How can our women become more careful when they do not know whether or not an approaching man would rape or kill her? She, by just being in the public, is at risk. Take for example, Juliet Tam, who in 1985, left her Arima home to exercise and just disappeared.
Do we remember Minerva Gaskin, 67 years old, last seen at the Licensing Office in 2009 but never seen again? Or Shannon Banfield, who in 2016, was murdered while shopping after work?
What should we say about 16 years old Rachel Ramkissoon, of Talparo, who rushed out to school in January 2017, got into a car only for her body to be found later in nearby bushes?
In August 2017, Leslie Ann Gonzales was killed while walking home from work. These women were going about life in public spaces, as they should be entitled to. They were not victims of spousal abuse neither did they die at their workplace.
For too long, as long as you are a woman you are a prey if you are alone in public. Why is this acceptable?
There are several uncontrollable risks for the individual woman: the brutish heart of man, the width of pavements as well as the availability of proper street lighting and public transport. A woman does not take a PH taxi because she ‘looking for dat’, the sad reality is that through the active or tacit encouragement of some government officials, she is put at risk.
Safety is more than just physical safety, it is the feeling of being safe—the ability to use our streets and parks, access to go to work and to the marketplaces without a sense of anxiety. Women should feel they have an equal right as men to be in the public.
Yet, the responsibility for avoiding danger rests with the woman. When she is attacked, the cry would be ‘she should have known better’. We look for clues as to why the perpetrator picked on her.
What was she wearing? Who she was going to meet? Her respectability and rights are fluid and conditional.
To avoid that, the woman must put on her ‘beast face’ and walk as quickly as is possible, or be able to call a friend who would answer at a moment’s notice when she is in public spaces. When will it be about the man’s responsibility?
We seldom chastise the men who make unwanted remarks that they consider flattering or flirtatious. But that action is not trivial, it is simply one end of a continuum that could end in rape or death.
The woman does not know which encounter will turn sour. But we want her to disregard her feelings of frustration about the constant heckling and yet expect her to fight off the would-be rapist.
How does she make that split second judgment when she is socialised to be nice to the men who offer platitudes that can turn to insults? How does she distinguish the ‘could-have-been-accidental’ nudges in public venues from sick behaviour?
It is time for us, as men, to own up to our responsibility to behave properly. We need to relearn and redefine masculinity.