Saturday, October 22, 2011

Presidential backball

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 15 October 2011)    

These two words, presidential backball, seem contradictory – as if the two words should never be uttered in the same breath. Indeed, there ought to be respect when the word “president” comes across our lips. Backball, on the other hand, is a lewd word, something we hope our children do not mutter until they are adults.

Yet we are begrudgingly forced to join these two paradoxical words as we consider the conduct of President Bharrat Jagdeo and the PPP Presidential Candidate, Donald Ramotar, who both received backballs at their party’s recent rallies. I honestly cannot even believe that I am forced to talk about such coarse behaviour, but talk about it I must and so I shall.

The Urban Dictionary defines backball as a “Caribbean term for sensually gyrating in a forward bent over position, most often in front of a male while partying, sometimes also touching the ground with hands. Referred to as receiving by males and giving by females.”

This type of conduct is something that should be done in private, or at the very least in a dark room at a club full of people who are doing the same thing. It does not belong on the platform of a political rally in front of all and sundry – including children and impressionable young people.

However, my focus for this column is to draw a clear and concise line on how the crucial issue of domestic violence relates to the president of a country receiving a public backball. Common sense tells us that this type of public behaviour is inappropriate for any leader, much less the president of a country, but allow me to connect the dots for those who still do not seem to get it.

You see, as long as women are sexualised and objectified by society, they will never obtain the respect necessary for men to stop treating them as mere objects that can be toyed with, abused and discarded. Therefore, reducing women to objects of sexuality at a political rally by putting them in a permanent ‘club’ atmosphere perpetuates domestic violence.

With the depth of disregard and contempt displayed to the women of Guyana by these leaders, is it any wonder that so many women are being beaten, raped, tortured and murdered everyday? How will the youth of today ever learn to form healthy and respectful relationships when their leaders do not seem to know about healthy and respectful relationships?

To make matters even worse, Mr Ramotar is married! After speaking with Mr Ramotar about his wife earlier this summer, I believed he held her in high regard. However, no husband who respects his wife that would do what he did on that stage last weekend. It would seem the president is being a bad influence on Mr Ramotar.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

The fact that most of those on the stage at last weekend’s rally in Kitty were being paid by the PPP or the government made that situation a hostile working environment for the women.
Moreover, that the conduct in question was done in front of “thousands” of attendees and then broadcast throughout the nation and put on the Internet to go throughout the world, it then created a hostile living environment for all Guyanese women.

Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, knows the definition of sexual harassment. She also knows what a hostile working environment is. She knows the only way domestic violence will stop in Guyana is by changing the existing social norms that degrade women.

Why has the Minister not put an end to this demeaning behaviour toward women? Why has she not, at the very least, condemned the shameful conduct? In fact, it would seem the entire PPP elite needs a comprehensive sensitivity training course. Madam Manickchand, if you want men to start respecting the women of Guyana, you need to start with the men in your own party.

Women should be seen at these political rallies giving stirring political speeches focused on how they are going to participate in transforming the country. We should see them displaying their intelligence, their ideas, their platform and their plans. Women attending the rallies should be seen as potential voters who want to make informed choices at the polls. They should not being objects of sexuality.

The media incessantly bombards us with sexualised images of women. Kaieteur News gives us a pretty face to look at every Sunday. But the government of Guyana should be leading the country in a different direction. The men of the PPP should be the standard to which the men of the nation can look for an example of how to treat a woman. God forbid they use the example they see now from the men in the PPP.

I do not know of any other president or presidential candidate who could behave in such a vulgar way in view of the whole world and still continue in that role. Any other political party would have publicly shamed them and attempted to save face by saying it would never happen again. The PPP has done no such thing, which leads one to assume it is just fine with their leaders disrespecting Guyana’s women.

It is not fine. It is not ok. In fact, the President and the PPP presidential candidate owe the women of Guyana an apology for further perpetuating the already insufferable situation in which they live. But let’s be honest. An apology will not be forthcoming. If these men did not esteem women enough to refrain from public backballing in the first place, they will not find enough regard for women to apologise now.

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