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Caribbean gender violence is a left-over from colonialism: Letters on domestic violence in T&T

“The Caribbean’s brand of gender-based violence is partly supported by the legacy of colonialism that manifests in race, age, gender and class relations.

“The power construct of the plantation system included the ownership of bodies that transferred into the post-emancipation/post-indentureship entitlement of men and masculinities in domestic and social relationships.”

The following letter, written by Amanda McIntyre, is the second in a series of missives from the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which is meant to raise awareness about the problem of violence against women and girls in Trinidad and Tobago:

Photo: A female victim of domestic abuse.

Longdenville is a settlement in central Trinidad with an uneven distribution of agrarian, commercial and domestic activities, held together by a major road that branches into modest neighbourhoods.

When I was there in August 2018 a man came bolting down the street announcing that his wife was “horning” him. “Horning”, the present continuous tense of “to horn” in Creole English usage, suggests infidelity. A bystander called out to him asking, “Yuh want a drink or a firearm?”

I told several people about this later in the day including Gillian Goddard, one of the directors of the Alliance of Rural Communities with which I am closely affiliated.

The same community was thrust into national attention two months later when a pastor stabbed his wife to death in front of her ten-year-old grand-daughter.

I was asked if I feel unsafe as an activist working in Trinidad and Tobago. I responded, “Not as an activist, but as a woman.”

Sadly, my concern is not uncommon. The whole country is affected by the phenomenon of gender-based violence. Violence is a critical aspect of the systemic misogyny that privileges men and masculinities, with each region contributing nuances to the phenomenon.

Photo: St Francis RC primary school teacher Margaret Guevara was shot dead on 27 February 2018. She was 42.
  • We are inundated with signifiers of the normalisation of gender-based violence:
  • Calypsonians and soca artistes endorse it in their lyrical content.
  • The media sensationalise it with language that refers passively to perpetrators.
  • Politicians galvanise it by suggesting the complicity of survivors.
  • In almost all instances the victims of street harassment are women.
  • The cases that came to national attention of sexual harassment in the workplace involved allegations of predation and assault made against very powerful men.
  • The near-complete silence of the entertainment industry in Trinidad and Tobago even as the misdeeds of Hollywood executives were laid bare in the #MeToo movement.
  • The treatment of specified groups of migrant women and refugees that vacillates between invisibility and hypersexualisation.
  • The insufficient provisions for homeless women and children.
  • The underreported cases of intimate partner violence in the LGBT+ community.
  • The violence against transgender persons, that may not necessarily be related to sexuality but is indisputably gendered.
  • The underreported gender-based violence that occurs in rural communities.
  • The treatment of women in prisons.
  • The abuse of children in homes, orphanages, foster care.
  • The extensive list of missing women and children.

Only in 2017 the Marriage Acts were amended to outlaw child marriage, a phenomenon that categorically disadvantaged girls.

Photo: Actor Jamie Foxx in the movie Django Unchained.

The Caribbean’s brand of gender-based violence is partly supported by the legacy of colonialism that manifests in race, age, gender and class relations. The power construct of the plantation system included the ownership of bodies that transferred into the post-emancipation/post-indentureship entitlement of men and masculinities in domestic and social relationships.

The ways in which the privileges associated with men and masculinities are perceived, expressed, challenged and reclaimed are accepted as inextricable to Caribbean cultural identification.

This is evidenced in gendered violence and sanctioned in codified ways that establish unsafe environments for women and children.

Fortunately, masculinities and other gender constructs can be dismantled. Culture is the repository of gender-based violence and culture can change. This requires honest confrontation with the facts of the phenomenon, honest confrontation with each other in negotiating ways forward and honest confrontation with self about how much we are individually damaged by this immersion in a culture of violence.

This requires the utilisation of careful standards in approaches to survivors, the rehabilitation of perpetrators, communal rehabilitation towards changing the norms and values that support this violence, and insistence on the responsibility of the state in its eradication.

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3 comments

  1. I have never met a reformed abuser. I hold out no hope for men that already abuse women. Perhaps these notes will cause a potential abuser to reflect, but for the hitters, gas-lighters, shouters, mind-benders,, will-breakers, economic bullies, manipulators, and killers, I have no hope.

  2. Nail meet head! Amanda McIntyre is right on the money!

  3. “The Caribbean’s brand of gender-based violence is partly supported by the legacy of colonialism that manifests in race, age, gender and class relations. The power construct of the plantation system included the ownership of bodies that transferred into the post-emancipation/post-indentureship entitlement of men and masculinities in domestic and social relationships.”

    I think too that it needs to be stated that many of us came from Central and West African cultures in which it was unthinkable — and often fatal — for a man to lift his hand against a woman. So we need to look at how a lot of the violence today stems not just from the normalisation of violence which has been internalised, but the attempts by many African men to recapture a sense of masculinity in the face of a cultural and structural “effeminising”

    Excellent piece Amanda