On the weekend, it was reported that a four-year-old child was taken to the hospital. Soon after, there were claims on social media that the toddler had been sexually assaulted. The toddler, Bella Walker, died.

This assault, not yet confirmed by the Royal Bahamas Police Force which claims it is still waiting for autopsy results, has been met with outrage. People are angry about this child allegedly being abused, and the suggestion that the abuse caused her death. In this state of anger – one that comes and goes as the general public hears a horrific story and, given enough time, forgets about it – people are calling for action.

Anger can be a strong motivator and lead to things getting done, but those are not usually the right things. It is important for us to recognize this as a pivotal moment.

Nothing we do will bring Bella back or undo the abuse she went through or the suffering of the people who loved her.

While we honour her, mourn the loss and empathize with the people who loved her, we have to look at our circumstances. We have to see the gap between where we are and where we need to be, then figure out what we need to do to move from here to there. We will not get there by doing the first thing that comes to mind when we are enraged and want vengeance. If we are to address the scourge that is sexual violence, beyond individual incidents, we have to identify the issue and the systems that allow it to persist.

Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender or that affects people of a particular gender disproportionately. Examples include sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, stalking and sexual violence. Gender-based violence occurs in both public and private spaces, and it can be perpetrated by individuals, organizations and states.

Sexual violence includes non-consensual vaginal, anal, or oral penetration, non-consensual capture or distribution of photos or videos and sex trafficking. Globally, 35 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence and 38 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

Intimate partner violence is a pattern of behaviour used by one partner to maintain control over the other, and it is disproportionately experienced by women. Domestic violence is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour between people in the same household including spouses, people who are dating, parents, children and cohabitants.

Child abuse is the harm of anyone under 18, including one-time events and a series of events over a period of time. This includes physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Perpetrators of child abuse may include family members, friends, people in positions of authority over them, people in community settings and strangers.

Children are often afraid of telling anyone that they are being abused, but there are often signs of abuse. These include being afraid to be around certain people or in certain places, being unusually withdrawn, running away, not being taken to the doctor, and knowing things that are not suitable for their age. They depend on adults to see the signs and take action to protect them.

Neighbours told reporters that Bella’s mother was in an abusive relationship with a man who was not Bella’s father. They heard fighting, saw her locked outside while naked, and heard her say she was tired of him harming both her and her daughter. While one neighbour said they tried speaking with the couple, no one else intervened. They did not call the police nor the Department of Social Services.

On at least two occasions, four-year-old Bella was left home alone. This is only known because she left the house and went to neighbours where she asked for food. It was also said she told neighbours she did not want to go back home while the man was there.

This all points to an horrific example of intimate partner violence, domestic violence and child abuse. There are many questions and no shortage of blame to go around. Blame is of little use, but many of the questions, if we truly answer them and connect them to systemic issues, could lead us to a comprehensive plan to ensure that this does not happen again.

The neighbours decided to mind their own business. Why? One mentioned that the new people in the area do not have anything to live for. Many people choose silence in an attempt to protect themselves, thinking that speaking up would lead to them being harmed. Others believe their household is their business, and that is all.

There are two different ideas here that have the same result. People know something is wrong, but no one is prepared to do anything about it. How can we make it safe for people to report these incidents? How can we change our thinking about what is and is not our business? How much more likely would people be to report violence if they are certain to remain anonymous and safe, are certain that the entity they report to would respond in an appropriate, effective manner, know exactly who to contact and how, and it is an easy process?

There are two challenges here. We need a strong, accessible, trusted reporting mechanism that people are able to use with confidence, and we need to shift community culture and change our ideas about what is and is not our business. We need to understand that what we do and do not do matters, and can be the difference between life and death for the people who depend on others to do something.

A four-year-old child was left home alone on multiple occasions, and she is certainly not the only one. She was left in the care of a person who reportedly hurt her and, according to what we have read on social media, possibly sexually abused and killed her. This person was, reportedly, abusive to the child’s mother. People want to know why the mother left her child with a person she knew was abusing her, even if she did not know he was also abusing the child.

It is easy for us, on the outside, to say what we would never have done. We can easily swear that we would have done whatever it took to protect our children. We, however, were not in this woman’s situation, and we do not know her mental state.

We do not know the specifics of the abuse she endured nor the effects on her mental health. Putting her child in danger cannot be excused, yet we must make the connection between her behaviour and her experience of violence. To ignore it would be a failure to recognize the effects of violence.

We have to ask how and why this happened, and how we can prevent it from happening to anyone else.

We, in The Bahamas, do not have a proper social safety net which should improve the lives of people in situations of vulnerability. We have a desperate need for programmes that reduce vulnerability, and that includes poverty. We need a way to better manage unemployment, illness, disability and ageing. We need to prioritize care for children. Where can people with low incomes take their children while they are at work?

We know that many children are abused when they are left at home alone, with family members and with friends. Everyone does not have responsible, trustworthy family members who are able to take care of their children. For many, they have a trusted person, but their home is not safe because they allow other, not-so-trusted people to enter.

We need public childcare programmes and subsidies. Children are increasingly put in unsafe environments because their parents cannot afford childcare. This is not a private issue or a matter that is the sole responsibility of a household or a family. This is a national issue that needs to be addressed in national policies and programming with allocation in the national budget.

Just as we are outraged about the death of this four-year-old child as a result of injuries that, allegedly, were inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend, we have to be outraged by the negligence of successive administrations that have, without a doubt, been aware of the circumstances.

I have seen people calling for use of the cat -o-nine-tails, the death penalty, and a sex offenders registry.

These are all reactions. It is understandable that people are angry, and the first instinct is to demand the physical harm of the person responsible for the horrific acts we are discussing. People cling to “an eye for an eye,” and want to respond to inhumane acts with the same kind of punishment.

Whatever our positions on their use, the cat o’ nine tails and the death penalty do not solve the problem. They would be used after far too much has happened and at least one person has been significantly harmed. We can beat and kill rapists and abusers every day, and it would not address the issues that the killing of Bella make clear, if only we stop to think about it beyond the incident itself.

We are all angry. We know that Bella should not have been killed. We know this could have been avoided, if only.

We want something to be done. Let’s make sure that what we demand and what we get is not symbolic or ill-suited to our context.

We need to call for actions that will prevent gender-based violence, including domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and child abuse.

Our focus cannot be on what happens after these egregious acts have been perpetrated.

We need to stop them from happening. Let’s ensure that children are in safe, loving homes, that women and mothers are in healthy relationships, and that those who need help can access it with ease.

Let’s build relationships with the people around us so we can truly call ourselves communities, and ensure that we have the resources we need to address the issues we know exist and those we will surely come to know.

The outrage we see and feel will not last. It never does. Let’s do something that will.

Published in The Tribune on November 10, 2021.

Everyone is familiar with the term “domestic violence”. It, unfortunately, comes up often enough that it is a regular part of our vocabulary and we believe we know what it means. Domestic violence is violent or aggressive behaviour between people in the same home, and it usually involves partners. We know that it can be physical, but it can take other forms that are often not recognized as domestic violence, and it disproportionately affects women.

In a 2009 survey of 600 college students in New Providence by Susan J Plumridge and William Fielding, it was found that 21 per cent of students grew up in households where domestic violence occurred. There is also the 2014 study by (then) College of The Bahamas in which 58 per cent of high school boys and 37 per cent of high school girls participating said they believed men should “discipline” their partners. We know that what children experience at home helps to shape their world view and behaviour. It is not enough to educate children about healthy relationships and warn them about intimate partner violence and domestic violence. We have to be able to address what is happening now, causing harm to people experiencing and witnessing violence.

Domestic violence is largely understood as physical abuse. The billboards, pamphlets, and PSAs usually include graphic images of women with wounds and bruises, most often on their faces. In many cases, physical violence is hidden, leaving no visible evidence, or covered up by clothing and makeup. There are also many cases of domestic violence that do not involve physical violence. It can be the threat of violence, denial of basic needs such as food and clothing, isolation from family members and friends, deprivation of money or the ability to work, damage to property, and other controlling behaviour. These may not be immediately recognised as domestic violence by the person being violated or the people in their life, if ever. We all need to know the signs of domestic violence and how people change when they are experiencing it. For that to happen, we need to expand our understanding of domestic violence, indicate that it is not limited to physical violence whenever we talk about it, and portray it in more than one way. This work falls to non-governmental organisations, but the government is obligated to engage. It has a responsibility to the people and obligations through international mechanisms, and it must not be allowed to ignore or assign these responsibilities to other bodies, especially with proper resourcing.

Beyond a clear understanding of domestic violence, we need to acknowledge that people are at different levels of risk and require different interventions and support services. Domestic violence is experienced differently by people with children, and their opportunities to leave and to report are affected by having dependents. Domestic violence is different for people with disabilities. It is different for people who are unemployed. It is different for people who are living in a country where they do not have citizenship, family, or any other support system. Laws, policies, and services have to take these people into consideration and respond to their specific needs.

In her report on violence against women in The Bahamas, Dubravka Šimonovic — former Special Rapporteur on violence against women — noted that socio-economic status and social exclusion put migrant women at increased risk of various forms of violence and reduces the likelihood that they would report violence for fear of being deported. She also noted that crimes against LGBTQI+ people, including domestic violence, largely go unreported.

For both migrants and LGBTQI+ people, there is fear of the unintended consequences of reporting. Will they be blamed? Will their status or identity be made public? How will they be made to suffer because of it? Is reporting worth the risk? The government is obligated to ensure that it is not only possible, but safe for people to report domestic violence and that they will receive assistance beyond the option to prosecute.

Šimonovic recommended continued training for police officers on domestic violence along with training of people in various institutions that would come into contact with survivors of domestic violence, including healthcare facilities, welfare agencies, and immigration officers. As first points of contact, they need to understand domestic violence, its impact on people, and the way it disproportionately affects people who are already in situations of vulnerability.

It was noted in Šimonovic’s report that there is a need for more shelters in all of the islands of The Bahamas. It is important that people are able to safely report domestic violence and access safe temporary housing. It is particularly difficult for women with children, especially boys over the age of ten, to find appropriate shelter.

The report said: “At least one shelter capable of admitting women and children around the clock should be available in every region of the State, including rural areas.”

We are not there yet. It is unacceptable that domestic violence is such a common occurrence and we do not have resources in place to support survivors. Even worse, people are shamed for not leaving (sooner), as though they have somewhere to go. We, in fact, need to shift away from displacing survivors, instead requiring perpetrators to find other accommodations and stay away from the home.

We need to implement the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and legislation to protect from gender-based violence and domestic violence. In addition to changes in law and the support of plans and policies, we need to implement practices and procedures that support the work to end domestic violence and violence against women.

One issue that comes up over and over again on most issues, but especially issues of women’s human rights, is the lack of data. The absence of data is frequently used by detractors as “proof” that a problem does not exist, is not big enough, or does not affect enough people to even warrant a conversation. We need to do much better on collecting data, analysing it, and making it publicly available, not in response to the misogynists and anti-rights people, but to better understand the issue, how it is changing, the ways it affects people, and how we can more effectively prevent and respond to it. The issue of insufficient data has been addressed by various experts, entities, and mechanisms.

Šimonovic’s report calls on the government to “regularly collect, analyse, and publish statistical data on all forms of gender-based violence against women, through a femicide watch or observatory on violence against women, with aggregated data on the number of complaints, convictions, and reparations made to victims”. This is a reinforcement of an existing obligation through an Inter-American mechanism.

The Bahamas ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará) in 1995. Little has been done to familiarize the general public with this convention. We need to be aware of the international mechanisms that expand and protect our rights, especially when the State ratified them. The Bahamas is required to come into compliance with Belém do Pará which acknowledges that violence against women is violation of human rights. Article 2 says violence against women includes that which “occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman[…]”

The Convention also includes violence that is “perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents regardless of where it occurs”. It obligates the state to prevent and investigate violence against women and include that in legislation and administrative measures, to amend or repeal laws that “sustain the persistence and tolerance of violence against women,” and to “establish fair and effective legal procedures” for women who experience violence. In addition to legal remedy, the Convention requires states to implement measures and programmes to address cultural attitudes and patterns of violence, raise awareness of the issue, and ensure proper data collection among other obligations.

Belém do Pará is an important convention that has gone without attention for a long time. It is relatively easy to read and understand, and it is imperative that we implement it. It is not enough to ratify. The government is obligated to educate the public on human rights mechanisms and what they mean for us. Civil society needs to be aware of what we have ratified and how it all applies to the lives of the people they are meant to serve.

As we get closer to the start of the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign which begins on November 25, take some time to read the Convention. Simply type “Belém do Pará convention” into your search engine of choice and it will be the first result. Get familiar with it along with other conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Equality Bahamas will be especially focused on domestic violence, femicide, and violence and harassment in the world of work in the coming weeks and will host a series of events on these topics as well as human rights, the importance of data, and the role of the media. Follow the organization on social media (@equality242) and look out for the calendar of events and calls to action to end gender-based violence against women and LGBTQI+ people.

Published in The Tribune on October 27, 2021.

Dress codes, to some people, are necessary. To others, they are restrictive. The way they are received depends heavily on the reason they are introduced, the effectiveness in addressing that cause, enforcement, and the consequences, both intended and unintended, of their existence. It often seems as though we like dress codes. It isn’t that we particularly enjoy being constrained, but watching other people fail to meet the standard appears to be a favourite pastime.

Last week, the opening of Parliament took place and, as usual, it was a POPPY SHOW. People watched closely to see who was wearing what and, in many cases, who was wearing whom. This is an exciting element of the affair — seeing the work of Bahamian designers and celebrating their talent. Many would say it was a time to “show up and show out.” The invitation to the invite specified lounge suits and short dresses with hats and gloves. Some adhered to this, some used it as a starting point, and others seemed to simply do their own thing.

Throughout the event, photos and videos circulated. The main focus, of course, was fashion. Predictably, the vast majority of the comments were about the women in attendance. From proclaiming love for a particular hat to projecting a deep meaning onto what others see a simple choice in colour, the participants in these conversations were determined to assess every article.

It was interesting to see people defend the dress code and attempt to be gatekeepers from their mobile devices. If a woman was photographed with gloves, it could not go without comment. “These people ain’ read the invitation,” or some variation appeared in the comments on many photos.

Even more telling were the comments on features that were not stipulated in the dress code. It was almost as though people took personal offence to the choices women made regarding their own clothing and on their own dime. They labeled dress lengths “wrong,” disturbed by the visibility of women’s knees. They were equally scandalized by the exposure of shoulders, insisting that sleeves are required for such events. Some even references the queen, saying that these women would not have been allowed to meet her dressed as they were. This is, by the way, completely incorrect. You can definitely meet the queen with exposed shoulders, arms, knees, backs, cleavage, and even bellies. She does not seem to care what anyone else wears. That aside, why the focus on what the queen might want to see at the opening of Parliament in The Bahamas, independent since 1973?

Dress codes and uniforms are often seen as almost interchangeable. One key difference, however, is that uniforms tend to unify, at least in appearance, a group of people by eliminating opportunities for their differences — especially in disposable income — to be visible. For schools, uniforms are said to reduce distractions and give students less to compare. As we know, they simply focus on shoes, belts, and backpacks. Who can afford which brand? Who gets new ones after the Christmas break?

For workplaces, uniforms are said to make it easier to identify staff. Many people prefer uniforms because it is easier to get ready for work. I know someone who makes it her mission to convert staff wherever she works to her position on uniforms. Some businesses even leave room for staff to add personal flair by allowing them to make articles with a particular fabric and issuing scarfs that can be worn in different ways.

Dress codes do not do the same thing. There may be more room for personal flair, but constraints are still there. One of the biggest constraints is financial. What is the woman with a very limited amount of money to spend supposed to do? In addition to a beautiful dress, she now needs to purchase a hat and gloves. In many cases, dress codes are also discriminatory. It is now widely accepted that women wear pants, so why would women be required to wear dresses for an event? Further, gender is a spectrum and people express their genders in various ways, so it should not be surprising that some women and nonbinary people would prefer to wear something than what is prescribed.

The other thing about dress codes, which also applies to many uniforms, is that they are completely unsuited to The Bahamas. Gloves are a ridiculous requirement, only adding to the cost of attending an event. Even what we consider business attire is absurd. Men are wearing suits and ties, office air conditioning is set to a low temperature to compensate, and the women learn to keep a thick sweater or warm jacket in the office and drink tea all day to warm up. “Professional” dress is an import and a result of colonialism. We need to let it go. It is costing us money, in more ways than one, and results in discomfort. With all of the Bahamian designers who show us what they’ve got when people wear their designs in pageants, at balls, and spectacles like the opening of Parliament, we can certainly come up with our own business attire. Countries in the Pacific have done it, making business attire well suited to the weather, culture, and the pocket.

We need to think about what we consider “right”, “good”, and “proper”, and how we came to these ways of thinking. We need to be prepared to learn and do better or, at the very least, accept that others will move beyond these old, tired ways of thinking and there is no reason to be offended by their growth. There is a difference between holding the opinion that women should wear dresses that cover their knees and saying that women who wear shorter dresses do not know what is or is not appropriate. You believe one thing, and someone else has acted on their own position, liking with thinking about or knowing you, or having any loyalty to your fashion (in)sensibilities.

When we start to assign moral value to people’s attire, we leave room for much greater errors. People are blamed for acts of sexual violence against them. Women are turned away from voter registration because their shoulders are visible. Women fashion skirts out of shopping bags in the parking lot because the Department of Immigration deems that more appropriate than their uniform which includes shorts (which are longer than the shopping bag skirt). Students miss class because their skirts do not touch the floor when they kneel. We can and must do better than this.

Dress codes are, in most cases, unnecessary. They are used to exclude people. They are a tool of gatekeepers. They are usually rooted in sexism, racism, and/or classism. Dress codes are not about cohesion and do not have anything to do with the quality of an event. They are an excuse for people to say that certain people do not belong. To gain access, you must be able to afford a dress, hat, and gloves, and you must at least appear to believe that the shoulders and knees of women are an embarrassment that must be concealed in the hopes that everyone else forgets they exist. Dress codes are an arbitrary set of rules that some follow with ease and others struggle to meet in order to be accepted by a person or set of people who consider themselves worthy of other people’s deference, thereby validating those setting the rules and their positions, even if their intent was simply to insert themselves into a particular class of people. It is quite the tool, powerful enough that people on the outside — with no invitation — help with enforcement, announcing those who slip in with minor infarctions, dedicated to making their failures known. Keeping these old rules only encourages this kind of behaviour and does nothing to elevate any of us. Again, we can and must do better than this.

Recommendations

1. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson. After spending the summer with her grandmother, Claudia returns home to find that her best friend Monday is not there. She was already confused by the lack of response to her letters, but when Monday doesn’t show up at school, especially on her favorite day of the week, Claudia gets more concerned. It seems like no one else is particularly interested in looking for Monday, so Claudia is on her own to look, ask, and recruit adults to help her. The premise of this story seems quite simple, but the two timelines — before and after — create more investment in the friendship and finding out what really happened. It gets more complicated when an unexpected piece of information about Claudia is shared with the reader. From the beginning, we know Monday isn’t coming, but finding out what happened to her is quite the ride.

2. Grow your own food. Last year, many people got excited about starting kitchen gardens. They posted their successes on social media and shared the bounty with family members and friends. It is now, again, time to start planting. It is already October, but still quite hot, so talk to the staff at your favorite plant nursery to find out what you can plant now. Be sure to tell them where your garden space is — for example, on the western side of your house — so they can let you know what will do best there given the amount of sunlight your plants will receive. If you don’t have much yard space, don’t count yourself out! You can grow a number of vegetables and herbs in small spaces.

Published in The Tribune on October 13, 2021.

The US Embassy has been flying the Pride flag for two weeks as Pride Month continues. It is a great time to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. If you do not know what the L, G, B, T, Q, or plus stands for, get ready to learn.

Before we get into sexualities, it is important to understand some of the basics that apply to everyone. By now, we should all be familiar with the terms “sex” and “gender”. They often appear on forms we need to complete and frequently with the wrong options and with insufficient options.

Sex is assigned at birth based on visible sex characteristics which do not always match chromosomal sex. We are taught about the XY sex-determination system in which XX is female and XY is male, but it is now known these are not the only combinations. This means there are more than two sexes and it is not binary. The continued use of a binary system is also evidence that sex is a social construct.

Gender is the set of characteristics, including behavior and expression, of women and men that are created and enforced by society. These characteristics are taught to and expected of people based on their sex. For example, boys can play rough and get scrapes and bruises, but girls must play more carefully and reduce their chances of getting physical imperfections while having fun.

Girls help to cook and clean, and boys take the garbage out and help to wash the car. Girls can cry, but anger is inappropriate for them; boys must not cry but displays of anger are expected.

Men are sexually attracted to women and women are romantically attracted to men. When women and girls or men and boys step out of these gender prescriptions, people do not like it. In fact, people start policing them, claiming the need to correct and/or punish them. Gender is a social construct.

The LGBTQ+ community includes people of all sexes and genders. They are not all attracted to people of the same gender. They are a part of the community because their sex, gender, or sexuality is not the same as those assigned to or expected of them.

The terms “women” and “men” are used below for ease and understanding of people encountering this information for the first time. Please keep in mind there are non-binary, gender non-conforming people, gender neutral and gender fluid people who do not identify as women or men. Definitions of LGBTQ+ terms are evolving and being developed as we learn more about gender and sexualities and people explore identity and expression.

What do all of those letters stand for, and why is there a plus sign?

Whether we say LGBT, LGBTQ, or LGBTI, or another version, we need the plus at the end in order to include the people whose letters are missing. LGBTQ+ does not just mean gay. The community is far more diverse than that.

Lesbians are women who are attracted to women. It is important to note lesbians are not attracted to all women. Lesbians are not all masculine-presenting. Some lesbians prefer pants. Some like more loose-fitting clothing. Some like dresses. Some lesbians wear make-up. Some lesbians love wigs. Some keep their hair short. Some lesbians change their looks all the time. Some lesbians are quiet. Some are very loud talkers. Some drink while others do not. What lesbians have in common is that they are women and they are attracted to women.

Gay, these days, is used to refer to men who are attracted to men. It is still, from time to time, used to refer to both men and women, but “lesbian” is a more suitable term for referring to women. Gay men, it must be noted, are not attracted to all men. All gay men are not feminine-presenting. Some go to the gym and talk a lot about their gains. Some have long hair, some have piercings, some have tattoos and some drive large vehicles. Some gay men have full beards, some groom their eyebrows, and some are very particular about the wine they drink. What gay men have in common is that they are men and they are attracted to men.

Bisexual people are attracted to people of more than one gender. In years gone by, it was said that bisexual people are attracted to “both genders”, but given what we now know about genders—that there are more than 50 of them—that definition reinforces the idea that there is a binary. Instead of “both,” we say “more than one” to indicate that bisexuals are not attracted to just one gender.

Contrary to popular belief, bisexual people are not trying to have it all. They are attracted to more than one gender, but this does not mean they pursue or maintain relationships with people of different genders at the same time. There are, however, people of all genders and orientations who engage in multiple romantic and sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Those people are polyamorous. While some are, not all bisexuals are not polyamorous.

Transgender (abbreviated to “trans”) people have a gender identity that is not typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. “Q” sometimes appears twice in the initialism because it stands for both queer and questioning. “Queer” was a pejorative and it has been reclaimed as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. “Questioning” describes people who are still exploring their genders and sexualities.

Intersex people have sex characteristics that do not fit the female-male binary. These characteristics may or may not be visible and they may or may not be recognized at the time of birth. In some cases, people do not know they are intersex until puberty when changes in their bodies alert them. For example, a person assigned female at birth may notice the growth of facial hair or experience pain caused by undescended testes. Only upon consulting a doctor does this person learn that they were incorrectly assigned female at birth and they are actually intersex

Other LGBTQ+ identities include asexuals (people who are not sexually attracted to others or have low or not desire for sexual activity) and pansexuals (people who are attracted to people of any gender).

What should aspiring allies do during Pride?

During Pride Month, pay attention to what is happening around you, what is being said, and what is being left unsaid. What were the responses of your family members, friends, coworkers, religious leaders, social media contacts, and radio hosts when the Pride flag was raised at the U.S. Embassy on June 1? Do they support the LGBTQ+ community or not? Did they choose to focus on who did it rather than why it was done and who it was for? Based on their reactions, do they value the lives of LGBTQ+ people?

By paying attention to what people say, you find out what they believe. You find out what they are willing to do, and for whom. Are they people you want to support and be in relationships with? Allyship is about taking action. It is not sitting quietly, thinking, “Wow, that’s terrible.” It is using your privilege, as one of the people who is not directly impacted by hostility against LGBTQ+ people, to challenge other people’s positions and stop them from spreading hate. You may not be able to change their minds, but you can let them know you do not think the same way and show those around you that there are other ways—much better ways—of thinking and behaving. Remember there are people around you who are LGBTQ+ without you knowing, and they observe your actions. Make sure your actions make them feel loved, valued, and protected.

During Pride, many businesses take advantage of the news coverage and the focus on the LGBTQ+ community by selling Pride merchandise. They may even offer Pride discounts. While they may seem well-meaning, it is most likely that they are focusing on the bottom line. Similar to the pink-washing during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, many businesses use LGBTQ+ people and the month dedicate to the community to make money without giving anything back. When you see those rainbow ads and Pride hashtags, find out where the proceeds are going. Ask businesses what they are doing to support the community. If the answer is nothing, it is exploitation and another example of the commercialization and co-opting of causes while ignoring the needs of vulnerable communities.

Listen to what people are saying. Interrupt hateful, dangerous, violent commentary. Share accurate information. Challenge businesses and others who try to co-opt movements and causes to do something that would have a positive impact for the LGBTQ+ community (and not their image or revenue). Insist that LGBTQ+ people are recognized as people who have human rights that need to be protected.

Recommendations

  1. Children of God. This 2010 film was written and directed by Bahamian Kareem Mortimer. At the micro level, it centres the relationship of two Bahamian men. At the macro level, it portrays the hostility against LGBTQ+ people in The Bahamas. It has won over a dozen awards.

  2. Follow Equality Bahamas on social media. The organization usually celebrates Pride in July, but it is starting early this year. Stay tuned to learn more about LGBTQ+ people, Pride, and what we need governments, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the public to do to protect and expand the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Pride is not just a celebration, but an opportunity to highlight issues and demand change.

Published in The Tribune on June 16, 2021.

International Women’s Day was on Monday and, of course, it came with radio talk show slots, panel discussions, presentations and purple attire. It is an annual day to celebrate the progress women have made and to take action toward the changes that still need to happen.

The global campaign’s theme was “Choose To Challenge” and the UN Women theme was focused on women’s leadership (in alignment with the upcoming 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women). Both themes were taken up and used to frame events and initiatives. It was great to see Corporate Bahamas make space for discussions about women in leadership and the issues we all need to choose to challenge. It is even more important that they contribute to the efforts through resources, including funding, and structural changes that ensure women are in the leadership pipeline, compensated fairly and working in enabling environments.

The Prime Minister recently stated that “the representation of women in Cabinet is at an historic low”. He said he challenges himself, political parties and the nation to ensure more women are in the House and the Cabinet.

These words, of course, are nothing without action. It is not enough to wish for better representation of women. The Prime Minister claimed “a number of women” declined the offer to run on the Free National Movement’s ticket and that he is pleased that more women are running this time around. It will be interesting to see how many women the Free National Movement puts forward. The current proportion is abysmal with only five of the 30 ratified candidates being women.

Unless eight of the nine candidates to be announced are women, there is very little to show for the Prime Minister’s statement about including more women as the party would not even have 30 percent representation. How can we expect more women in Cabinet if they are not going to be on the ballots?

The Prime Minister said he was frustrated by women declining opportunities to run. He did not give the reasons. Maybe they did not see the Free National Movement—or any other party, for that matter—taking firm positions on issues of importance to them. Maybe they do not want to be collapsed into a system that was not built for them. Maybe they do not see the political environment as one they can survive in, much less thrive.

Aside from all of the issues with party politics and the failure of every political party in the country to make clear their positions on important issues, there are specific actions that need to be taken in order to create an environment within which women can safely and successfully participate.

If party leaders care about women’s engagement in political leadership, they need to take decisive, targeted action.

Here are five actions the Prime Minister and all political parties need to take in order to successfully recruit, retain and run women as candidates in general elections:

  • Institute a quota. Go beyond 30 percent which is a low bar and does not result in gender parity in a world, and a country, in which more than half the population are women and girls. Low bars do nothing for us. Let’s start with acknowledging that we have a long way to go, then figure out how to get there. Make the quota 50 percent, and do it now. The current administration can still do this on a national level. All political parties can do it for themselves. Let’s call on all political parties to make their positions on women’s leadership clear by instituting party quotas of 50 percent now. This commits them to do the work of recruiting and training women, creating enabling environments within the parties, and improving the conditions of all women so that they are able to pursue opportunities in frontline politics and other forms of political leadership.
  • Provide training and mentorship for women. Boys and men are raised and trained to believe that they are destined for leadership while girls and women are often taught that they are to play supportive roles. What we see in the leadership of men and boys and in women and girls is not a result of natural abilities or inclinations on the basis of gender, but gender ideologies that have been used to put people on particular paths. Men and boys have long been considered more suitable for leadership and certain kinds of work, so women and girls have been dealing with implicit and explicit discouragements from leadership and the areas of work that have been reserved for men. This needs to be intentionally interrupted and corrected. We need specific programmes and initiatives targeting women and girls, preparing them for leadership.
  • Reject gender stereotypes. Publicly challenge and rebuke all suggestions that gender is a determinant of ability or suitability. Create opportunities for women and girls to pursue education and careers in areas that continue to be dominated by men. Run campaigns that highlight women already working in these areas, their contributions to the industries and to the country, and the support that has made it possible. Encourage the private sector to do the same. One example is providing scholarships and other opportunities such as fellowships to girls and women pursuing education in STEM and trades.
  • Reduce the burden of care work. One of the factors that impacts people’s performance in the workplace and both ability and willingness to pursue ambitions is the work they have to do outside of their formal employment. Women are often tasks with the upkeep of the home. Even if a household can afford to employ domestic workers, the supervision and management of household tasks still tends to be the responsibility of the women. Childcare and eldercare are often the responsibility of women as well.

There is so much to be done at home that it is known as “the second shift” and can prevent women—and the girls often enlisted to help and learn from them—from studying and participating in other activities that could help to advance their careers. Recognize that women’s time is not elastic, acknowledge that women have taken on much of the work that the state is obligated to do, and make structural changes to allow and encourage men to share the domestic labour and support women in reclaiming their time. For example, change the expectation that women are solely responsibly for childcare by amending legislation to give parental leave so that fathers have more than five days to help with newborn care, leaving postpartum women to heal and care for babies alone.

  • Protect women from gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that is affecting families, communities, islands, and the country. It can be physical or non-physical, and it takes place both in person and online. Social media has been weaponized by men, used to discourage women from engaging in public life and punishing them for it if they dare to enter public life anyway. This administration and all political parties need to rebuke all forms of violence against all women, regardless of political affiliation or position. Disparaging comments and ads that target women on the basis on their gender need to be banned.

There are many other ways to create an environment that is conducive to participation of women and other marginalized people.

This needs to be regarded as a matter of priority and a marker of the commitment of the Prime Minister and all political parties to ensuring, not only greater participation of women in politics, but gender parity.

It’s not just about recruiting women and hoping they accept under the current conditions.

There is a responsibility to create a better environment through systems and initiatives that not only demonstrate personal and political commitment, but contribute to a cultural shift that creates space for women to not only lead, but do so with support and the reasonable expectation that they and their families will be safe.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 10, 2021.

International Women’s Day is next Monday, March 8. The theme set by UN Women is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” This theme is meant to align with that of the upcoming 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)—“Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” Both themes are important and need more than one to 12 days of discussion, analysis, and action planning. We can see that quite clearly in the national context, particularly as we are in the midst of election season.

Political parties continue to announce the ratification of candidates and are far from gender parity. Not even 30 percent of the slates are women. This is no surprise considering the fact the two major parties had four and six women on their slates of candidates. We currently have five women in Parliament — 12.8 percent. It stands to reason that if both political parties had more women as candidates, women would comprise a higher proportion of Parliament and we may have actually had better representation.

It is important that, even as we advocate for a political quota, we emphasise the need for quality candidates. We do not need more women in Parliament who will not only fail to represent women in all our diversity and work to address issues that directly and disproportionately affect us, but embarrass us repeatedly and help to set us back.

We do not need women who simply want to be a part of the “boys club” or want to set themselves apart by distancing themselves from women’s rights issues or “feminine” characteristics.

We do not need more people who simply want to occupy a seat. We need women who are well-equipped to represent their geographic constituencies and the larger constituency of women.

It has been particularly interesting to watch the hypocritical response to the resignation of Lanisha Rolle from the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture. All of a sudden, people and organisations are concerned about the absence of women in Cabinet.

Over the past four years, very little was said about there being only one woman in Cabinet, and that one women being among the worst of Cabinet Ministers. Her earlier appointment to the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development was cause for great concern. Those who were paying attention knew that it would not go well. Giving Rolle oversight of the ministry with departments responsible for serving people in need and meeting international obligations such as CEDAW made no sense. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs was suffocated by her refusal to recognise the necessity of its work. It was devastatingly stagnated, despite the work of some of the most dedicated, qualified staff – and it has yet to recover.

Rolle, when asked for her position on marital rape, said marital rape was a private matter. Are other forms of violence within the home also private matters? The personal is political. This is not just a saying. It is a truth we need to understand. The decisions we make as individuals and the structures of our relationships and institutions, including families and businesses, are directly impacted by and directly impact the economic and political spheres.

We can look at the state of households during the COVID-19 pandemic (though the same dynamics existed before this exacerbation). We continued to work, whether on-site or from home, and took on the additional work of supervising virtual learning and the tasks that could no longer be done by others due to restrictions. Most of the added labour fell to women who had to continue their regular work, help children with virtual learning, look after elderly family members and keep the house clean and prepare meals on a more frequent basis. Before this, women and men were working and, in most cases, women came home to the second shift, handling domestic tasks and care work. Some may say this is a personal matter.

The way people divide their household work is up to them, right? Well, how do they come to these decisions? Are they actual choices, made consciously, or predetermined due to circumstance or the (often unspoken) gender division of labour?

The way tasks are divided are home depend heavily on the ways women and men see themselves, not only on a personal level, but culturally, politically, religiously. If only one person in the household can work overtime in order to ensure household matters are dealt with, it is likely to be the person who is making the most money. This is directly impacted by the gender wage gap and the difference in opportunities available to and accessed by men and women.

A woman does not truly choose to spend less time on paid work and take care of the children if the issues are that no one else is available to do it and/or the man is able to make more money in less time. This “private matter” is affected by public issues of education, employment, and social security, among others.

Returning to the absurd idea that marital rape is a private matter, we have to look at the factors that affect and are affected by dynamics within the home. When we create this kind of divide between private and public, we leave people defenceless. Rolle’s comment communicated to the public that what happens to any woman at home is her own problem. The government is not concerned about such matters and sees no need to interfere.

Miriam Emmanuel, no better than Rolle, saw fit to share a disturbing anecdote about her father’s victim-blaming regarding intimate partner violence. Comments like these send the message that women are disposable, unprotected, and complicit in their own harm while men are excused or even revered for their brutality, creating the environment for violence in the home to proliferate. It is important to understand that the effects are not limited to the individual, but affect public health and the economy. Hospital visits and sick days do not affect just one person.

We need true representation for women in Parliament and Cabinet. We need women who are aware of the issues affecting women, care about about addressing them, and are prepared to do the work with minimal support. Rolle is not a loss. She was a liability the entire time she was a Cabinet Minister and remains a liability as a Member of Parliament.

This month, as we advocate for women to be in positions of political leadership, it is critical that we are clear in the demand for feminist leadership and true representation. We do not simply need women, but women who believe in equality. Women who understand and explicitly state that marital rape is rape. Women who advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in all schools. Women who have studied and have mastery of international mechanisms and declarations such as CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action and have fresh ideas and plans of action for legislative reform and implementation. Women who are engaged with civil society organisations that are engaging in women’s rights work.

The Prime Minister said he wants to see a woman be Prime Minister one day, but he has done nothing to move us in that direction. Look at the 2017 slate of candidates and look at the ratified candidates to date. Is there representation? Are the candidates equipped for the task at hand?

Taking notice of the lack of gender parity now could be a sign of opportunism because it is election season or because it is a global priority. Better late than never when the latecomers are ready to go the whole way. Let us not lament the resignation of Rolle as though we have suffered some great loss. We have not. Focus the discontent on the actual tragedy — the continued lack of representation for women and all indications that the next term, no matter the administration, will be quite similar to this one. While all parties still have room on their slates, pressure them to ratify qualified women who believe in and will advocate for human rights. Pay attention to what The Bahamas says in international spaces. Hold the government to the commitments it makes. Call it to a higher standard.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 3, 2021.

Last week, it was reported a woman was sleeping in a car with her children, including an infant. She was asked to leave her previous apartment after being allowed to live there rent-free for several months. She expressed concern about her children’s education, noting her daughter had fallen behind over the past year. She noted there were other people in the same situation, forced on to the streets.

As a result of the news story, a group of a people stepped in to assist the family. They secured a place for them to live and gave them food. They also said they were helping her to find a job. In many cases, community members have to work together to support others. One of the issues is that we rarely know what others are going through. Sometimes, we have an inkling there is an issue affecting a large number of people, but without a personal account, few are moved to take action. Pride and the expectation of condemnation prevents people from sharing their stories and asking for help. When we do hear a story, we begin to understand different realities.

Shortly after the news story of the woman and her children, there was a social media post about a man with two children who were homeless. The children were staying with someone during the day while he tried to make money by washing cars. If he earned money, he was expected to give some of it to the person keeping the children. The person posting did not have time for him to wash their car, so they shared the story to encourage other people to help him in any way possible. Several people responded, asking for his contact information. Hopefully, he is also receiving assistance.

People quietly give and receive assistance every day. Sometimes someone overhears their story or sees a need. They may notice the issue at work and, unable to help in their official capacity, refer them to the right person or organization. By whatever means, some people find the help they need, and the general public never hears about it. The stories we do hear are a drop in the ocean.

My friend and fellow advocate Erin Greene often talks about the impetus to solve our problems by throwing money at them as one of our biggest problems. It seems to be the way of many of our elders, likely because it was possible for them in times of plenty. Some of us have adopted the same method of responding to problems. We pay for it to go away.

The electricity keeps going off? Buy a generator! Public transportation is too unpredictable for your child, a university student, to use it to get to campus? Buy them a car!

Yes, we do have the right — and often the need — to use our resources to solve our own problems, but that’s a real problem. As Greene says, when we use our money to solve our problems, we only solve them for ourselves. The issue is still there, affecting other people, but we have bought our way out of experiencing or even seeing it. Those who cannot afford to buy their way out of the problem have to continue to live with it.

It is not inherently bad to seek comfort for yourself. The electricity outages are frustrating. They hinder productivity, damage appliances and other equipment, make it uncomfortable to be inside and affect our ability to properly care for loved ones. It is not shameful to put provisions in place to stop the outages from affecting your life. It is, however, important to recognize the issue persists and, should your personal solution fail or turn out to be unsustainable, you will experience the issue again.

Similarly, the assistance we give to a person or family is necessary and good, but the issues of homelessness, unemployment and the lack of a social safety net persist. People need to eat – now. They need a safe place to live – now. Children need to be enrolled in and attend school – now.

When we are able to step up and offer assistance, it is important we do not hesitate. Still, there is only so much help that we can give. The landlord in the first story was only able to help the woman and her children to a certain extent. The babysitter in the second story offered to help, but also needs income. There is a limit to the support people without financial wealth can give. We need to address the issues — the cycle of poverty, the fragility of the economy and the system that has cut people out and failed to provide support.

It is not enough to book a month-long hotel stay for a family. A fridge full of food for the week is only the beginning. A job is, of course, a more longterm solution for an individual or family, but without building wealth, the same thing can happen again. We saw it after 9/11, after Hurricane Dorian, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about the people whose stories we do not hear? What about those who are turned away or receive insufficient support from the government agencies that are supposed to help? Our assistance to a few people does nothing to change the systems that create and sustain this unnecessary struggle. We need an approach that responds to immediate needs and reforms systems.

We need safe houses for survivors of abuse. We need shelters for the unhoused. We need rehabilitation programs and support services for people with addictions. We need a system that is properly funded and designed to meet the needs of the vulnerable including people who are unemployed, underemployed and retired.

People house family members in their living rooms for as long as they can. Others give money to help people to cover their rent. In cases of medical emergencies, there are cookouts, money transfers, and GoFundMe campaigns. We do what we can to help each other. We try to make a little bit of money go a long way. These are temporary, case-specific solutions. Our $10, $100, and $1000 contributions do not address the issue. Most of us are so busy dealing with cases that we do not have the time to think about, much less address, the systemic issues.

Our individual problems are symptoms. The money we use to solve them mask the symptoms. We need a real treatment plan.

We are now in election season. The Progressive Liberal Party and Free National Movement have both announced about half of the candidates on their slates. We should soon hear about the issues they claim to champion, but we do not need to wait for their charters and manifestos. We need to make our demands and not be moved by the empty, tired promises of thousands of jobs. We need an administration that is prepared to conduct critical analysis of government systems and resident needs, and to develop a plan of action for filling that gap. We not only need better solutions, but details on budget and execution. After cycles and cycles of being duped and ignored, we need to ask how election promises will be fulfilled. We need to demand that candidates, parties, and party leaders “make it make sense”.

In case you’re interested…

  1. Dispossession by Tayari Jones. This Audible short story, from the author of the best-selling novel An American Marriage, is a story of motherhood, race, and loss. It has been so long since Cheryl has seen her son that when he promises a visit, she takes time off from work that she can’t really afford. She is a mover, and her job exposes her to the lives and possessions of other people. Her next job reminds her a bit too much about her own past.
  2. Queen Sugar. The television will be back with season five this month. Now is a good time to start at the beginning if you have not watched the earlier seasons. The Bordelon siblings are very different — activist Nova, NBA manager and wife Charley and struggling Ralph Angel are all after something. They are brought together by a death in the family and have to work together to run the family’s sugarcane farm. If you’re a reader or want to become one, pick up the book by Natalie Baszile. The television series makes quite the departure from the book, so prepared for that.
  3. Cardi Tries. This series, available on Facebook, is all about rapper Cardi B trying to do new things. She takes a dance class with Debbie Allen, tries race car driving, makes sushi, and practices basketball (yes, with the long nails) among other activities. If you’re looking for something low-stakes to watch and have a good laugh, this series is worth a try.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on February 10, 2021.

The issue of sexual violence against women and girls is in the media too often for us to pretend the incidents are isolated or separate from systemic issues. We struggle to recognise and address some of those issues, such as capitalism and misogyny, while others are universal enough to receive widespread acknowledgement. Most of us agree, for example, that the current economic structure does not work for most of us and it is obvious that the distribution of wealth is disproportionate and not tied to merit or skill.

Connections, however, are not immediately made between economic conditions and violence against women. Coercion is often downplayed and there is a lack of analysis of circumstances under which women and girls are sexually violated.

We are all used to seeing photos of missing girls. Many people ignore them or make dismissive, presumptive comments about the girls without knowing anything about their situations. There is a disturbing willingness to ignore the predatory behaviour of men who take advantage of the vulnerability of girls.

Adults make judgments about the characters of 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls. They label them as “bad” and decide they are undeserving of the resources it would take to not only find them, but protect them from the criminals who specifically, consistently prey upon them.

There are sexual predators who spend time developing relationships with girls. They find out about their lives at home. They get details about the other people living in the home, when they are present and what they can and cannot provide. They find the gaps and make promises to fill them. They do some or all of what they promise. They earn the girls’ trust.

During this time, these predators groom the girls. They set expectations of the girls. Those expectations tend to include the secrecy of their relationship, the dynamics within the relationship like the requirement that they are obedient and deferential to the predator and the nature of the exchange. The girls do not always know what they will be expected to give, but they are made to understand the “love” they receive has to be reciprocated in some way. All along, the predators create an image of themselves that is authoritative. This image may already exist due to their jobs, or it may be impressed upon girls through their interactions.

By the time a girl goes missing, if she is, indeed, “with man,” there has likely been a grooming period. A relationship has been established and the predator is the authority figure and the source of something the girl needs and has not been able to otherwise acquire. Maybe they promise a better life. Maybe they suggest a payment of debt. Maybe it is supposed to be a treat. Maybe it is by force. Maybe an event at home prompts the girl to seek refuge somewhere else. By whatever means, predatory men steal girls away from their homes. Whether or not the girls resist, this is a crime.

The girls’ family members report their absence and the police seek assistance from the public. Members of the public decide they know the story and assign blame to the girl and her guardians. Maybe there are a few offhanded comments about “big, rusty men,” but the girls are found guilty: of being too fast, of wanting to be women, of being duped by men.

They are, essentially, judged for not being the “right” kind of children — those who have what they need, know the right things to do and say, and are, by their material conditions, protected. The parents are found guilty of not knowing enough about where their children are when they are not with them, of not disciplining them enough, of not paying enough attention, and of being focused on other things. They are guilty, in many cases, of having to be away from home to work for long periods of time.

Children are not responsible for themselves.

Girls are children. Before a teacher can take children — in their care at school — on a field trip, the parents or guardians of those children need to give their written consent. Children do not attend doctors appointments without parents or guardians. They cannot drive. They cannot legally purchase or consume alcohol. Girls cannot consent to sex.

When cases of sexual violence against minors are reported, the language used — given by the police — does not make it clear they cannot consent. Phrases like “unlawful sex with a minor” are used. This certainly does not help. People continue to read it as girls choosing to have sex with men rather than men preying upon girls who cannot legally consent to sexual activity.

We all know of stories of religious leaders, teachers and family members taking advantage of children, whether by use of force, threat or manipulation. These adults are criminals and need to be held accountable. The children are in need of our support and protection.

As with many other issues, ending grooming, manipulation and sexual violence against girls requires a multi-tier and multi-pronged approach. While some children get the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” lesson early in primary school and some get a version of sexuality education in high school, there is a large gap in time and information between the two.

They are constantly warned about eating too much candy and spending too much time on screens, but what about the predatory behaviour of adults they may already know and trust? They need to be taught to assess situations, determine when an interaction is or is not safe, and how predators may try to get information from them and use it to manipulate them. They need tools to deal with strange situations, not only with strangers or new contacts, but with people familiar to them.

Even when children have the warnings, information and tools to safely respond to situations, it is not a replacement for specific needs that may be met by going a different route. Economic factors often complicate situations for people who cannot see another way. We have seen, over a long period time, but especially following Hurricane Dorian and now during the COVID-19 pandemic, that we do not have a proper social safety net. The assistance available to people who are unemployed or underemployed is not sufficient. People have always struggled to pay rent, keep food in the home and purchase medication. For many, it is now much more difficult.

It is not unusual for the those who have to take advantage of those who need. Financial institutions do it. Businesses do it. Individuals do it. Some of them are able to make it look like they are helping people, but they are usually helping themselves to much more.

When will we create systems to support the people who cannot support themselves? When will we make the changes necessary for a fair distribution of resources? When will we stop blaming people for their own vulnerability?

To end hunger, we have to recognise the need to develop food security, then learn to grow our own food. To prevent the disappearance of this country, we have to acknowledge the issue of climate change, then build, consume, develop, and fund differently. To end sexual violence, we have to — among other actions — actively reject victim blaming, connect the issue to gender inequality, and understand how it is directly related to socioeconomic conditions.

Sexual violence against children, missing girls and sexual harassment are far too common, casually dismissed and, as a result, underreported. It is never caused by “bad” girls or less than constant supervision, but by the attitude that girls are disposable—one area sexual predators and victim-blaming people seem to agree. The safety and protection of girls is on us, from our attitudes to our actions.

Date for the diary

Equality Bahamas is hosting Women’s Wednesdays: Redefining Leadership at 6pm with guest moderator SDG Focal Point, Regional and International Partnerships Aneesah Abdullah. Ms. Abdullah will be in conversation with women leading in various sectors including business and non-governmental organizations about women’s leadership beyond the stereotypical traits and expectations. The conversation will focus on the importance of feminist leadership, what we need from leaders in various sectors, and the value of leaders who are willing and prepared to advance women’s rights in law, policy, and practice. The session will be held on Zoom and streamed at Facebook.com/equality242.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on February 3, 2021.

Some of us do not seem to matter. There is little consideration to people living with illnesses and in need of medication, people experiencing poverty, elderly people, unhoused people, women, or children. The needs of these people are not anticipated, much less met by the competent authority. Decisions are made, restrictions are announced and we are all expected to figure out how we will survive. The emergency measures in response to COVID-19 have all been disruptive and failed to considered the most vulnerable among us, but the seven-day lockdown announced in the Prime Minister’s national address on Monday night was, by far, the most ill-conceived, nonsensical, harmful one yet.

Over the past 24 hours, I have seen people with the means to buy food and water say that they do not have enough to last. I have seen people talk about seriously taking inventory in the kitchens to figure out how to make what they have last for seven days. Some planned to shop on Wednesday or Friday. Some were expecting water deliveries later this week. Some abandoned long lines at pharmacies, thinking they could return in two days. Some were trying to figure out how to make less than one gallon of water work for two people. These are people with money. These are people who had plans. These are people who were assured by the Prime Minister of this country that there would be no lockdown that would prevent them from accessing grocery stores. How much worse is it for people who cannot afford to prepare?

The people who are unemployed and have not received any NIB benefits have very few options. No information has been shared on how unhoused people will be handled. Will they be fined for not being in a sound structure, or will police offer them assistance in finding appropriate shelter? When 311 is inundated with calls (as it has been since the address on Monday night) and cannot get through, how will police deal with people on the road whose information is not held by 311 operators? Will they be penalized for the failure of an inadequate system?

Equality Bahamas has been pushing for feminist policy since March. In a six-page document, many vulnerable groups are named, nine key areas in need of attention are listed, and recommendations are made for each one. The document addresses issues we anticipated and have since face including an increase in domestic violence, unequal access to information, and exacerbation of social and economic inequality. When policy decisions are made without attention to vulnerable people and critical areas, we find ourselves in situations like this one. People are frustrated, afraid, and made more vulnerable. Whatever measures are in place, people need shelter, food, water, and safety.

It has been a disastrous 24 hours. The same Prime Minister who told us not to panic shop and to ignore unverified information thrust an immediate lockdown upon us. A member of his own cabinet said the rumors of the lockdown were untrue. The National Food Distribution Taskforce appears to have been caught off guard. It seems that no one knows what is going on. Information is not being shared, consultations are not taking place and measures put in place either do not apply to people of privilege and power or have to be changed because they cause harm.

The Prime Minister has now reversed his decision or postponed the lockdown for an indeterminate amount of time. All we know now is that we cannot trust him and suspicion has been a function of survival. We have to expect the worst and do what we can to prepare for the measures he imposes upon us.

It is possible to acknowledge the utility of the lockdowns while questioning the practicality. It is possible to lead and make difficult decisions with empathy. It is necessary to consult with experts, practitioners, and citizens. It is critical that the people are appropriately prepared for what comes next. We cannot ignore the reality of people’s lives. Do not forget that there are people who do not have water piped into their homes. There should not be a lockdown without communication to them and law enforcement about access to water at public pumps.

We need a competent authority that considers all Bahamians and residents, anticipates issues before they arise, mitigates the issues, clearly communicates the strategy and puts systems in place to both enforce the measures and protect the lives of the people. That competent authority cannot be one person. It must sustain a practice of consultation. It must prioritize human rights. It must be open to feedback. It must be accessible to the Press and, by extension, the people. We all know the Prime Minister is certainly ill-suited to the position.

The Prime Minister needs to acknowledge his error, at least to himself. At worst, he sought to punish his detractors; at best, he completely forgot about the basic needs of human beings. He needs to consult with a diverse team that includes medical experts, small and medium-size business owners, artists, non-governmental organizations, media professionals and youth to chart the way forward.

The minute-by-minute decisions are not going to get us through this. Extended lockdowns do not solve the problem. Even if a lockdown would help us in the short-term, we need a plan for when restrictions are lifted, and it cannot be limited to regulations people are expected to comply with on their own. It needs to include enforcement and a robust campaign to inform, equip and compel people to comply.

Here are four areas that obviously need attention.

  1. People need money. They have been waiting for months, calling endlessly, and queuing only to be turned around and around. This process needs to be streamlined. Direct deposit would be easiest for people with bank accounts, possibly eliminating the need for a ride and definitely shortening the line for collection. Make it possible for people to check the status of disbursements. Use their email addresses or phone numbers to send them a code that can be used on the NIB website to get accurate updates. Send them notifications when checks are ready. Where direct deposit is not possible, make checks available at convenient locations in each constituency to reduce the number of people in one place and the wait time. If necessary, use last names to split the crowd by day or location.

  2. People need food, and they need nutritious food. People also need dignity. Move away from canned goods. Partner with farmers to include fresh produce. Give them grocery store vouchers so they can shop for themselves and get the items they need and enjoy. People in need deserve to have choices too.

  3. Regulations need to be enforced. Train and employ people to manage lines at grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks. They should ensure people are wearing masks properly—covering nose and mouth—and maintaining the six-foot distance. Leaving this to businesses has put this responsibility on security guards who are at the front of the line, opening the door, monitoring the number of people inside, checking temperatures, and ensuring people use hand sanitizer. It is unreasonable to expect them to be able to manage long, curving lines from their stations at the door.

  4. We need a plan for the next spike, and the details need to be shared with the public. If, for example, a large increase in cases will result in a seven-day lockdown, make it clear to the public that all households need to ensure they have sufficient supplies for a seven-day period at all times. Ensure that the National Food Distribution Taskforce facilitates this for people on the program. Advise of the metrics used to determine whether or not an increase in cases requires this measure so people can assess the situation for themselves based on the dashboard. As an example, if the indicator is over 1000 active cases and we are seeing 20 cases per day, people will know that they have about one week to prepare for a lockdown by the time we see 850 active cases on the dashboard. Even with this adjustment, it is necessary to consider people who do not have the means to prepare in this way and are not receiving a food assistance. They will need additional assistance.

The national address on Monday night was unreasonable and cruel. In addition to the usual condescension and unnecessary padding, the announcement of the lockdown felt like a punishment. We do not need to be punished. We need a plan that considers and responds to our circumstance and needs. We need to address individual challenges while focusing on the common good. We need a competent authority team to get us there. One man cannot do it.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune — on August 19, 2020.

We are now in our second week of lockdown and received a national address from the Prime Minister on Sunday evening which gave very little information. Last week’s Ministry of Health briefing gave the usual information, though all of the questions posed by journalists were not answered. In response to some of them, health officials said the Prime Minister would address the issues on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, he did not.

Since the action by doctors and nurses, we have been asking for details on the PPE inventory and availability. This was glossed over with no numbers or policies provided. It was only said that there are PPE supplies available and they are topped up as needed. We do not know who controls access to them, how often staff are able to change them, if there was ever a shortage, or why there is a huge gap between reports from doctors and nurses and those from authorities. This needs to be properly addressed.

PPE is not the only issue on which authorities refuse to give clarity. It was not even possible to probe further as the Prime Minister insists on giving national addresses instead of press conferences which allow for questions from the press. One-sided communication is insufficient and unacceptable. The government works for us and it needs to answer our questions.

The Prime Minister’s limited communication with the nation has been severely lacking. His speeches are still padded, far too long and condescending. National addresses should not be sermons. They should not be lectures. They should not be scoldings. At the very least, they should provide basic information and respond to the questions deferred from the previous Ministry of Health press briefing.

Is no one making note of those unanswered questions? There is specific information Bahamians would like to have. What changes have been made to the budget? What is being done to prepare the hospital and other facilities to handle the increase in COVID-19 cases? What is the current pace of the National Insurance Board and Social Services in fulfilling requests for benefits and assistance and what changes are being made to accommodate more people and expedite the process? What factors will determine whether or not the lockdown is extended beyond the set two weeks?

In a 45-minute address, these kinds of details should be clearly communicated.

While we know these are uncertain times, the people want, at the very least, certainty that they will be kept up to date on COVID-19-related issues. Every time a national address is announced, people get anxious and start to make assumptions about what will be said. Ahead of the last address, many were expecting the lockdown to be extended due to the continued rise in cases. There was no mention of this in the address and it was a reminder that we are never given that much notice.

The delay in communication does not appear to be a consequence of days-long deliberation or snap decisions, but a conscious decision to give us the smallest possible window of time to make preparations. Yes, we know that with the announcement of lockdown comes the rush to grocery stores and gas stations, but we also know this is due to both household circumstances and the lack of trust people have in the government. We have been caught off guard before, and no one wants to be left unprepared.

There is a need to build trust and assure people that they will be able to get what they need. If this does not happen, there will always be a rush, and the small windows for preparation do not alleviate this. Instead, they concentrate it. This tactic does not make sense.

This country is not a kingdom or a classroom and should not be treated as such. We need clear communication, and that includes letting us know when authorities are considering a particular action that will affect our daily lives. It is not much to ask. If this lockdown is to be extended, the least the Prime Minister could do is let us know before this weekend so we are not all at the grocery store on Monday.

Have a plan to handle the lockdown at home

At this point, it makes sense for households and individuals to have lockdown plans in place. Here are some items to include in those plans.

  1. Decide who will be responsible for household errands. This person does the grocery shopping, fills prescriptions, gets water, and anything else that will likely require queueing. This person has a routine they meticulously follow to ensure that their household is not compromised. This may include taking no personal items aside from a card or cash for payment into the place of business, wearing gloves while in-store and handling packages (which requires a well-thought out plan), and calling someone to open the door to the house so they don’t touch anything. This should be the person in the best health.

  2. Do as much as possible online. Set up online bill payment with utility companies to avoid more lines and time in close quarters with other people. Ask your bank about paying bills using online banking. If you are nervous about using your credit or debit card online, there are ways to make payments directly from your bank account. You can all purchase a gift card to be used during lockdown for bill payment, ensuring that potential compromises have no effect on your bank account.

  3. Get on the same page with everyone in your household. If anyone breaks the lockdown, everyone in the household is at risk. Households should not mix. Agree to give up the parties and other events you usually host or attend, or find ways to do them virtually. The lockdown puts a barrier between you and other people. Don’t think only of the person you want to see outside of your household, but all of the people to whom they have been exposed, and the people to whom they have been exposed. You do not want to be a part of a contact-tracing chain, so stick with your household and get everyone else to do the same.

  4. Set up a workstation if you and others in your household need to work from home. It can be tempting to operate from your bedroom, but this can disrupt your sleep. Choose a space with good lighting, strong wifi (or the strongest available in your house), a cooling device, and a proper chair. Make it a practice to sit there during work hours so your brain understands what it needs to do when you are in that position and location.

  5. Share the load. No one person should be expected to work from home, keep the house clean, occupy and supervise the children, and prepare meals. Figure out how to balance the workload.

  6. Check in with yourself every day. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the way you are progressing with work, and your mood. Make sure you are eating on time, drinking enough water, getting fresh air, and able to think and talk about more than just the current circumstances. If you are in need of mental health support, call the Bahamas Psychological Association hotline—819-7652, 816-3799, 812-0576, or 815-5850.

As we spend more time at home, it can be tempting to fall into habits like working in bed, binge watching television shows, eating all day, and online shopping. Pay attention to the amount of time spent on these activities, the financial cost, and the effects on your well-being. There is a difference between a carefree day and general disorder. By now, you know what you are likely to do and can identify your coping mechanisms. Give yourself allowances and limitations. If you need help finding balance, ask someone in your household to help or set up a virtual buddy system. We are all trying to make it through difficult days. Remember that others are working through some of the same challenges and talking about them, setting goals together, and checking in can help. Even though we should not physically gather, don’t underestimate the importance of community.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on August 12, 2020.