Reaching across the divide: examining a culture of violence to women 

Another woman is killed. Flung to the top of a mountain of murdered women so high her gold bikini lights up the sky. Broken body upon broken body, raining red waterfalls upon us.

Photo: Late Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya. (Courtesy I95.5FM)
Photo: Late Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya.
(Courtesy I95.5FM)

Down the streets, across the land, inside our homes and into our lives. Violence unrelenting, pain unrelieved, fear unassuaged.

Asami, strangled in the Savannah. Marcia, stabbed and burnt in her bed. Pixie, raped and strangled with her school belt. Baby Amy, raped to death at home. Shanese, gunned down in Mt St George. Candace and Karen, raped and stabbed in front their children. Keyana, 6, raped, battered and stuffed in a barrel. Grandmother Norma, raped and beaten at home after church. Shakuntala, raped and strangled, her nude body striped green among the stalks of the canefield.

Names unforgettable, rolling off the fingertips of easy recall. But still, only the tip of murder’s all-girl roll-call.

It wasn’t the clothes they wore, or the way they walked, or how they talked. They were not easy women, just easy prey to brutish strength intent on having its way.

In this society configured by force, murder is merely the jagged outgrowth of a bedrock of violence so ingrained that we know it as culture, accept it as life and extoll it as uniquely ours.

Photo: Late journalist and television host, Marcia Henville. (Courtesy Youth Blogsgy)
Photo: Late journalist and television host, Marcia Henville.
(Copyright Mark Lyndersay)

It is in the violence against children that we celebrate as disciplined parenting, in the callous treatment of the poor and powerless in hospitals, jails and across service counters, and in the enduring view of women as property to be owned, controlled and policed.

The culture underpinning our relations with each other is imbedded in our language. It conditions our attitudes, informs our judgment and, when required, emerges in action.

Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee’s statement galvanised our outrage because of its obvious crassness and prominence under the glare of media from the high seat of his office. But we cannot be so naïve as to believe that the view is not widespread among both men and women.

Just consider the Prime Minister’s equivocation as he danced between the politically correct thing to say and the political implications of being asked to deliver a PNM mayor’s head.

Note, too, the silence of Ayanna Webster-Roy, minister with responsibility for Gender Affairs in the PM’s office. Not even the media seems to have considered a comment from her.

Photo: Protests against Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee outside Trinidad and Tobago's consulate in London. (Courtesy Facebook)
Photo: Protests against Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee in Woodford Square.
(Courtesy Facebook)

So, yes, while Mayor Tim Kee’s comments constitute a clear-cut case of blame-the-victim, let’s also understand that the culture accepts that it is perfectly valid to blame the victim.

Indeed, an entire government once counted on this culture in demonising an Opposition leader as the child of a rape victim. This culture is also what keeps us blind to police brutality in high-crime communities and encourages us to empower abusers.

See what you make me do?’ is a common refrain of both men who beat women and parents, including mothers, who beat children “out of love.”

In announcing his resignation, Tim Kee offered an unreserved apology. But it would be surprising if he wasn’t still genuinely mystified about why he has had to go.

It might also surprise us how many agreed with his views and how the values we believe we hold in common might not be. This is the yawning gap in understanding that leaves room enough for misunderstanding, division and, yes, mischief.

Photo: Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (second from left) and councillor Farai Hove Masaisai. (Courtesy Facebook)
Photo: Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (second from left) and councillor Farai Hove Masaisai.
(Courtesy Facebook)

We need tools to negotiate this space, to reach across to the other, to share experiences and build understanding. On social media this weekend, some women have put personal stories that all of us, but especially men need to listen to.

If she holds your eyes with hers and speaks straight to your ear, will you listen?

If this controversy has taught us anything it is that when it comes to gender issues we do not stand on even one acre of common ground.

Our beliefs are deeply individualistic and at great odds with the public face we wear. Only our willingness to listen stands a chance of starting the conversation that’s needed.

As the controversy over the Mayor’s comment evolved over the past couple of days, it developed a very interesting dynamic related to class and colour.

Photo: Late Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya. (Courtesy Andrea De Silva)
Photo: Late Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya.
(Courtesy Andrea De Silva)

For us in the media, it raises a question: If the victim was a J’ouvert masquerader heading home to Laventille, would her death have merited a question to the Mayor?

And if it did, and if mayor Tim Kee had responded true to form, would we have been motivated to rally on her behalf?

We would all like to think we would, wouldn’t we?

As citizens of a modern world we assume that we stand on the side of enlightened thought, that we have nothing in common with the barbarism that, say, would shoot a girl to stop her from becoming educated. But even the celebrated Malala Yousafzai became the object of derision among her people who blamed her and her parents for knowingly risking Taliban wrath.

Do we not see that this is what we are doing to our women when we place the onus on them to keep themselves safe from predators? Which woman does not already know this?

Photo: Rape check list... (Courtesy The Logical Indian)
Photo: Rape check list…
(Courtesy The Logical Indian)

We walk with this knowledge like a second skin, alerted from early, too early, to the risk that comes with being female.

So, don’t tell us what we already know. Tell us what you—the police and the government—are doing to make our land safe for us.

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About Sunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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  1. The problem is deep seated and all concerned seemed unable too. or even begin to tackle the issues.

  2. The tragedy is that a woman has been murdered under tragic circumstances and that has been forgotten in the hype about what one man has said about how women behave at Carnival. What about the demands and outrage to find the person who violated the woman?

  3. When the people starts to misbehave, and carry on, I hope all those who are lyinching the Mayor now, will come forward and put themselves in the mix to be lynched as well. So much has happened before this new Era, some of those same persons who were in the Square were SILENT until now we are faced with corruption in high places to be dealt with, lies, immorality and all the sins of the flesh, just because a smart reporter asked him various quests, and he answered without pausing, its was a trick, its two separate issues, they want his head! why didnt you all get people heads before? I will stick to my stance, he should have apologised in AN EMPHATIC way, but to link the statements and call for his resignation is damn hypocrisy, pushing it too far, because what he said was SOUND, since many citizens DO NOT partake in the sex orgy that takes place for carnival in the past couple yrs. The lady;s wear, or how she behave or not was NOT the issue, it was a general statement for All women to watch out for their security with perverts out there, by their behaviour and attire, it was not linked to her death. More emphasis is being paid on the Mayor than the killer who has yet to be caught, who may very well be someone she KNEW.

  4. Great article. I hope one day we could read stories like this in our daily papers. I think that this type of opinion is lacking in our society with well written stories like this is a great start to get a positive message across of which our people is lacking. Once again wired868 great work and nuff respect

    • Sunity still writes her column for the daily papers, so this piece did appear in the Trinidad Express. The problem is such articles are now hidden behind a paywall.
      Sunity Maharaj, Martin Daly SC and Raffique Shah have all agreed to share their work with the online audience through Wired868. And we are very grateful to them for that because we are always proud to provide “brain food” for our readers!
      Thanks for your comment and thanks again for being an excellent ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago in the field of sport. 😉

  5. And yet not a word against Sat Maraj who openly and directly stated far worst than Tim Kee.

    Institutionalized Racism in full motion. Sat Maraj and the openly Sexist organization he heads was given Millions of money by governments. Why not protest that they never received more or return the money? Easy. Because the messenger and the message is palatable and agreeable to many against human beings that look like the Mayor.

  6. Trinidad is not unique in incidents of violence against women. There is a war of violence being perpetrated on women and children worldwide.

    This situation is reaching epidemic proportions.

    Take for example one of the most developed and richest nations in Europe: Germany (see below article)

    People should understand what is really happening here.

    The exquisite sound of Cologne’s cathedral choir drifted out into the cool night air of the city’s main square on Wednesday evening. A Holy mass, celebrating the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus’s cribside, was packed with worshippers marking the 12th day of Christmas in this fiercely Christian part of Germany.

    As the service ended and families poured out onto the pavement, an 18-year-old German girl called Michelle stood under bright arc lights nearby giving an interview to a television crew.

    She and a group of friends had been sexually attacked in the same cathedral square by gangs of marauding men a few days before, on New Year’s Eve. The girls were chased, cornered and intimately groped before their mobiles and wallets were stolen.

    Read more:
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

  7. This debate has awoken a sleeping populace. Have you ever heard one woman say to another “if she was doing she homework he wouldn’t ah horn she?” Or, one man, in conversation with another “if he hit she is because she do im someting. She must ah horn im.” Is it too general to say “all ah we guilty?”

  8. This is missing a somewhat provocative line from the original text. I think it somewhat lessons the shock value of this important commentary.

  9. If I had just happened upon this issue this article wouldn’t have told me why he had to go at all. Why is that? Couldn’t Ms Maharaj have devoted a sentence or two to what he said and why it was so clear cut offensive?

  10. And yet still there is no need for a Gender Affairs Ministry according to the government. No, let’s bury gender issues (all of them) in the work of other ministries because we always bury what is important in something else. We never give what is truly important its own space.

  11. Was it said she was a victim of Rape? She was killed somehow, we DONT know why and for what reason by WHOM! whey allyuh going? some doth protest TOO much, we have to look at the protestors a little closer, who knows the killer maybe amongst thee! causing a distraction. Lol! Its a matter of waiting on a complete police report and finding the killer, TWO separate issues, with no linkeage. smh! sad for so. Maybe something good will come out of this drama.

  12. ‘So, yes, while Mayor Tim Kee’s comments constitute a clear-cut case of blame-the-victim, let’s also understand that the culture accepts that it is perfectly valid to blame the victim.’….it is ingrained in TT culture to blame people when they have been victimised, the default is never compassion and understanding, Sunity is on the ball as usual ….

  13. This country needs a memorial to the thousands of victims of unsolved murders you know?
    Like the Vietnam war memorial!

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