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PM’s comment on domestic abuse is not the whole story; and therein lies the danger!

“Women choosing bad partners is not the whole story of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence is not the whole story, either, of violence against women.

“Girls and women do also get raped and killed by complete strangers. Just getting into a taxi can bring this upon us. Not all female victims of violence choose their killer or rapist.”

The following response to the issue of domestic violence, raised recently by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, is a joint statement from Workingwomen (Women Working for Social Progress) and WINAD (Women’s Institute for Alternative Development):

Photo: A woman cowers in the face of her assailant in the depiction of a domestic abuse incident.
Photo: A woman cowers in the face of her assailant in the depiction of a domestic abuse incident.

Of course women and men have to choose their partners with care. Of course Dr Rowley spoke the truth when he made that comment—in Maloney, on 6 February 2017. But one cannot imagine that the Prime Minister believes this to be the whole truth about violence against women.

Unfortunately, the off-the-cuff comment has diverted attention away from the larger picture, and therein lies the danger.

In rushing to the defence of the PM, people are seeking to reduce the whole public discussion to that one fragment of the truth. They are rejecting the more holistic responses of women’s organisations that have applied deeper thinking and research to the problem.

Reducing the problem to our choice of partners is like saying, as a response to children underperforming in school, “Children need to make an effort to get to school on time.”

Of course they do; but not all underperforming students are habitual latecomers. There are many other reasons for low performance in school: undiagnosed conditions such as poor sight or hearing, malnutrition, and dyslexia; family violence; ignorance and neglect of the needs of children; insufficient training of teachers in remedial methods; inappropriate curricula…

Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Women choosing bad partners is not the whole story of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence is not the whole story, either, of violence against women.

Girls and women do also get raped and killed by complete strangers. Just getting into a taxi can bring this upon us. Not all female victims of violence choose their killer or rapist.

Those commentators who are blocking out all the other deep-seated causes of violence against women are doing women and the whole society a disservice. Those causes need to be also identified and addressed.

We welcome ongoing conversations between the political directorate and citizens as part of the structure of governance, and fruitful discussions of social problems can take place in such fora. However, such discussion requires smaller, more manageable gatherings, and professional input on the topic in focus.

If the diagnosis of a problem is not well-informed and thorough, the solution will fall short.

Photo: Shannon Banfield was killed in December 2016 and discovered at IAM and Company in Port of Spain.
Photo: Shannon Banfield was killed in December 2016 and discovered at IAM and Company in Port of Spain.

About Working Women

Working Women
Women Working for Social Progress is a 30-year old organisation based in Tunapuna, which was co-founded by activist Merle Hodge. The “Working Women” group does advocacy work on behalf women and children and led the way in discussions like anti-corporal punishment or “parenting for peace.”

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4 comments

  1. Now, I believe the original question related specifically to women in relation to domestic violence. And we acknowledge that women can inflict violence on their partners too. I just read a story about someone in a gay relationship, and I know of another situation in which the partner was violent. So we need to be sensitive to the realities of the day. The PM is living in an inclusive society, so we have to address holistic solutions.
    What I do not understand and nobody has commented on so far, is while we can argue the ‘advice’ is sound, the added statement takes it into the realm of picong, which is totally insensitive given the topic, a day after a gruesome murder.

    • Earl Best

      And, Nerisha, what you might usefully point out is that the live audience’s immediate reaction was laughter and then lusty, amused applause.

      Picong, you say. Couldn’t think of a more accurate work.

      But what this piece is trying to do is put the focus where it belongs, on the real problem of violence against women and not on a silly unresponsible statement made by a lazy Prime Minister who continues to demonstrate that he has spent little if not none of his time in the lead-up to his occupation of the top dog spot seriously preparing himself for the day when it would come.

  2. Yes indeed, women get abducted, raped and killed by complete strangers. But what is worrisome about the PM’s statement putting the onus on women to “choose their partners wisely” is that in so many cases of domestic abuse the woman DID choose wisely (to the best of her knowledge). She background checked, she made sure he was well vetted by her family and friends. She did not see any glaring signs of abusive behavior.

    I know of cases of domestic abuse involving men who are considered the epitome of respectability and are well loved and well regarded by everyone outside their home. They have everyone fooled, her parents, her friends, etc. If someone is a cunning, manipulative sociopath or psychopath, most people, even intelligent people do not detect it early on.

    It is in fact self-blame and “How could this happen to ME?! I did EVERYTHING I was supposed to.” and shame that makes many women hide their situation.