By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice
At a panel discussion to mark 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (November 25 to December 10 annually), Trinidad and Tobago’s presbyterian priest, Rev Joy AbdulMohan expressed the belief that religious scripture should be reassessed as a means of curbing gender-based crime. While admitting that some religious texts and cultural norms promote violence against women, she called for a need for a new paradigm.
“The church needs to see the Bible through new eyes, to wrestle with scripture and yield a new understanding of the texts, thus, eliminating the patriarchal biases of scripture that may condone violence in all its forms against women. At the same time, the church needs to raise significant issues of faith, which will assist persons, more so women, to become empowered,” she added.
While The Caribbean Voice (TVC) does agree that a new paradigm is needed, we are left somewhat puzzled as to how ‘issues of faith’ can empower women to tackle gender-based violence. This almost seems like the Reverend is placing the onus on women for the elimination of violence against them, which is tantamount to victim-blaming.
This victim-blaming was emphasized by another statement of the Reverend in which she noted that women must also be agents of change and should stop justifying violence. Who and what are the women supposed to change? Her answer? “Women must develop and exercise an empowering rather than a controlling style of leadership to which most women have grown accustomed.”
Really? Women are controlling? Where in the Caribbean? So how come the controllers become the victims? And again just how are they supposed to be empowered to be able to prevent gender-based violence? The reality is that in the significantly patriarchic Caribbean, victim-blaming is alive, and unfortunately, even women leaders, including faith-based leaders engage in this exercise.
Soroptimist International San Fernando president Bebe Ajodha, zeroed in on the reality when she said that religious leaders do not have the necessary training. In fact, TCV is on record calling for all priests of all religions to be provided with basic clinical training. It’s a call gaining currency as evidenced by a 2014 report entitled Broken Silence: A Call for Churches to speak out, based on a survey of 1,000 US Protestant pastors, which found that eight in ten pastors say they would take action against sexual and domestic violence if they had the training and resources.
A large majority (62 percent) of pastors in the survey said they have responded to sexual or domestic violence by providing couples with marriage counseling, which the mental health community widely acknowledges as a potentially dangerous or even lethal response for a victim. Mental health care is evidence-based and in this context, clinical counseling is the requisite approach.
And so in addition to repeating our call for priests to be provided with the necessary mental health training. TCV also calls upon all faith-based leaders to gather the facts before speaking on issues like gender-based violence as what they say carries weight with faith-based practitioners and religionists. Purveying misinformation and inaccuracies only worsens the situation and creates greater danger for abused victims and those living in abusive relationships.
This panel discussion was typical of the talk shop and photo ops activities that regional governments and organizations engaged in to mark 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The fact is that ‘Activism Against…’ does not equate to talk shops and photo ops. Given the scarcity of financial and other necessary resources, Caribbean governments must move away from talking to viable and impactful action. One such initiative is to promote and foster safety for victims and potential victims of gender-based violence as outlined below.
Safety in an abusive relationship
Never ever make any excuses for abuse since all you’re doing is giving more power to your abuser. Always remember: You do not deserve the abuse.
- That’s not how he is;
- Provocation is no excuse for abuse;
- The abuser’s anger is no excuse for abuse;
- Drugs and alcohol are neither excuses for nor the cause of abuse;
- You arguing with him is no excuse for abuse;
- He cannot really love you if he is abusing you because abuse is not love;
- An abuser will not stop abusing all by himself/herself. At the minimum he/she needs counseling.
So what do you do?
- Report to the police and get a copy of your report from the police.
- If you are injured seek medical attention and get a copy of the medical report.
- Seek the support of caring people. Tell someone you trust about the abuse. They may be your friend, a family member, a neighbor, a co-worker, or staff members of support agencies. Talk to them in a private, safe place. You do not need to face abuse alone.
- Have an intervention: one or more persons close to and trusted by both of you – family friends, religious leaders, family elders, professionals…and be honest with each other in the discussions. Whatever the issues are, they need to be addressed.
- Seek counseling by contacting the relevant ministry, any NGO that offers such a service or government counselors at public health care institutions or government offices in various parts of the country. Such information can be found at this link – http://caribvoice.org/resources.html and this one – http://caribvoice.org/global.html.
The above is aimed at preventing a recurrence of the abuse. If it happens again then:
Have a safety plan. If your partner is abusive, have a plan to protect yourself and your children in case you need to leave quickly. When is the safest time to leave, how will you leave, where will you go, what actions will you take?
Set up a support system. A trusted friend, family member, or professional can help you devise a safety plan and find a safe place for you to stay, if necessary, until you get to a shelter. For a list of shelters in your country.
File for a restraining order that will tell your abuser to stay away and have this with you at all times.
Do not remain in an abusive relationship because of the children. This will make matters worse for you and the children and can endanger lives – yours and your children. Besides, boys will grow up thinking it’s okay to abuse their wives and girls will grow up thinking it’s okay and normal for their spouses to abuse them. As well, children will grow up thinking that an abusive family relationship is ok and normal, after living in a situation in which they were always fearful, angry and stressed. And unhappy parents often take their feelings out on their kids.
Do not stay in the abusive relationship because of economic dependence, you do not earn an income, only the abuser does. Again this will make matters worse for you and the children and can endanger your life and possibly the lives of your children. Besides two happy separated parents are better than two miserable together parents. And financial and material help can be accessed through governments and certain NGOs.
Remember you don’t have to live with abuse; you have other options. So do not let anyone pressure you into staying in an abusive relationship. In the final analysis, this about you, your life and the lives of your children.
If you need legal aid but cannot afford a lawyer please contact, the legal-aid entity in your country, any organization that focuses on gender-based violence or the relevant social protection/affairs ministry in your nation.
A good safety plan and great safety information can be found at – https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/domestic_violence/safety-planning-en.pdf. Although this is the website of the New York City Police Department, almost all the info is globally relevant.
The Caribbean Voice can also assist. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. What’s App 646-461-0574, 646-202-3971, 592-621-6111. Also check out our website at www.caribvoice.org for more information.
Globally, the basis for gender-based violence is gender inequality, a truism that has been verified by various studies and surveys, including the recently released, The Guyana Women’s Health and Life Experiences Survey 2018.
Of course, this inequality is manifested differently in different parts of the world, and nations. However, ‘Activism Against…’ entails a basket of prevention measures is necessary anywhere in the world. Thus it is encouraging that this Guyana survey came up with recommendations for “evidence-based programmes that have been shown to be successful in other areas to the multicultural Guyanese context, be adapted; that there be a review of local, regional and global initiatives…” Indeed, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, neither in Guyana or anywhere else in the Caribbean.
As well, the survey advises the creation of “national prevention programmes, deployed to all areas… to decrease the fragmentation of prevention programmes and to ensure that programme information reaches all sectors and locations”. It is fact that in small nations, such as those in the Caribbean, there is urbanization of focus in spite of calls by stakeholders for the diffusion of services, resources, programs, and activities to reach everyone, everywhere. So abuse prevention can take the lead in instituting programs that reach every nook and cranny.
Thirdly, ‘Activism Against…’ would be incomplete if the focus on victims’ safety and protection are not complemented by a focus on abusers and potential abusers. While this seems to be a globally neglected approach, what exists includes Britain’s NICHE Guidance that suggests moving away from treating abuse as a crime or social issue, making it a public health priority and throwing every prevention measure at it. NICHE’s inclusion of men is done via the ‘Be a Lover not a Fighter’ approach, a multi media awareness campaign.
Other measures would include a multi-pronged conversation with boys and men across nationally, possibly via focus groups, that addresses the root cause of gender-based violence; proactive instead of reactive anger management programs where and when needed; intense sensitization and awareness using all available platforms, including focus groups and creativity to address the issues of drugs, alcohol and pornography as well reengineering the emotional makeup of men and boys so that they internalize the truism that it is okay to cry, to show fear and to be emotive whenever the need arises, as the basis to creating more compassion males who will be able to ditch the stereotypical macho male image.