This week, a family’s story was made public in a request for financial assistance. The wife and mother had been financially supporting the family of four while the husband was a stay-at-home father. The mother is now seeking financial assistance to help her support herself and her children because her spouse has abandoned them. There is more to the story, but the part that is relevant here is that, in both anger and humour, people have made comments that make clear their disregard for domestic and care work because it is still considered “women’s work”.

In January, I wrote in this column about domestic work. There was a focus on Bahamian attitudes toward migrant workers, domestic work and what it is worth. This time, let’s look at domestic and care work within the family and as a contribution to economic production.

A New York Times article published in March last year, for International Women’s Day, put the value of women’s unpaid labour at $10.9 trillion – higher than the revenue of Walmart, Apple and Amazon. It noted little attention is paid to this labour until it is disrupted, and it is unequally distributed. In the US women do four hours of unpaid labour while men, on average, do two and a half hours. Countries with the largest difference in time spent on unpaid labour between men and women are India, Turkey and Portugal. It is not surprising those with the smallest difference are Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Canada.

For many years, women were relegated to the domestic sphere while men went out to work and earned the income needed to provide for their households. They paid for accommodation, food and other necessities. Women were tasked with keeping the house clean, doing laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, taking care of children and other tasks such as collecting mail and rearing animals depending on the family’s resources. Some women took on work they could do from home such as dressmaking to help make ends meet.

During the Second World War, many (white) women entered the workforce for the first time. The men were away and there was work to be done, so women became factory workers, auxiliaries to the armed forces, drivers and nurses. With women working, it was critical that care needs be otherwise met. For example, nurseries were funded by states.

Since the Second World War, women continued to work. Even in homes where the men returned, women continued to have the responsibility of domestic duties. The economy changed and women’s participation in it changed significantly, but gender ideologies remained the same. Women then starting working two shifts — their paid work outside of the home and the unpaid labour at home that was not shared by the men.

Before women started entering the workforce, their domestic and care labour was what allowed men — their husbands, sons and brothers — to undertake paid work. While the men were out working for pay, women were ensuring their homes were clean, meals were prepared for them, clothing was washed, dried, and ironed and children were clean and being educated. Men’s paid work was made possible by women’s unpaid work which means the economy was not only fuelled by men’s labour, but by the labour of women that took place behind the scenes.

Today most households depend on two incomes. It is not as easy and, in many cases it is impossible, for a family to get by on one income so we do not see as many stay-at-home mothers. Still, like decades ago, there is the misconception that domestic and care work are for women, regardless of whether or not we are in the workforce. Feminist organisers are talking more about the burden of domestic and care work, the need to value it, and the importance of sharing it. Feminist economists point out this unpaid work should be factored into the gross domestic product (GDP) as it is directly linked to economic production.

Of course, there are households that are far ahead having recognised that domestic and care work are, in fact, work. No matter who is doing it, it requires time, effort and skill. It is full-time work when a household can hire someone to do it, but simply a duty when someone — usually a woman or girl — in the family does it. We are seeing more men participate in domestic and care work. It may not be a 50:50 split, but some people are realising it should not be the women’s burden and it is unfair to expect one person to take on so much work in addition to their formal employment.

All work has value, no matter who does it. We have to not only recognise that value, but share the burden of unpaid work. It is unacceptable to expect women to take on these tasks simply because we are women. We are not naturally better suited to it. Society has taught us there are specific requirements we must all meet in order to be seen as “real men” and “real women” and those requirements are based on the social construct of gender. This construct limits us in many ways and leads to dehumanisation of certain groups of people.

The suggestion that a man is not a man because he is a stay-at-home father who takes care of his children and the household is ignorant and harmful. Just as women have done this work for decades, enabling their husbands to work, men can do the same to enable women to work. In dual income-households, it is favourable for people to share the unpaid labour so that no one has to work the entire second shift.

Contrary to the misguided assertions made on social media over the past few days — and for much longer in social dialogue — when someone is earning an income while their partner takes care of the household and children, it is a fair exchange. The income-earning partner is not “taking care of” the partner working in the home. Income does not determine whether or not an activity is work and it certainly does not determine the value of that work.

The story that was shared about the Bahamian woman in need of assistance is sad. It is upsetting. It looks as though the woman and her children have been wronged, abandoned by her partner and their other parent. It is possible to express displeasure and even disgust at the actions of her partner without insulting people — both women and men — by devaluing the domestic and care work they do. We do not “take care of” live-in domestic or care workers. We compensate them for their work. It is quite similar in the household. One person’s work makes it possible for the other person to work.

Dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floor, making the beds, doing the laundry, making the bank deposits, paying the utility bills, supervising the children’s virtual schooling, visiting grandparents and cooking dinner are tasks that can be done by people of all genders. They are disproportionately done by women and mostly women who also have paid work. Men need to share the burden of that work.

We need to understand the gender boxes we have been put in do not serve us. They were built to make it easy to profit off of us, convincing us that our value was tied to what we were able to produce. By now, we should know we are more than that. Given our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, we should also see and feel the weight of the invisible labour other people have been doing while we were not looking.

It is not too late to make the shift for an equitable division of labour which is not based on gender but our care and commitment to each other as families, communities and nations.

Spare moments . . .

1. The Body Myth by Rheeaa Mukherjee.

In this novel, Mira is drawn into the lives of Sara and Rahil by what seems to be a chance encounter—seeing Sara have seizure in the park. Sara’s husband Rahil recruits Mira to be Sara’s friend. Mira tries to figure out whether or not Sara is truly sick and, if she is, how Rahil may be causing it. What seems like a story of friendship becomes a love story, a mystery and commentary on the human body.

2. A Million Little Things.

On its third season, this ABC drama series follows a group of friends immediately after the death of one member of the group. When Jon dies by suicide, everyone is shocked because he always seemed so happy and was a central figure in their lives. As they band together, this group of friends deals with the reveal of secrets new and old. From Rome dragging himself through a job he hates to Gary refusing to accept Maggie’s decision not to have chemotherapy, season one is packed with important themes, tough decisions and tests friendship.

3. Sunday Drive.

Every week, Bahamian DJ Ampero creates a playlist this is perfect for, you guessed it, a nice drive on a Sunday. It is also perfect for relaxing showers, dinners at home and doing laundry. Sunday Drive is a great way to find new songs and artists to add to your own. This week’s playlist includes Carry Me Home by KOKOROKO, Pineapple Jam by Saib and As You Are by cktrl. Find it on Spotify and Tidal.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 24, 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, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka met again at the Australian Open. I have always been TeamSerena. I often watched tennis with my father and great-grandmother who both wanted to see Venus and Serena Williams win. I thought nothing would be nearly as difficult than watching the sisters play each other, wanting the impossible – to see them both win. Watching Serena play Naomi, however, was particularly difficult at the 2018 US Open and again last Wednesday at the Australian Open.

Serena is and always will be an icon, not only of tennis, but of sports. She has consistently been referred to as the G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time. She has been asked far too many times whether or not she considers herself the greatest female athlete of all time. After her 2016 Wimbledon win over Elena Vesnina, she corrected reporters who asked if she was the one of the greatest female athletes of all time. “I prefer the words ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’.”

Named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2015 and having secured 21 grand slams by that time, she had a point. While some continue to question her position, Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian wore a t-shirt with her photo and “Greatest female athlete” with a strike through “female” on it. The message is clear.

The G.O.A.T. has goals

For Architectural Digest, Williams opened the door to her Miami home and, even with an art gallery instead of a living room, her trophy room is what got a lot of attention. It was clear that all of her trophies were not in that room. She had to a pick up a few of them to remind herself of what they were. At one point she said: “I see a second place trophy, but I’m gonna put that one in the trash. It shouldn’t be in here. We don’t keep second place.”

Serena Williams now has 23 grand slams. It is common knowledge she wants a 24th to tie the record set by Margaret Court. She has never been satisfied to simply play. She likes winning and, perhaps even more than that, she likes to be at her best. When she is not, her frustration is obvious, and it can affect her game.

We also know that she is her own best advocate. She does not hesitate to speak her mind or defend her position. She is both fierce in her pursuit of every win and human.

She has experienced racism and misogyny from the beginning of her career. Serena and Venus Williams were two little Black girls playing tennis, and doing it incredibly well. Everyone was not happy to see it. The sisters likely had to learn to be confident in their skill and the positions they have earned in the sport. They were not always able to depend on a crowd or the general public for support. It should be no surprise that Serena Williams can stand on her own, sets high goals, and doggedly pursues them.

I recently saw a lengthy Facebook post by someone who likely considered himself to be defending Williams. His position was that she is being forced to push herself too hard in order to prove herself to the world, and her goal to get her 24th grand slam is not important. He said the record is only “such a make it or break it” because of the racism she has endured. This argument does not really make sense since Williams has proven, over and over again, that she, a black woman, is the G.O.A.T., but even if she solely wanted to prove racists wrong or upset them, so what? It is ridiculous to make such assertions about her goal and to invalidate it. Can she not want to tie the record for her own satisfaction?

Williams has been shaking up the world of tennis from the beginning. Braids, beads, catsuits, razor sharp words, winning while pregnant and coming back to win after giving birth are among her badges of honour. It should be clear by now she does what she wants. No one can control her motivations or her goals.

Serena Williams can be “enough” and have “enough” and still want to keep playing, winning and setting records. She knows she can stop at any time. To suggest she plays the game she loves to prove her greatness is insulting. She has already established that she is among the greats. She does this for herself.

Osaka has a different approach

Most of the world met Naomi Osaka just a couple of years ago when she was set to play Serena Williams at the US Open. It was a highly anticipated event and no one knew quite what to expect. Osaka plays with what appears to be tremendous calm. She does not seem to get riled up nor put too much pressure on herself. It may be her ability to focus only on what is immediately in front of her that helps her to win.

In the on-court interview after winning the semi-final at the Australian Open against Serena last week, Osaka said: “I was a little kid watching her play and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.” She added that it is fun, as a competitor to play another competitor. She made the crowd laugh with her response to a question about reading Williams’ serves, saying she was guessing. “I don’t know, it’s either going this way or that way. I just gotta put my foot somewhere.”

At the press conference, Osaka said: “I can only play one point at a time and I’m gonna try my best to play every point as well as I can.” She has also spoken about this being her overall approach, not having a goal number of grand slams, but doing her best and taking them as they come.

Osaka and Williams are two very different players. They are both incredibly strong, skilled players with large fan bases. With a 16 year age difference, they bring excitement to the court as well as questions about the longevity of their careers. As is often the case with women in any field, there are constant attempts to pit them against each other.

Last week, when Osaka was asked if she thought Serena Williams was losing her place as the face of tennis, her answer was short. “No. Not at all.”

Room for two

These two players have respect for the sport and for each other. Osaka has said, many times, that she has always been a big fan of Serena and feels fortunate to be able to play her. Williams has been supportive of Osaka as a young player and knows she will continue to rise.

Williams’ position in the sport is cemented. Hers is a legacy that cannot be hidden or denied. With reverence for Williams and hope for Osaka, the semi-final was an exciting event to watch. I text messaged my father throughout, about faults, points, wanting them both to win and wanting Williams to get her 24th grand slam title.

It was a great win for Osaka and a tough loss for Williams. Before going to the locker room, Williams took in the glory of a standing ovation, waved to the crowd and put a hand over her chest. I read it as her enjoying that moment, where the crowd recognised her for what she continues to be — the G.O.A.T. Others, of course, had different ideas.

In the press conference that followed, Williams was obviously upset about the outcome. This is not about Osaka’s win, but specifically related to her own bid for the title that would give her that 24 grand slam. In the interview, she acknowledged she made a lot of errors and was obviously disappointed by that.

One of the questions basically asked if her last moments on the court, taking in the ovation, were a farewell. It was a jarring question and Williams said if she were to give a farewell, she would not tell anyone. Moments after answering, she fought back tears. To the next question, her answer was “I don’t know,” and she said she was done with the press conference. It was hard to watch and easy to imagine the way she felt. She is not ready to leave the sport and she wants 24.

Naomi Osaka has been named “Baby G.O.A.T.” It is recognition of her excellence, but not an unseating of Serena Williams. She will remain an aspirational figure for years to come.

Osaka noted that the Williams sisters inspired her when she was younger, and she wants to be able to so the same for younger generations. Naomi is charting her own path, playing tennis her way and taking it bit by bit. She may play Williams again, but the two are not competing for a single legacy. As Osaka said, tennis is a game. There will be many wins and losses on the court and it is possible to have mutual respect and leave very different marks on the world.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on February 24, 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.

Over the past few days I have been having conversations with people about the COVID crisis, the responses of different governments and the reactions of the public. I have been interested in the thoughts of artists, activists, educators, students and members of the press. There is one question I keep asking – what is your hope for when things change? Some answers are personal and some are broader and more inclusive. Every answer, however, focuses on learning. Everyone has been saying, in one way or another, that they hope we learn. Even deeper than that, they hope we use our newly acquired knowledge to do things, not just differently, but better.

We are being forced to listen, learn and adjust every day. We are learning some things the hard way. Some lessons seem a bit too late and many have been trying to reveal themselves to us for a long time.

It is good, however, to see that some people are already trying to shift. Food is an excellent example. While grocery shopping is still quite a task and certain items remain hard to come by, people are becoming more open to growing their own food. I have seen scores of posts on Facebook from people who suddenly and desperately want to grow fruit and vegetables in their gardens. People in apartments and without yard space are asking what they can grow inside with limited sunlight. There is more interest in food security.

Advocates like Erin Greene of Seasonal Sunshine Bahamas have been freely sharing information, ideas and contact information for experts – including Tsekani Nash, Whitlyn Miller, Liann Keigh, Phil Davis Jr. – in the field. Erin has, for years, been telling people to use the food they buy to grow more food, emphasising the ease of growing lettuce and carrots from the parts we usually throw way and encouraging people to save gallon-size water bottles to make them into hanging baskets. These ideas are perfectly simple, giving many people the ability to grow food.

The rush to buy seeds and seedlings shows we are beginning to understand that depending on other sources for all of our food is not a good idea. The mindset is shifting, we are less averse to touching soil, more willing to learn about farming and recognising the expertise of people we hardly considered before. We may be just months away from being just as proud of our tomatoes, sweet potatoes and lettuce as we are of our rose bushes, ficus hedges and bromeliads.

Reminders regarding assistance for those in need

  1. Agencies need to create a line management system. When there are many people on a line, especially in a limited space, it is difficult to maintain the appropriate distance. Make it easier for everyone. Offer drive-thru service and where that is not possible, have people in place to manage the line.
  2. This is one of the most difficult times in people’s lives. This does not define them. They deserve their dignity. Do not photograph people who are seeking assistance and do not share these images and offer demeaning commentary. It is cruel and unhelpful.
  3. Money is the best assistance. People need food, but the non-perishables provided are often high in sodium, lack nutrients and quickly become over-consumed. Allow people to prioritise their needs. Even if their focus is on food, they should have the opportunity to purchase fresh items. They may also need to purchase medication, phone credit, gas and other commodities. Help to make it possible by putting money in their hands.
  4. Some households have babies and elderly people. They have completely different needs including diapers and nutritional supplements.
  5. People will go to multiple sources for assistance. This does not mean they are greedy. It means they are getting information and doing their best to meet their needs. No single source is giving enough for people to go home and not worry for the rest of the month or even the week. They are trying to survive, and this does not deserve ridicule or rebuke.

Free entertainment abounds

During this time of lockdowns, curfews and quarantines, we are not short on entertainment. Celebrities are coming together to give free online concerts and, making it even more exciting, live battles.

Last Saturday, Babyface and Teddy Riley attempted a highly anticipated battle – part of the Verzuz digital battle by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz – on Instagram which had to be postponed to Monday night. Even the failure was entertainment with over 400,000 people watching in awe as Teddy Riley struggled to get his elaborate concert set-up to work. Babyface was relaxed in his studio, prepared with the only necessary equipment – his phone, speakers and a microphone. No one understood why Teddy Riley had so many people in his place – especially without masks and not practicing social distancing – but it was funny to see them all try to make things work. He had a standup microphone, a large screen running a design sequence behind him, a DJ in the corner, a dancer and it was all too much. There were a lot of sound issues that could not be rectified.

Babyface eventually left the live, saying he would return later. Everyone joked that he was gone to bed and would not be back. They were at least partly correct. Babyface later announced they would try again on Monday night. It was especially funny to see the response of other celebrities who were tuned in and hoping for an epic battle. Toni Braxton tweeted that it was “like watching old folks use Jitterbug phones”.

I decided to check it out late on Monday night, tuning in just in time to see Teddy Riley leave. Waiting for him to return and wanting the battle to be fair, Babyface tried to figure out what to do. Should he play a song? Should he just wait? Teddy Riley was taking a long time, so he eventually played a Toni Braxton song. He also attempted to play a song on guitar, but Teddy Riley was trying to get back into the live, so he had to stop and try to let Riley in. It did not work, and they decided to try it in the reverse order, with Teddy Riley hosting Babyface. After a few minutes of shenanigans and them not being able to connect, I gave up and tuned in to DJ D-Nice who has been running virtual parties for the past month. The rescheduled Verzuz battle, unfortunately, conflicted with D-Nice’s scheduled event with Michelle Obama. It was a live set by the DJ designed as an online voter registration drive.

There is enough happening for everyone with internet access to pick, choose, and refuse. Museums are offering free virtual tours, DJs – including The Bahamas’ DJ Ovadose – are hosting live parties, comedians are doing live sets, and many others are using their talent to bring people together while we are physically apart. There is no shortage of things to do, but let’s all remember to take some time to take care of ourselves and each other too.

Recommendations

Are you running out of shows to watch? I have three television show recommendations for you this week.

Little Fires Everywhere is a compelling television show on Hulu based on Celeste Ng’s novel by the same name. It depicts the connection between the white, seemingly perfect Richardson family and Black single mother and daughter Mia and Pearl Warren. While the book does not specify the Warrens’ race, the television show is intentional in exploring the race dynamic in a predominantly white community.

Other themes include class, mother-daughter relationships, and friendship. I highly recommend reading the book first, then diving into this series. The final episode of the first season airs this week.

In Sex Education, awkward high school student Otis decides to give sex and relationship advice to his classmates with the help of Maeve who takes the lead in setting up a sex therapy clinic. Otis gets his “expertise” from his mother is a sex therapist who does not shy away from the topic in their daily lives, but is not aware of his new business endeavour. Even as he helps his classmates navigate the teenage struggles of life and love, he is not particularly adept at keeping his own relationships intact. This British comedy-drama series is easy to watch, fun to talk about, and oddly educational.

People born in the 80s will clearly remember Living Single as one of the only television shows that aired on ZNS. Starring Queen Latifah, it followed the lives of six young black people living in the same building. Khadijah ran an cool magazine, Kim wanted to be an actress, Max was a lawyer who didn’t live in the building, but was there often enough, Regine was the chatty one, Synclaire was always full of joy, Overton was the handyman (and dated Synclaire), and Kyle was a stockbroker and general annoyance. They were a fun bunch.

Living Single ran for five seasons and it is often said that popular television show Friends was based on Living Single though the creators never gave credit where it was due. In a time of remakes, some of us hope it will make a return, but we can always go way back and start from the beginning.

Published by The Tribune on April 22, 2020.

Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell spoke in Parliament about the work being done by the Department of Social Services. He noted, without call it by name, that the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence had been raised numerous times. I waited, with the tiniest bit of optimism, for him to announce systems and services to address this pervasive issue that is only exacerbated by current conditions. Instead, he said: “This is a time when [abusers] should reflect on the errors of their past and try to make amends[…] repent of their ways and seek to build those bridges that they would have broken down.”

First, not many people watch Parliament. This was made clear by the comments on the livestream which indicated that viewers had no understanding of processes (which, admittedly, are often time-consuming and make little difference). Second, abusers do not tend to take instruction from Ministers of Social Services through a screen. Third, abusers are not short on “apologies”. They do not, however, relish taking responsibility for their actions, being remorseful, or taking the necessary step to reform. This is why there is a cycle of abuse and there are many PSAs that show the stage where the abuser brings the survivor flowers, convinces them to stay – then repeats the abuse.

Campbell did not offer a solution. He did not even offer support for survivors. He noted the issue was raised and did exactly what everyone thus far, including the Prime Minister has done. He said words that meant nothing.

We need a hotline specifically for domestic violence. We need police officers trained on domestic violence intervention to answer those calls. We need more safe housing for survivors. We need a residential programme for people going through withdrawal from alcohol and putting their households at risk. Systems and services, not apologies. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs should be leading on this. It, apparently, has a gender-based violence coordinator. What, exactly, is the department doing? It is definitely not responding to requests for meetings to discuss issues of gender in the country, so the least it could do is use whatever expertise it has in its own staff to anticipate, identify, strategise and respond to issues and give advice to the minister who is clearly out of his depth.

Government Caused Panic

Following the weekend lockdown on short notice, introduction of a grocery shopping schedule and the announcement of a complete shutdown from Wednesday night to Tuesday morning was no great surprise.

Grocery store lines have been wrapped around buildings all week. Some stores chose to ignore the shopping schedule. Even worse, senior citizens and people with disabilities – given Tuesday mornings to shop and the option to shop on the day assigned by last name – were turned away from several stores on Monday. When challenged, store staff told them they could use “discretion”. This is disgusting and unacceptable. Community members and advocates have been pushing for policies that consider and respond to specific vulnerabilities.

It is cruel and reprehensible that anyone wielded power, claimed “discretion” and denied entry to senior citizens and people with disabilities who made their way to the store at the appropriate time. Those people need to be dealt with and the government needs to make clear its orders are not open to interpretation or discretion. They are to be followed and the dignity of people doing their best to navigate this crisis must be kept intact.

Dr Minnis and his team need to reassess their tactics and realise they are creating the panic they are trying to avoid. They, unfortunately, promised not to close grocery stores and have not honoured that. No one knows what to expect. The uncertainty, lack of trust and loss of control will not serve us; nor will incremental, ever-changing measures that result in large crowds assembling in order to meet their most basic needs.

Why are some people shopping so often? Why did some people wait so late?

Some people had no idea their households would consume so much food in one week. Some people are using it as an excuse to be on the road. Some people usually just eat takeout. Some people stocked up for a week or two and now need to replenish. Some people are not very good at planning? Some people were waiting for cheques to clear, to get prepayments for services or to collect benefits. Some people have no other choice.

There have been many criticisms as a new world is shaped by COVID-19. Our lives are changing based on the decisions made by governments and residents. Our government is far from perfect. It has made many mistakes that are fairly easy to pinpoint now. We, however, are not blameless. We have also made mistakes and we continue to err. We make bad judgments, posture as experts after very little study and believe ourselves better than everyone else. We are frequently unable to see beyond on our experiences and cannot be convinced to even try to look a little further. This is one of the reasons so many people, however close they may be to it, do not understand poverty.

Poverty is not a choice. It is not a series of decisions. It is not the consequence of a personal failing. It is a both a system and the failure of systems. It linked to race and gender, thrives on the inequal distribution of wealth and other resources and depends on us to blame it on the people living through it. Poverty steals decision-making power. It is a beast, looming every day, taunting the people trying to get around it.

Poverty is not just a minimum wage cheque. It is no cheque at all. It is five dollars here and eight dollars there for hair-braiding or coconut water. It is only having enough to get two of the five ingredients you need to make a meal. It is almost daily visits to the grocery store because there isn’t enough money to get food for the week. Minnis has memory of this and painted the picture in Parliament on Monday, but offered no relief to the people who know it best today. The grocery shopping schedule gives people three opportunities to shop every week except this week. What is going to happen, over the next five days, to the people who do not have more than five or eight dollars to shop at a time?

Tips to get through

For those who are not accustomed to spending this much time at home, this is a difficult situation. It is also challenging for those who enjoy being at home, but also appreciate the freedom of being able to go out to eat, sit by the beach, or visit family members and friends. Being restricted, in and of itself, feels like a punishment. In addition to thinking positively about this exercise and the lives we are saving, it is important to figure out how we function best and create the environment we need.

  1. If you are working from home, give yourself an office space. This could be a desk or a chair at the kitchen table. Try to separate work life from home life. Keep rest and work separate and allow yourself to have more restful sleep at night.

  2. Get active. Even if you did not exercise before, find ways to move your body for physical and mental health benefits. There are thousands of free videos and apps to get you into yoga, jumping rope, pilates, running, Zumba and many other physical activities.

  3. Introduce friendly, virtual competition. Do some of those puzzles making the rounds on Whatsapp. Start a game of Chopped on Lockdown by choosing three ingredients and challenging others to make a meal with them that their household would enjoy.

  4. Discover new music. YouTube makes it easy for you to find music you might like with its recommendations in the sidebar. Check out Bahamian DJ Ampero’s Mixcloud for great mixes with artists you already love and others you will want to know better.

  5. Read more. The are books that will take you on journeys to parts of the world you have never seen, introduce you to entirely different worlds, and help you to understand or rethink the way you live in this one. Ebook and audiobook versions are widely available.

  6. Learn something new. Have you always wanted to learn French? Do you need to finally learn the Electric Slide? Do you still need that website for your new business? Would you like to finally be able to twist your own hair? There is a how-to video for everything. Seriously, my friend showed me one for grating carrots.

  7. Schedule virtual dates. The friend you were going to visit next month, the person you partied with in college, the former coworker now working in another country, and the cousin you never see any more are just a Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, or Hangout away. Have a catch-up session.

We do not know how long this will last, but let’s prepare ourselves as best we can. Let’s do our best to help others. Let’s follow the guidelines and flatten the curve. Maybe we can find joy in the little things for a little while.

Published by The Tribune on April 8, 2020.