a roll because, on a somewhat similar note, when he was Opposition Leader, Dr. Rowley drew heat 2 years ago when he used dog and cat analogies which could have been construed as mildly sexual in election campaign banter directed at then PM Kamla Persad Bissessar. He was cast then as insensitive to women. At any rate, verbal sparring in T&T politics can be so petty it could make an episode of the old MTV show Yo Momma look civil and sober.
The UNC: When phallic symbols were all the rage and totally not inappropriate as a communication “tool” (pun intended):
The UNC of 2017 is the party that calls out PM Rowley for being insensitive to women for his 2015 comments. Rewind a decade and a half and the party now wagging its finger at the PNM took a liking to using images of another wagging object to berate the PNM and its erstwhile leader Patrick Manning as ineffective during the 2001 general election campaign in its ads run in daily newspapers entitled “Performance Anxiety”, as seen at the top of the page (UNC General Election Campaign Ad, December 2001. Image credit: Trinidad Guardian 02/12/01). The ads were so juvenile and socially insensitive they would have made the editors of the Sunday Punch roll their eyes back then, and made Donald Trump’s campaign team snicker and point last year.
The UNC: All’s Fair in Love and War:
Remember when former Tobago MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin of the PP government threw caution to the wind, and decency out the window by charging that Keith Rowley was child of rape to somehow score political points? I sure wish I didn’t recall, and so do you. Enough said.
The UNC: Dictionary Definition of Lip Service:
Child marriage has made the headlines in Trinidad & Tobago over the past few months. While the UNC as a political group states that it is for the removal of laws that allow it, there are segments of society that persist in supporting the practice. Most notably, these segments are the Hindu and Muslim communities. It’s no secret that these 2 segments lean more often than not towards the UNC. Bending to the influence of part of their support base, for the express purpose of participating in the debate on the 1923 Marriage Act, the UNC appointed a temporary senator who pleaded passionately in favour of maintaining the law that provides for children as young as 12 or 14 to marry subject to parental consent.
Mighty strange way to support the cause, isn’t it?
A meme circulating on social media says “don’t be like Sharon: choose wisely”, of PM Rowley’s wife. To that we can add “don’t be the UNC; don’t victim shame, don’t give roundabout and at the very least tacit support to child marriage and don’t use sexual innuendo to whip up electoral support”.
To reprise calypsonian All Rounder’s hit Innocent Jimmy, about the 1980s hanky panky of disgraced US televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, both parties need to stop touchin d socio-political kangalang, as it were.