The enduring work on combating gender-based violence
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Andrea Bharatt. Ashanti Riley. Tara Krishnaran. Larissa Singh.
These are three women and one young girl who were taken away from this world far too soon. They were daughters, mothers, friends, colleagues but most importantly, they were human beings who deserved better.

Recently, Andrea’s kidnapping and death struck Trinidad and many of us across the Caribbean. The loss of her life was another stark reminder of the hideous disaster in our societies — gender-based violence. Once again, the death of another woman has led to public outcry.

Folk in Trinidad and many of us across the Caribbean are mourning. We’re mourning the loss of yet another young woman whose life was snatched from her and her loved ones. We’re mourning the loss of yet another fragment of our humanity.

After a while, though, we’ll mourn less and less. Eventually, our grief- and the anger towards the individuals responsible for such a heinous act will subside and we’ll carry on with our lives until something else happens that reminds us that time alone does not heal all wounds. I would hope that the reminder doesn’t come in the form of another life snatched away, but, we are aware of the society we live in.

In the aftermath of Andrea’s death, there were no new ideas or solutions proffered. Our resilient activists and advocates continue to emphasise the need for transformed power relations, where the entrenched system of patriarchy yields power over women, and even those men who are perceived to be ‘weaker’. These ‘weaker’ men are those who respect women and ‘pull up’ their ‘brethrens,’ but the mere fact that they are ridiculed and labelled effeminate (“he’s not a real man”), again, emphasises the dynamics of these unequal power relations.

These power relations are about who can make decisions and take actions, and who do not. They are about who is accorded respect and authority, and who is not. They are about who is seen as the property of another person, or merely a sex object, and who is not. These power relations are pervasive because though the status quo is continuously challenged by people like our activists and advocates, the rest of us are only proactive for the short while we are angered and are mourning.

These unequal power relations between men and women are also pervasive because our socially constructed beliefs, norms, and traditions have legitimised how men interact (degrade and disrespect) with women, and on what women are supposed to stay silent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an attack on men. It has never been an attack on men. It is an attack on the system into which we are all socialised. It is a call for men to realise that we exist in a harmful system, in hopes of raising consciousness that could help them hold themselves and their brothers more accountable.

This is another attempt at illustrating that it was never acceptable for men to disrespect, “cuss,” beat, rape and kill women. It was never acceptable and it will never be acceptable. But, here are occurrences of violence in Trinidad and right here in Guyana, where the perpetrators of these heinous, criminal, cowardly acts seem to think that it is acceptable.

Our way out of this pandemic of violence against women is to continue raising consciousness and revamping our socialisation processes. There is much work needed in family spaces, religious settings, and schools. Gender inequalities and gender discrimination must be rooted out if we are to dismantle the system that suppresses women and women’s rights.

We need to move beyond thinking that the men who perform these heinous acts are outliers, or that they are crazy, twisted men. Instead, we have to consider interrogating learned traditions, beliefs, and norms of “manly” behaviours and “silent” women.

Importantly, too, we have to have the appetite to support our resilient activists and advocates — who are normal people just like the rest of us — in the continuous work that they do. They have done the research, they have engaged stakeholders and they are knowledgeable of the issues we face. We have to trust them and we have to support them.

I recall a few months ago, a local women’s rights activist explained to me how the system of oppression belabours women. Before long, however, she stopped and opined that I probably didn’t want to hear her go ‘on and on’ about that. But that’s the thing, people like me, people like us, have to have the appetite to listen, learn and support. How can we expect things to change if we don’t play our part?

A reformed society, a safe society, is possible. But it is only possible if we work towards making it that way.

If you would like to discuss this column or any of my previous writings, please feel free to contact me via email: vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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