THERE is a particular ritual I follow compulsively before I exit my car, especially in mall or supermarket carparks:
- Firstly I begin with some light vocal exercises to ensure my vocal chords are warm and ready should I need to scream for my life;
- I do some light stretching of my body should I need to flail my arms and legs around or make an Olympic style dash;
- I gather my handbag and its contents, ensuring my take along kitchen knife is in a position that makes it easy to grab should I need it in a time of combat;
- I survey my surroundings to ensure there are no suspicious persons lurking around. Sometimes just to be sure, I’ll back my car up a couple inches in case some would be bandit/rapist/murderer is hiding behind my car; and
- Lastly I say a little prayer, “Lord, protect me and all like me as we venture into this dangerous territory.
I do this because I am woman. I do this because in T&T women are currently an endangered species.
To date 416 women have gone missing for the year. That’s over one a day. Our island isn’t that big, people don’t just vanish into thin air.
Not a day goes by where a rape, murder or a disappearance of woman is not reported in the news.
Ladies we are in danger.
But wait ladies! Don’t despair Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith says he is going to talk to the heads in the sand at the Ministry of National Security and have it made super legal to allow us to carry around pepper spray. He says it will give us a fighting chance.
Now excuse me if I cannot help but feel extremely insulted by this.
No Gary, I do not want a fighting chance. I want a chance to live without being constantly afraid. I want a chance to live in a country where using the aerosol bug spray and the lighter in my car as a flame thrower incase I’m car jacked isn’t an actual though I’ve had.
Again pepper spray is just another bandage on a problem.
Violence against women in TT is like a severe case of acne. Instead of treating the problem, we keep slathering makeup on to hide the problem and in doing so we are making it worse.
We like to portray or visualise the Trinbagonian woman as a strong, take no nonsense, caring and fiercely independent one. Unfortunately we do not treat her this way.
Women in TT have long been objectified, seen as a commodity, bodies to which men are entitled to. It is in how they are spoken to and how they are spoken about publically and privately.
Jokes, ole talk and general conversation regarding women is often saturated in misogyny.
Our songs ask how many inches of pipe we want or simply tell us to shut up and allow garlic sauce to be spread on our bumpers. To which I say no sir ewwww.
Perpetrators of sexual assault or battery against women are very rarely caught and when they are thanks to our sluggish legal system they enjoy their lives out on bail for years while their victims live in fear and often never receive the justice they deserve.
Where do we begin? Not pepper spray, or self-defense classes, or rape whistles.
We need to push for a massive cultural shift in how women are viewed, and we need to get our men involved.
It starts with education. We need to implement a comprehensive sexual education programme starting in junior schools that teaches consent, respect and when to speak up.
Politicians, celebrities and all other public figures should be held accountable for any actions or comments that perpetuate rape culture or the ridicule of women in a sexual or violent way.
Police officers and medical personnel need to undergo sensitivity training. Media houses need to do the same so we don’t end up with a headline like the one published by a certain paper that had pretty much blamed a woman for her rape because she had some drinks and smoked some weed.
Some serious investigation needs to happen into why all these women go missing. Is it human trafficking? Is it a serial killer? Or is it just that poor excuses, for men know where to hide bodies and know eventually our under resourced police will just call it quits?
The government, in the same speed that they can draft legislation for extra taxes or questionable procurement procedures, needs to get their asses moving on the National Gender Policy.
As discussed by stakeholders at an emergency Zoom conference held by the advocacy group WOMANTRA on December 5th, “A formalised multi-sectoral approach to awareness raising, prevention, and accountability must be applied to all aspects of gender equality, including gender based violence. These interventions should include private and state sectors, communities, etc.”
And for all the keyboard warriors who want to hate on WOMANTRA let me tell you they work hard. It’s not published or put all over social media, but they work tirelessly to help women in abusive situations get out and back on their feet. They are fighting a war in silence and deserve our respect.
Finally, we need to be each other’s keepers. You have that one friend who is always making rape out of timing jokes? Shut that clown down. You have a friend who you know is roughing up their partner? Don’t stay silent. It is up to the good ones, men and women to band together to incite the change needed to redirect our country’s perspective of women and girls.
One day, I would like to pull into a carpark and not have to perform my aforementioned ritual of survival. If it cannot happen in my lifetime, trust me I will fight tooth and nail to ensure it happens in my daughter’s lifetime.