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Deputy Prime Minister of SVG tells women - Dress properly. Don’t tempt men

Deputy PM and Education Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines makes incredibly outrageous and dangerous statements which essentially blame women and the way they dress for the violence perpetrated against them by men. This is the reason why violence against women is so rampant throughout the Caribbean: because we have a culture which tacitly excuses and tries to explain away the murders, rapes and beatings as something that women contribute to by the things they do, the clothes they wear, the places they go. As long as people feel they are justified and have ‘cause’ to ‘put women in their place’ this violence will continue.


“I want to ask our young women, in particular to dress themselves properly. I know that sometimes, their mode of dress is not good at all and it is important that they dress themselves and do not give temptation to our men.”

SVG: Deputy PM tells women to dress properly and not tempt men. She says that women’s breasts are intended to feed children and comfort their husbands. This hetero/sexist drivel was offered in response to the high level of violence against women and girls and femicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. What do you think of the Deputy PM’s remarks?

CODE RED is a feminist collective of Caribbean women and men. Visit our website for critical Caribbean feminist commentary. Find us on facebook and follow us on twitter.

Valuing Women in the Media

Media consumes so much of our lives in modern society, that what is represented in media - Film, Newspapers, Television, Internet - greatly influences how we interpret the world around us. But representations of women and the issues that most impact women’s lives are often dealt with in a limited and cursory manner and is grossly disproportional to the actual impact and contribution that women make to society. In the case of violence against women, what does actually make it to the airwaves are only the most gruesome and sensationalised stories which are treated more as a consumer product intended for titillation and shock value rather than an actual interrogation of the very serious issues of rape, intimate partner violence and political violence.

Here, Georgia Love speaks with Hilary Nicholson - a founding member of Women’s Media Watch-Jamaica (WMW) about representations of women in the media and creating gender-aware media in the Caribbean.  Hilary who has been Training Coordinator at WMW since 1998, was also one of the early members of Sistren Theatre CollectiveAs an actress and storyteller Hilary has used her unique style and energy to pioneer and build participatory learning techniques that utilize theatre-in-education for gender-awareness training in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

What motivated you to be part of the group of women that started WMW?

I was part of Sistren Theatre Collective at the time and we were working with a larger group of women to look at research findings that would help us understand what was happening to women in society. We had to form smaller sub groups to look at the research, and the group I was in had a very good discussion where we identified a gap in analysis around women and media. Our subgroup decided to meet again and it was the brainstorming and exciting discussions that I had with women like Fae Ellington, Elaine Wint, Jennifer Brownell and a couple of others that prompted me. Out of that group and those very good discussions we gradually became Women’s Media Watch.  So the women and media interest was there, because I had been working in film with Sistren and also did a couple films with the “Chris Blackwell outfit”. In a way the stars aligned with my film interest, my interest in women and the fact that I really liked what was happening and felt very comfortable with that group of women. 

How much of WMW’s work is focused on reducing violence against women?

The Women’s Media Watch - Jamaica is an organisation which is committed to reducing gender-based violence by promoting gender equity and gender-aware media and communications. WMW’s work includes training and professional development seminars, media literacy, conflict resolution workshops, research, public education and advocacy. 

I think the workshops, events and analysis that we share with women build self esteem and give a sense of empowerment which of course is a major step towards women being able to avoid gender based violence.

Identify two kinds of harm you think media causes women?

Sexual objectification is an obvious and prevalent one that results in a narrow understanding of what women are capable of and a devaluing of their overall contributions to society. Sexual objectification leaves women vulnerable to violence. Think about it, if someone is objectified, their humanity and autonomy don’t matter, anyone is free to exert power over them and any violation against them can be justified. That happens a lot in entertainment media. The other side is with news media, and the Global Media Monitoring Project provides data that shows us that women are seriously underrepresented in news and when they do show up it’s not in ways that illustrate the complexity of their lives. So yes, for example Portia Simpson-Miller, as the leader of a national political party, will get a certain kind and level of coverage but everyday women’s lives and experiences often end up being ghettoized in traditional news coverage. That ghettoization also extends to gender based violence that still doesn’t receive the thorough gender-aware journalistic treatment that it should. 

Describe an eye opening/powerful/memorable experience where you’ve seen media effectively used to advance women’s rights

Over the last 30 years I’ve come across radio/news programmes done by women’s groups in Africa that I’ve found amazing! Programmes produced by women, listened to widely and I’ve thought “we haven’t done anything like that in the Caribbean!” But there is still a lot that we’ve done, like some earlier commemoration events for victims of violence for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that incorporated dramatic elements that were covered by the media. Also, WMW’s “Real Men Don’t Abuse Women” sticker is small but has been very impactful and it makes people stop and think. It’s an alternative media product that has travelled widely around the Caribbean and way beyond.

Generally, with all the advances in media and communications technologies do you personally feel more empowered in your work or does it feel like more to learn, more to do, more to struggle against?

My feelings of empowerment don’t come from the technology. I’ve still got sooo much to learn! Rather, my feelings of empowerment come more from the wisdom of old age (LOL). I feel far more knowledgeable about the whole area of women and media, and I can see the reasons behind things more quickly, and can talk about them at the spur of the moment. But in terms of the new media landscape I feel very challenged and want to make more time to learn. I recognize that new media offers huge opportunities and I want to learn how to make better use of those opportunities.

What would you love to see more of in Caribbean media to help the push for gender equality?

We need to see far more gender analysis of all issues, the big topics, not just topics that are obviously gendered. Whether it is what IMF and IMF conditionalities mean, campaign financing, issues of employment and unemployment, the feminization of poverty and the feminization of HIV/AIDS. All these things need to be addressed more by “gender experts” and seen and heard more in media. 

The rise of social media has created increased opportunities for anyone to become involved in activism. For women who have suffered abuse in silence for fear of ridicule and threat to their safety, the internet is a place where they can tell their stories anonymously and help others understand what they are going through. 

Social media also allows diverse opinions to come to the fore and gives people the chance to interact and discuss issues in a way they may not otherwise be willing to engage. For anyone wanting to share their thoughts and find like-minded individuals with whom they can collaborate to create change, the internet, and social media in particular, has become a space for us to take our first steps at activism. For those who’ve been in the trenches for years working to raise awareness about violence against women, it helps us reach a newer, more diverse audience and allows our words to be shared many times over, all over the world. 

Here are two such Caribbean Activists who are taking advantage of the internet to try to create change and end violence against women.

Nailah John, a Canadian/ Vincentian has created the Stop the Violence in St. Vincent And the Grenadines Movement! as a result of the recent reports of increasing violence against women in the islands. She also started the Facebook Group Time to stand together against violence and crime in S.V.G to help organise action on the ground.

Stella Ramsaroop is a columnist with Stabroek News and long time advocate for women’s rights in Guyana. Her online ventures include S4 Foundation and GuyanaGroove as well as her facebook page Stellasays.

Special thanks to Samantha Campbell for nominating and interviewing Nailah John

Gary Acosta is a 24 year old spoken word poet from the republic of Trinidad & Tobago. Artistic expression and performance has always been a passion of this young Caribbean wordsmith. On November 20th, 2011, Gary along with his longtime musical collaborator Til Shiloh released their music video “Broken One” to help raise awareness about domestic violence and it’s devastating impact on women, children and families. The WomenSpeak Project spoke to Gary about his journey with “Broken One”.

What motivated you to embark on the Broken One project?

Til Shiloh mentioned to me that he had been working on a song called Broken One close to 3 years but just never could put the words to the music. When he told me the idea of the song it struck close to home for it was not only one week before when a close friend of my family was brutally murdered by her husband. 

Due to the fact that the case is currently before the courts it will be remiss of me to go into the details of the crime as I would not want to prejudice any decision, however, hearing her stories of domestic abuse was horrifying. Additionally, it was a wake-up call to me personally because I would have never guessed she was suffering through this. I decided then and there that I had to do my part in my own way in spreading awareness of Domestic Violence

How did the process of writing the song and making the video impact you?

Writing this song and producing this video was an emotional roller coaster. I submerged myself in all these stories that I would have read on the newspaper, internet and as well from one-on-one encounters with survivors. My idea behind the writing was to tell the story of my family friend as if she was experiencing it herself without being too literal and glorify the actual abuse.

The video was a tedious process from creating a screenplay - which Steven M. Taylor (Director) and Stephanie Matadeen (2nd Asst. Director) has to take a lot of credit for – to casting of the roles to actually shooting and editing.

While on set and having to recount these experiences internally is somewhat like putting myself into these women and men’s positions. At times to be honest I became extremely depressed and was unable to properly function during the day. That in itself gave me more motivation because if I could feel like this just thinking how they felt then what’s to say how it is in reality.

What has been the response to the video? What were your expectations and have they played out thus far?

The response to the video by the general public has been amazing, Within one day of releasing the video there were hundreds of people (literally) sharing it with their friends on facebook. Additionally we had excellent support through Rhonda Alfonso and Priya Ganness-Nanton working behind the scenes to get the message further.

Before the release, as early as August 2011 we approached various Government Ministries, Corporate entities and organizations that deal with issues such as Domestic Violence. To be frank we didn’t get any support from them which is why we are so thankful for the WomenSpeak Project for supporting us!

My expectations or my wishes for Broken One is that it can be used not only in Trinidad & Tobago but as well internationally as a tool to assist in the counseling of men, women and children who are either current victims or survivors of domestic abuse. Additionally, I hope that it can also be used as a tool to spread the awareness of the issue to a wider public.

The theme for the 2011 commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is ”Youth leadership in Preventing and Eliminating Violence Against Women. In what ways do you think young people, and young men in particular can demonstrate such leadership?

A simple act such as speaking out is showing the courage and leadership to take up the fight in the elimination of violence against women. There are several youth organizations which can lend in this cause, and as well can allow young men to show their leadership in the fight. 

We are sometimes brought up thinking that some are born leaders and some are born followers but to me it is not so. A simple thing as speaking out about domestic violence is pioneering. Being forthright and letting their friends, family etc know that they are definitely against the violence against women is a form of leadership that is rare in society. To me that is most important, first and foremost. 

Exercising Personal Leadership to Eliminate Violence Against Women

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. And not a moment too soon. All around the world today there will be marches, exhibitions, symposiums, all manner of important events to help bring about a better understanding of the ways in which Violence Against Women is perpetrated and the devastating effect it has on women.

Today also marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence which is an international human rights campaign to raise awareness and encourage action to help end violence against women. The 16 Days begin on November 25th and ends on December 10 – International Human Rights day, to emphasize the fact that #VAW is a human rights issue.

Women have a right to be free from violence; from abuse by their intimate partners, sexual violence, trafficking and murder. But women are not only subject to violence from individuals, they are often subject to violence from the media, the legislature and even the state. 

Over the next #16Days we will discuss these various types of violence and hear from extraordinary everyday folks who are doing what they can to help end gender-based violence.

What can YOU do?

YOU can exercise your own personal leadership in helping to change the pervasive cultural inertia around VAW issues and challenge the destructive messages and thinking which blames women for the violence perpetrated against them.  

For a start you can reblog and share our posts and participate in our discussions on twitter and facebook. Moreover, you can start your own conversations with friends and take the initiative to find out and share information about Crisis Hotlines, Services and legal recourse for women and men who have suffered gender-based violence.

We also hope that some of you will be inspired by the work of our activists and discover ways to use your special talents and abilities to contribute to making the Caribbean, and the world a safer, freer and more just place for women and girls.

Call for Activists Profiles:16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international human rights campaign which aims to raise awareness and stimulate action towards ending gender-based violence. 

16 Days commences on November 25th which is International Day Against Violence Against Women and ends on December 10 - International Human Rights Day. The campaign symbolically links these two dates to emphasise that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights.

WomenSpeak would like YOU to participate by helping highlight Caribbean persons who are doing innovative and important work to help address and eliminate Violence Against Women. 

We want to know more about everyday people throughout the Caribbean who are working in such areas as:

  • Support services for survivors of domestic violence, rape, trafficking in women and girls.
  • Rehabilitation for perpetrators of gender-based violence.
  • Education and awareness raising on issues pertaining to gender, conflict resolution, human rights.
  • Justice and policy formulation to address violence against women.
  • Policy and procedures to prevent violence against women by Police/Military.
  • Artist campaigns, film makers, drama groups, creative outreach activities.
  • Empowerment/education of women and girls. Empowerment/education of men and boys.

We also want you to use your creativity in telling these stories. We want you to show the activist; the work they do; help us get to know them on a personal level;learn about their motivations. Some ideas.

  • Photography Project
  • 5 Questions Interview
  • Video Interview (5 mins or less)
  • Short film (10 mins or less)

If you’ve identified someone whose work you believe deserves highlighting or you’d like to assist in doing a profile of someone we’ve identified please email me at womenspeakproject@gmail.com 

Deadline for expression of interest October 31st, 2011  November 4, 2011.