Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stop giving the “doomsayers” so much to write about

 (Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 29 December 2010)

There is something so vital about living a life of freedom that causes humans to be willing to readily lay down their lives to ensure liberty for their posterity. Wicked governments have – for thousands of years – tried to quash the liberty of the people, and for just as long there have been those who have fought with their dying breath to preserve it.

I watched closely to see the response of the people when Freddie Kissoon and Mark Benschop were arrested and held for days for a mere traffic violation. That major blunder by the powers-that-be did exactly what I thought it would do; it stirred the fire inside the people. Regardless of what they think of Kissoon and Benschop, people know a wrong when they see it.

I do not know where I heard this phrase, probably a movie, but it has stuck with me because it is how I truly feel about liberty. “If you kill me, a thousand more will rise to take my place!” I saw that very sentiment stirring inside the Guyanese people when Freddie and Mark were unjustly incarcerated. I saw people who would normally go about their lives without giving thought to the government and its actions, stirred to the point of being vocal.

This is heartening. It means that the fire that burns inside us all to preserve liberty and justice is still very much alive. ‘Tis true, the people seem more than content to allow Freddie and Mark to fight this battle alone most of the time, but it was more than obvious to me that when it seemed the freedom of these two men was in jeopardy, the people were ready to shake their apathy for the sake of preserving justice and liberty.

Personally speaking, I would fight with every ounce of strength against any power that would threaten my liberty. No government, no power, no man has the right to unjustly revoke a person’s liberty. The fact that this could be done as a political vendetta or at the mere whim of someone with power to make an example of those who take a stand for the good of the people – this is what causes those with an upright conscience to break their silence.

There is yet another case of unjust detainment. Well-known actor and comedian, Lyndon ‘Jumbie’ Jones, was detained in what is now being called a case of mistaken identity. What an intellectual insult. Do they really think anyone believes these lies? ‘Jumbie’ is on television several times a week – people know what he looks like. This is a case that could and should have been wrapped up in a matter of minutes. But he was held over the entire holiday weekend. This disgusts me.

I have generally kept quiet lately on matters concerning government indiscretions because Freddie pretty well has this area covered and I have other issues on which I want to write (domestic violence, women’s issues, etc). But when the liberty of others is on the line, I cannot help but take a firm stand against the injustice.

Lest we forget, Freddie is a journalist. If what has happened to Freddie in the last year had taken place in the U.S. to a journalist, there would be an uprising the likes of which this planet has never seen before. This would be the same across the entire world in regards to any democratic government.
Mark my words, unless the people stand up to the government when it jails Freddie and Mark for protesting a dumpsite that is an environmental disaster, the people will be the next ones jailed for murmuring dissent. This injustice from the powers-that-be cannot be tolerated. Apathy is not Guyana’s friend.

At the same time, I am most confident that the government is making a huge blunder for which it will pay dearly. It is making a martyr out of Freddie. The more they continue their attacks against him, the more the people run to his side in support. Again, it matters not what these people think of Freddie himself, it matters only that Freddie is able to freely function in his role as a journalist and a citizen. Freedom matters. Justice matters.

If Freddie disappears, there will be many, many more who will rise to take his place. This is what the government does not realise. The people understand there is a price that comes with freedom and are willing to pay that price – just like Freddie. In the musical version of Les Miserables, in the final speech Enjolras (a devout believer in democratic freedom) gives to the students before they make their last stand at the barricade and die, he said, “Let others rise to take our place, until the Earth is free!”

There seems to be a strong undercurrent of discontent lately from the ruling party’s constituents. Not all is well in paradise. This disgruntlement, combined with the government’s flagrant disregard for freedom and justice, could spell a major political shake-up in the coming months. There have been too many major mistakes lately – like arresting Freddie and Mark for protesting and holding them unjustly for days.

In all honesty, the fact that they were arrested seems like a knee-jerk, childish response by the government. A temper tantrum perhaps? It was certainly not a well thought-out plan for the betterment of the nation or a strategic public relations stunt for the party. The entire deed blew up in their face and it unleashed a stirring in the people to fight for freedom.

For those in the government who think they can smother freedom and justice, understand me now – you cannot. Instead, you bring your party in peril by being ignorant of human history. The people will fight for their freedom and for justice. My advice is that for the New Year, you should focus on the job you are supposed to be doing and stop giving the “doomsayers” so much to write about.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace on earth and goodwill to Women

 (Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 25 December 2010)

What would the world be like today if it were three wise women who travelled with gifts to the see the king of the Jews in the Christmas story? What if the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night were women and they were the ones who got to hear the angels announce the birth? What if it were a little drummer girl who played for the baby Jesus? What if a woman ruled the Roman world instead of Caesar Augustus?

At Christmas, why does everyone only make gingerbread men? If it were Grandpa who got ran over by a reindeer, would the song still be so funny? Why not build a Frosty the snow-woman? What if it were daddy who the kids saw kissing Santa Claus? And speaking of Santa, imagine how much more fun Christmas would be for little girls if there were a female version of Santa, too.

The good news is that, although traditional thought does not recognise it, all of Santa’s reindeer – Rudolf, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen – are female. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “While both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.” Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen … had to be a female.

Finally! We get to hear about some females during the holiday season (although I think many would still assume Santa’s reindeer are males). I think you get my point, though. Women are left out of all the traditional stories surrounding this celebration time of the year. This is just one celebration connected to one religion in our very big world, but it is a good example of how women have long been omitted from most historical accounts and traditional folklore.

The sole woman in the biblical account of the Christmas story is Mary, the mother of the baby Jesus. I am pretty sure the only reason Mary was included is because a woman was needed to give birth. However, think of how much better the miracle would have been if a man had given birth instead of a virgin. Just saying.

Moreover, if a woman was queen of Judea, instead of Herod being the king, I would bet my bottom dollar there would have been no order to kill all the little boys who were two years and younger so no baby king could rise to take the throne. My reasoning on this matter is similar to the reason I believe that if a woman were president of the US when George Bush went to war, there would have been no war – women seem to value the life of children more.

Therefore, I have decided to write my own holiday story that is all about women. Now don’t be mad, guys! You have plenty of stories, songs and prose about you. It is time for the women have some fun this Christmas. When you are reading my poem, please think of the classic poem by Clemens Moore, “Twas the night before Christmas.”

Twas the week before the New Year and all through the nation
Women were contemplating and pondering their station
What one does with one’s life is, after all, a great matter
So, best friends were consulted and thus began the chatter

One bright Girlfriend made it clear, girl don’t you marry for money
Yep, said another, as we all know, easy come easy go, honey
You gotta make your own way and be your own lady
‘Cause what happens if Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Shady?

Don’t chase rude boys, said Bestie, they are nothing but trouble
If you think they are cute, you’d best change your mind on the double
Girlfriend said, hey, don’t forget to get yourself an education
That’s right said Sis, we know life ain’t no free vacation

Headaches and heartaches can be avoided when a girl thinks right
Don’t ditch girlfriends for a passing guy, keep your girls tight
A question is posed, but what if I find a guy who seems to care
Great answer Sis, you found someone with whom life you can share

But, said Bestie, you don’t give up your life to please someone else
If he truly loves you for you, he will want you to be yourself
He won’t ask you to give up your family, your career or your friends
He would never scare you, beat you and leave you to mend

Girlfriend said, my Christmas wish is that in the New Year
No women are physically or mentally tormented and living in fear
All the girlfriends piped in, yep, that is my Christmas wish too
As they gazed at the fairy lights, the feeling of love was strong and true

In her red dress, Santa stopped by to see the girls and drop off their gifts
Sis picked up a snow globe of Frostie the snow-woman – it gave her a lift
As did the smell of baking gingerbread women that wafted through air
The girlfriends gave a group hug; grateful for the friendship they shared

These were three very wise women; of that there was no doubt
These ladies know just who they are and what life is all about
The table was set, the candles aglow, food aplenty with all the trimmings
The girls joined hands and declared, peace on earth and goodwill toward women.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ugly is as ugly does

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 22 December 2010)

While my oldest daughter, who is stunningly beautiful, was growing up, I always reminded her that no matter how beautiful she is on the outside, if she is ugly on the inside…then she is just plain ugly. Today she is a beautiful woman – on the outside and the inside. My hope is to convey this same message to the girls growing up today.

Young women growing up today spend so much time fretting about their hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, etc. They primp incessantly; yet I wonder if they spend any time at all grooming their manners, their kindness or their generosity. Being rude seems en vogue lately – and I think it is just ugly.

With rude role models in the media and in real life, it seems a natural evolution for young women to follow the examples set for them. I have seen some young women who are very beautiful on the outside, but their dominant behaviour is malicious and spiteful. It is a very ugly thing to watch.

Even worse, these women justify their mean and nasty actions by saying they are just “keeping it real.” Absolute nonsense! Disregard for the feelings of others is not keeping it real – it is keeping everything about one self-absorbed person. When that ugly girl needs to have others who are honestly real around for support, she will find herself all alone.

Let’s face it, ugly is as ugly does. Webster’s Dictionary defines ugly as “offensive or unpleasant to any sense.” I find mean, self-centred, obnoxious, malicious and spiteful girls to be very ugly. In fact, I do not waste my time around such young women or grown women. I have better things to do with my time than to squander it on people who do not give a second thought about hurting others.

On December 19, The Huffington Post published an article entitled, “Narcissism: The New Normal?” This piece talks about the fact that narcissism “has become so much a part of our culture, particularly our parenting, that narcissistic traits are considered normal — so much so that if we don’t have a reality show named after us, we use our own phones or video up-links to transmit our private lives to anyone from Alaska to Antarctica who will watch.”

As a society, are we raising our children – both boys and girls – to be narcissists? Are we actually training the next generation to be ugly? The laissez-faire attitude of adults toward ugly behaviour from young people is a perfect example that this is the case. Being rude and mean is not cute or cool – it is ugly. And no amount of physically attractive features can make a person who is ugly on the inside an appealing person to be around.

The aforementioned article continued, “People — particularly parents — often confuse true authority with meanness of spirit. They are not the same thing. In fact, a parent who has no authority, who cedes his position to his child, has done that child a great disservice. Authority is benevolent, even though it demands respect. It is loving, even though it will not accept bad behaviour. It is structured, which is not the same as strict and certainly does not mean fearsome…And, finally, benevolent authority is critical if we’re going to have anything but a generation of unabashedly self-centered, entitled children who believe the whole world revolves around their desires.”

How much time do young women today spend helping others? How much time do they spend with an elderly relative who cannot leave the house? How much volunteer time is committed to help orphans, the homeless or the poor? Is there any time for the disabled neighbour who needs groceries from the store? Are these activities even important anymore? Or do we only teach our young women to think about themselves all the time?

Raising young women to be grounded and well-rounded adults who give back to the community requires parents to teach them to realise the importance of their internal beauty. Regardless of the fact that society heedlessly rewards women for being beautiful on the outside (i.e. beauty pageants), the internal beauty of a woman is far more important to the woman herself – and to society as a whole.

A woman who is ugly on the inside will one day have a harsh awakening when she realises the world does not, in fact, revolve around her. She will have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and she will feel lonely because her ugly ways have alienated even those who truly care about her.

In the community, the woman who is beautiful on the outside will get stares, catcalls and the attention of the males, but unless she contributes to the community with more than her physical appeal, what service does that woman provide for humanity? What good has she done to make the world a better place? What legacy of significance has she left for the next generation?

Women have so much more to offer the world than just external beauty. Women have brilliant minds, creative spirits, political prowess, spiritual intuition, business expertise and commanding leadership skills. These are the far more vital features for which women should be rewarded – not something as shallow and trivial as outward beauty.

A woman’s outward beauty is a biological endowment. The woman has no control over what society deems beautiful on the outside or whether she was born to be beautiful. However, the parents and the young woman craft the internal beauty. The older the girl gets, the more responsibility she assumes for her internal beauty. A woman who has moulded herself to be beautiful on the inside should garner far more admiration from society than one who happened to be born with outward beauty.

While the television, pop stars, magazines, commercials and billboards tell our daughters that outside beauty is important, we need to make sure they understand their internal beauty is even more important.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Maternal mortality is a human rights issue

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 19 December 2010)

For the brief few weeks I recently focused my column on addressing domestic violence, women have been dying in stunning numbers from something totally unrelated to domestic violence – they have been dying while giving birth. It seems that during the past few months, woman after woman has died in childbirth. This is yet one more demonstration of how little society values women’s lives.

According to the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights (IIMMHR), “Over 500,000 women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. These tragic and preventable deaths are the culmination of human rights violations against women and girls in many aspects of their lives and at all levels of health decision-making. Ending these human rights violations is essential for preventing maternal death.”

Regardless of the results of the probe launched by the government to look into these recent deaths, there is one question that plagues my mind. Why has it taken so long for any action to be taken at all? These maternal deaths are nothing new; I wrote a column on this very topic in April 2006 as it was a problem at that time, as well.

In that column I referred to the fact that my husband’s grandmother died in childbirth over 60 years ago…from the same type of neglect and mishandling. Again, one cannot help but question why. Why are so many women dying while giving birth or shortly thereafter?

When I recently posted yet another story about a maternal death on my Facebook page, one woman’s response was, “Unbelievable! Can we rule out some sort of deliberate activity??? This is highly unusual. It’s 2010 for goodness sakes!!!”

This feeling of utter exasperation is exactly how any woman feels concerning the high number of maternal deaths.

I have had women tell me that if men were the ones giving birth, this situation would not exist. It is difficult to fight with such logic when even finding a cure for balding hair seems to take medical preference over putting an end to maternal mortality. The situation in Guyana is nothing less than a travesty that only now – after several maternal deaths in a short amount of time – an investigation has been launched to answer our questions of why. This problem of preventable maternal deaths has been around for years and a probe conducted years ago could have saved the lives of so many women.

It is time for us to recognize preventable maternal mortality for the massive human rights problem that it is. IIMMHR states, “Failure to provide available, accessible, acceptable and quality health care, including emergency obstetric care, for women during pregnancy and childbirth is a violation of women’s rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination.

Respect and protection of women’s rights to information and decision-making in reproductive health, to freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence, and to participation in planning and implementing health policies are critical for making pregnancy and delivery safer for women.”

The April 16, 2010 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights said, “According to WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and other stakeholders, the majority of maternal deaths and disabilities could be prevented through access to sufficient care during pregnancy and delivery and effective interventions. This affirmation is supported by the observation that in some countries maternal mortality has been virtually eliminated. Only 15 per cent of pregnancies and childbirths need emergency obstetric care because of complications that are difficult to predict. WHO estimates that 88 to 98 per cent of maternal deaths are preventable.”

I would be numbered in that small percentage who required medical intervention while having my first child. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my daughter’s neck and even after ten hours of induced labour, I would not dilate. The child was safely delivered via caesarean section and both she and I lived. A hundred years ago, in all likelihood, we would have both died. In today’s modern world, it is a given that every woman deserves a right to a healthy delivery.

What is to be done? What can fix a system that is plagued by neglect and incompetence?

According to IIMMHR, “An effective response requires that we look beyond the delivery of quality health services and embrace the language and norms of human rights. A human rights approach to reducing maternal mortality is a powerful tool for several reasons: 1) It ensures that we can hold governments and others to account for their policies, programs, projects and pledges to reduce maternal mortality; 2) It empowers people to advocate for rights related to maternal health; 3) It offers civil society a means by which to engage in a constructive dialogue with governments around their responsibility to ensure safe pregnancy and childbirth; and 4) It places women’s equality and well-being at the center of governmental responses to reproductive rights and health issues. A human rights approach to maternal health plays a critical role in legitimizing, promoting and enforcing norms, policies and programs that seek to reduce maternal mortality.”

It is heartbreaking when the hopes and dreams of expectant parents are dashed into pieces when the mother – and possibly the child – dies during delivery when it could have been prevented. More to the point, it is a moral wrong and the inaction of the government to fix this situation years ago is simply indefensible.

In closing, some final words from IIMMHR, “Experience in various countries over the past decades has demonstrated that maternal mortality can be reduced significantly and sustainable when it becomes a political priority.

Even though dying of an easily preventable cause is a human rights violation—as much as extrajudicial executions, torture, and arbitrary detentions are—the connection between maternal mortality and human rights has not been widely recognized. The time is ripe for an effort that confronts this unacceptable situation.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Selling low self-esteem to women

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 December 2010)

There are a million reasons for women to feel bad about themselves. It seems a woman never measures up to any number of measuring sticks when it comes to cooking, cleaning, style, beauty, intelligence, motherhood, etc. Women are subject to a constant bombardment of advertisements that tell them how they can improve themselves – because, according to the world, women need to be improved.

Why do these ads insist that women do not measure up?

According to “Flattery Will Get an Ad Nowhere,” a December 10 New York Times article,”Apparently, it doesn’t take much to make a girl feel plain. Just looking at an object intended to enhance beauty makes women feel worse about themselves, according to a study from the April 2011 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research.”

In other words, advertisers feel they must create a need. In fashion apparel and shoes, hair products, cosmetics, anti-aging creams and lotions – as well as many other areas – the need is that a woman needs to look better. Therefore, it is necessary to make her feel she is not good enough yet and needs the advertised product to make her better than she is without it.

The article continues, “The study looked at how women responded to an image of something (say, a high-heeled shoe) depicted in an advertisement and as a simple photograph with no advertising context. According to the authors — led by Debra Trampe, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands — advertised products, unlike unadvertised products, affect both whether and how the viewer thinks of herself afterward.

In other words, an image of the high-heeled shoe in a stylish advertisement is likely to trigger a sense of inadequacy.”

In an attempt to satisfy their thirst for money, advertisers spend billions of dollars on making women feel inferior so they will buy a product that is supposed to make them better.

Better than what? As it is, most women will not even leave the house without makeup on their face, because they are not “good enough” without the makeup. Meanwhile, men are just fine the way they are…no makeup, no unnatural and uncomfortable high heels to walk around in all day, no form-fitting or low-cut clothing to put body parts on display.

This is just madness. How can women ever get to a place where they feel good about themselves while every television commercial, every magazine, every music video, screams that they will never measure up? This type of pressure for women to be someone other than who they are is unreasonable and immoral.

The New York Times article said, “According to the study, ‘advertisements displaying beauty-enhancing (rather than problem-solving) products are likely to remind consumers of their own shortcomings.’ This, in turn, makes them view themselves more negatively. The authors quote Christopher Lasch, who back in the 1970s said, ‘modern’ advertising ‘seeks to create needs, not to fulfill them; it generates new anxieties instead of allaying old ones.’”

This is the world in which women live. This is the world in which our daughters are growing up.

Who do these advertisers think they are to believe it is ethical to sell low self-esteem to millions of women just to make money? There are so many other ways to sell their products that would not leave women around the world feeling like they will never be good enough.

I would have to be starved for something to read before I would pick up a fashion magazine. I simply refuse to allow others to decide what I should look like – what shoes I should wear, what clothes I should buy, what make-up looks best on me, whether I need to use anti-aging creams…and even what feminine products I should use. I prefer to be a woman of my own choosing.

When it comes down the bare bones of advertising, ads are crafted to make women feel ugly. Why on earth would I subject myself to such degradation? The truly ironic part of reading this article on the New York Times Website is that right alongside the article was an ad with a nude woman covered only by two baby lions and a Bulgari bag. My reaction to the ad is that I am offended.

I am offended that the advertisers think so little of me that they will put a nude woman on their ad and think it will some how provoke me to buy their product. I want to know the details about the bag. I am also offended because I am aware that the woman in that ad is not even real. She has been ‘photoshopped’ and tweaked to the point that she is not a real woman at all.

However, these types of ads do work many times and until women recognise what is going on – that they are being made to feel ugly and held to unrealistic standards just so advertisers and their clients can make money – these degrading ads will continue. It is time to stop buying products from ads that demean women. It is time to start buying from ads that are informative and attract the customer based on the facts of the product.

Remember this women, it is an insult to you every time an ad makes you feel like you would be a better woman if only you had that product. Don’t respond to the offence by buying that product. It’s time women demand that advertisers find a way to market goods without selling low self-esteem.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why women need self-esteem

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 12 December 2010)

(The following is a combination of my thoughts and excerpts from “Women & Self-Esteem” by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan, a great book I recommend for all women.)

Self-esteem is something probably everyone wants and which everyone definitely needs. We want self-esteem because it increases our chance of finding happiness in life and makes it possible to cope with life’s disappointments and changes. We need self-esteem because nothing is as important to psychological well-being.

Our level of self-esteem affects virtually everything we think, say and do. It affects how we see the world and our place in it. It affects how others in the world see and treat us. It affects the choices we make – choices about what we will do with our lives and with whom we will be involved. It affects our ability to both give and receive love. And it affects our ability to take action to change things that need to be changed.

If a woman has an insufficient amount of self-esteem, she will not be able to act in her own best interest. And if a woman has no self-esteem at all, she will become overwhelmed, immobile and eventually will “give up.” Many women unfortunately have gone through life with a minimum of self-esteem – just enough to enable their survival, but not enough to enable them to live as fully and to be as happy as they might have been.

According to the age-old double standard, high self-esteem is an exclusively male prerogative. In men it is seen as a moral good, and a man who likes and values himself and lets the world know is considered normal, and is said to be demonstrating a healthy self-interest. But a woman who likes and values herself and lets the world know is condemned for being vain, arrogant and conceited.

In fact, if a woman walks by with a confident stride, other females are likely to look at her and say, “Who does she think she is?” instead of being content to see a female with self-confidence. However, if a male walks by with that same confident stride, it is seen as normal, healthy and even attractive.

Many women accept their low self-esteem as a seemingly unalterable fact of life. Many, taught as most women are, that a good woman is humble and self-effacing, go so far as to maintain that there is something noble and virtuous, something appealing and feminine about self-hatred and self-denigration.

Moreover, other than having the capacity to achieve personal happiness, another reason self-esteem is an especially important issue for women is that individual levels of self-esteem also have political implications, affecting our actions and status as a group.

Women in a male-dominated world face many formidable obstacles men do not face. These obstacles are not going to magically disappear. Women must bring them down by standing up against them. Every gain women have made in obtaining greater equality in the workplace, in the eyes of the law, in religious institutions, in the media, in the professions and in the inter-personal sphere, has been at the cost of enormous struggle on the part of individual women working together. Sustaining that sort of struggle, and mounting new struggles, requires that women value themselves.

When one woman suffers the unhappiness of feeling that she is not worth much, nor capable of much either, it is easy to say hers is an individual problem. But when thousands of women suffer from lack of self-worth and have limited views of their capabilities, then what we are talking about is a group problem of enormous political implications. Only by raising ourselves in our own estimation can we bring all women up.

What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself. On the other hand, self-image is the set of beliefs and images we all have of ourselves.
For example, our self-image can include easily verifiable aspects of ourselves like: I am a woman, I am tall or short, I am a mother, I am poor, etc. And it can include aspects not so easily verifiable, like: I am smart, I am ugly, I am sexy, I am unlovable, I am worthless, I am incompetent. Self-esteem is the measure of how much we like and approve of our self-image.

Women are so hard on themselves because of a distorted view of themselves. Women’s self-esteem is impacted negatively by feelings that we do not measure up to what society expects us to be. I have long struggled with the fact that women are supposed to be compliant and quiet because I am a fighter and opinionated. In fact, I seldom fit into any of the traditional roles set out for women.

I believe every woman struggles like I did – to some extent or another – to fit into that small box society has placed us. But I think it is time we break that box to pieces and redefine ourselves as the women we want to be.

When this happens, when we can find the courage to be the women we want to be, that is when we will start to see healthy female self-esteem – and healthy, happy women.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Every government official should be required to sign the Skeldon Declaration

(Originally published in part in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 08 December 2010)

I cannot help but ponder how many men in positions of authority are wife abusers. This came to mind again last week when Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, had charges of assault and threatening behaviour against him dismissed after his wife, Romona Persaud, told the court that she no longer wanted to proceed with the matter.

Why did she drop the charges? Was it because of promises of undying love and an end to the abuse? Or was it because of threats of additional violence? Or perhaps it was the fear of what the future holds if she parts ways with her husband? Whatever the reason, I believe with everything in me that she will regret her decision.

Women who believe the abuse will just disappear are fooling themselves. Unless an abusive husband decides to get professional help by way of counselling, the abuse will not stop for the wife. In fact, if a perpetrator of abuse gets away with abuse without so much as a slap on the wrist, he is more likely to believe he can get away with even more abuse the next time.

As we have seen in recent years, there are those in high positions who do, in fact, abuse their wives. I am very close to a survivor of domestic violence inflicted by someone in a very high position. She is a sweet soul with a brilliant mind – and now she uses that brilliance to help others. I simply cannot fathom why anyone would think it morally tolerable to inflict abuse on such a kind and generous heart.

When a man in a position of leadership beats and abuses his wife, it is clear that such a man should not be followed to even the corner store, much less followed on issues of greater import. In fact, in a just society, such a man would be behind bars – not leading any organisation, business or country. Violent and cruel personalities are the scum of society – not the upper crust.

Moreover, if the government truly hopes to see change in the social fabric of the nation in regards to domestic violence, it must – I repeat, it MUST – get rid of wife abusers within it’s own ranks. With the same vehement stance taken against the doctor convicted of sexual offences, Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, and former Health Minister, Gail Teixeira, should also confront the wife abusers in their own party.

How can the government go around the nation expecting men to sign a pledge saying they will not abuse their wives when government leaders themselves abuse their wives? In fact, every single leader in the government (Opposition parties included) should be required to sign the Skeldon Declaration, which promotes non-violent behaviour in relationships.

I have said it before and I repeat it for emphasis today, domestic violence is wrong. It is evil. If a man in a high profile position believes his status and title will give him a free pass to abuse his wife, he should think again. I refuse to keep quiet while women are beat, tortured and murdered.

How many wives of men in high positions have been subjected to domestic violence from their husbands? How many bruises? How many blows? How many loathsome words have been spat into fearful eyes?

The most recent case is chilling. According to a December 2 article in Kaieteur News, “The allegation was that Persaud, on November 30, at Prashad Nagar, assaulted his wife. Another charge alleged that Persaud, on the same day, threatened his wife with a steel chair.” This does not sound like a leader I would follow. The report continued, “Kaieteur News was told that on the day in question, neighbours heard the woman screaming and immediately called the police.”

Kaieteur News also said, “The woman yesterday refused to give evidence against her husband, and the two were both made to pay cost for wasting the court’s time. The matter was then dismissed.” This makes me so sad. Romona was so close to justice, so close to ending the abuse, so close to a happy and safe life.

There is a contradiction in the idea that someone can be a Chief Medical Officer and can also allegedly assault his wife. How can someone who is entrusted with the health of so many inflict harm on a person he is supposed to love and care about?

I applaud the neighbours for doing the right thing and calling the police. I implore them to do the same thing the next time they hear Romona screaming, because even though she did not have the courage to give evidence against her husband this time, maybe next time she will find the courage.

This is what I would say to anyone in an abusive situation, you are not alone. Please know there are others who care about your situation and want to help you live a safe and happy life – like neighbours who will call the police to save you from harm. If you need to talk to someone, call IMRAC at 664-3741 or Kids First Fund at 226-5926 or 226-6231.

I want abused women to know – whether your abuser is president of a country, a taxi driver, a Crime Chief, an accountant or a Chief Medical Officer – you can live a safe and happy life outside of the abuse. I survived domestic violence from my childhood and I know lots of women who have chosen to walk away from abusive husbands and are stronger and happier now because they left.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

My promise to Cheryl, Radica and Champa

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 05 December 2010)

Let me tell you a story, or rather three stories, about young women killed by violence and the crusade of each of their mothers to seek justice for their daughters. Each of these tragic individual cases may seem familiar since the mothers’ work diligently to keep their daughters’ cases at the forefront of our thoughts. However, when taken as a whole, these stories speak of a very disturbing trend.

Story #1: In March of this year, Leeloutie ‘Pinky’ Seeram, a mother of two, was killed when chopped to the back of her head. She also had three fingers on her left hand severed. Her husband did this after he came home drunk one night. It is said that he often abused Pinky, so she lived no easy life. And in the end, her own husband took her life in a drunken rage.

He also chopped Pinky’s mother, Lata ‘Cheryl’ Inderdeo, 52, to her right shoulder and left palm as she tried to help her daughter. Cheryl survived the attack, but has a long scar down her right arm and across her left hand. The children from the marriage, who grew up seeing their father beat their mother, now have no mother at all. The husband is on the run.

Story #2: On September 10, a young Sheema Mangar, 21 years old, was just getting off work at Demerara Bank Ltd. when she was robbed of her BlackBerry phone around 18:40 hrs, while awaiting transportation near Camp Street and North Road. According to a Kaieteur News report, an eyewitness said the thief got into a car and “Mangar ran towards the car while shouting ‘thief, thief.’ She reportedly then stood in front of the car while demanding that the thief return the phone. But according to the eyewitness, the occupant of the car responded by running over Mangar and dragging her to Church Street.”

Sheema’s mother, Radica Thakoor, said when she arrived at the hospital, her daughter was “hollering in pain,” but appeared to recognise their voices. She recalled that there was a large hole near Radica’s left temple. At least one of her arms was broken and her face and limbs were badly bruised. Sheema died the next morning because a thief stole her Blackberry. The robbers, again, remain at large.

Story #3: The night of the Diwali motorcade, 28-year-old Babita Sarjou, the mother of a four-year-old-boy, disappeared after leaving her workplace. She was to take her son to the motorcade with her estranged husband. This same man had allegedly posted nude photos of Babita around her place of work and was due to appear in court over the matter. Another matter in court is the custody of the son. Despite the husband’s vile treatment of Babita that would make him a prime suspect in her disappearance, he is still at large and has custody of the child.

All three of these stories have common threads to tie them together. For example, these stories are of real women who suffered violence – two are dead and the last one has been missing for a month. However, another notable common thread is that all three of these young women have mothers who are willing to continue to fight for justice for their daughters. I have spoken with each of these mothers, Cheryl Inderdeo (Pinky’s mom), Radica Thakoor (Sheema’s mom) and Champa Seonarine (Babita’s mom) and I am struck by how the system has utterly failed each of them.

If women can be discarded so easily by men; if they can be beaten, murdered and kidnapped and then forgotten by those who are supposed to protect them – then the laws and the constitution are of no use whatsoever for women. If justice is a right afforded to all citizens, both male and female, then why are these mothers still fighting for justice when it should have been a simple matter of fact in the first place?

These are just the cases I know about personally from talking with the mothers. There are other cases, too – like that of Victorine Ifill. According to a November 28 Stabroek News report, on September 11, 2009, Ifill’s Sophia two-storey concrete house was totally destroyed by fire when Ifill’s ex-husband “had allegedly kicked down the door to the house and set it on fire, using cooking gas and kerosene. In a matter of minutes, the house and all of Ifill’s possessions were gone…Stanley Griffith also called Denis Griffith was in hiding for over a year since allegedly setting fire to Ifill’s Sophia home in September 2009. Police managed to apprehend him earlier this month, but they released him on bail saying that further advice was needed.”

How many more women are victimised by violence and subsequently victimised by the justice system? How much longer until women are regarded as essential citizens instead of trivial cases that can be tossed aside and forgotten about? To say this situation is untenable is paltry. In fact, it is actually an affront to all women.

I do not know if Babita is still alive, but I do know that if she cannot show at her court dates because she has been kidnapped, the case against her husband for posting nude photos of her will be dismissed. I also know Pinky’s murderer is walking around free to enjoy his life after he brutally murdered his wife and assaulted his mother-in-law. And I know that the man who ran over and dragged Sheema Mangar’s body down the street is walking around scot-free.

In speaking with these mothers, I have no doubt they will not rest until justice has been served. As a mother myself, I can identify and know I would do exactly the same. As such, I stand with these mothers and vow the same commitment to see justice for their daughters. That is a promise.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Empowering Myself: Expression of a Woman

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 December 2010)

(I have been reading this essay at the domestic violence workshops over the past weekend as I talked on self-esteem. It seemed to be an inspiration to many women, so I am now sharing it with all women. I wrote this in July 2001 when I finally decided to give myself permission to be the real woman I am inside and it is my hope that this essay inspires other women to do the same.)

I have long tried to be the person society expected me to be. The problem with this notion is that I need to be more than what others expect of me. I have so much to offer and yet feel that I must somehow squeeze into a mould that doesn’t hold me.

Having succumbed to the social expectations of a stunted generation, I spent many years playing with ideas of true freedom in my head. I have longed to break that mould, yet feared the consequences should I make such a drastic move. I have settled for second or third or fourth best for myself, believing I was allotted no more in life than what I had been handed.

I felt to attempt anything more would prove my vanity and bring to light the arrogance inside me. However, this vanity and arrogance is no less honourable than the self-confidence of a man who is able to demonstrate his full potential without the walls of minimal societal expectation boxing him in.

I am more than a woman, more than a wife, more than a mother. I have an insatiable need to know and to learn and to do and to be; and those needs never seem to be quenched.

I know that I am more than I have been allowed to be. Why would I let someone else to dictate what I am or am not allowed to be in life? I know that I am more than I have allowed myself to be. Why would I hold myself back for the sake of conforming to archaic ideas?

I am more than my mother said that I am and more than my primary school teacher said that I am. I am more than an object to be admired or acquired. I am more than the passive women of my generation who silently accept their assigned lot in life and then attempt to perpetually entertain themselves in hopes of forgetting their plight.

I am more than those who blindly submit to notions passed down by a generation of weak women who sold their souls to shallow men for the sake of feeling accepted by strong arms, but only received bitterness as a payment for their precious goods.
There are so many women whose true potential will never be fully realised because of the low expectations placed on them. These low expectations are the standard by which many women live their lives. It is perfectly normal for them to fall in line and perform that role, which does not allow for much deviation.

Women are treated as if they have little or no intelligence and are expected to be happy with the ordinary and the mundane while the men take on the big bad world. But what about women who have the strength, intelligence and audacity to take on the world?

I have not been honest. I have not been honest with myself or with those who love me. I need more. I am more. No one else can answer the questions that plagued my mind because all of their expectations of me are still too low. No one else can fulfil my need to explore and learn.

I have so much energy and so many ideas that are going to waste in a land long forgotten because I have not had the courage to state them or the avenue by which to share them. I have been made to feel that a husband and family should be my life and that it is socially and morally wrong to want or need anything more. Yet I cannot see how it could be wrong to want more when I have an instinctive drive to desperately desire more.

Therefore, I will no longer succumb to the stereotypical role of a woman just to appease the ego of a few men who cannot see past their own selfish ambitions long enough to truly appreciate the potential of another human being. I will no longer slouch in my posture or act ignorant of an idea in order to stroke the insecurities of men or women who feel the need to still conform to the sexist views of generations past.

I will not act as though I am uninformed and have no opinion in matters that are important in life for the sake of complying with the notions of a few ignorant souls. I will never again open the doors of innocent naivety to allow myself to be victimised at the hands of someone who desires to use me for their own selfish motives. I will never again be ‘put in my place’ by the likes of a man who cannot handle a woman with a thinking brain.

Instead, I will allow myself to think and to be and to do. I will step beyond the door that has been shutting me in and break into the world that is waiting to be explored and understood. I will be bold and will allow my beautiful self-confidence to shine through.

I will walk with my head held high and with purpose in my step. I will take on tasks that are beyond me in order to push myself further than I thought I could go. I will no longer hide my intelligence, but instead put it on proud display for all to see. I will be all that I am. No, I am all that I am. I am.