DR IAN BETHELL-BENNETT
Hidden deep in much of public debate around respectability is the erosion of rights. We like to blame 'de juice' for everything and that justifies people being 'cut off' for bad behaviour, especially when we can say they be 'juicin' in public. We are actually allowing rights to be removed and benefits to be trampled on while arguing that people need to stop juicin'.
There seems to be a coming together of respectability politics and policing of women's bodies encouraged by a paternalistic state that sees its right and moral responsibility to judge behaviour.
There is an intriguing division of language and movement. Government argues that we are incorporating the sustainable development goals (SDGs) with our obligations under other United Nations agreements such as the Convention to Eliminate all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), for example, and a somewhat stalled National Development Plan (essential for any country that wishes to move forward in a studied and structured fashion). The government and the private sector also say that people need to take responsibility for their lives. This sounds lovely, but in a partially illiterate society where irresponsibility is encouraged, how does this work? Meanwhile, we are being told by the same paternalistic state that we need to be patient and wait for things to be done, but no one can say when they will be done.
As government argues it is addressing widening inequalities, the same inequalities get wider. Being able to access health services through the hospitals and public clinics takes longer due simply to a growing population and shrinking service provider. We also hear that sex education and sexual health need to be discussed in schools, but the pushback is strong.
We have been caught up in a discussion about who juicin' who and how much people likes 'ta juice' and how irresponsible 'dey is fa juicin' and how 'juicin causin' all dese problems'. Sadly, it ain't 'de juice'; it's really about the rights.
It matters very little who is 'juicing' whom. What does matter is that we choose to see that because "so many people are juicing when they should not be", again the state's interpretation of respectability, as mandated by leaders without consultation with those who are being governed. We choose to use this power and the power of employment to shame or disrespect people we claim to be helping. We do not discuss the powerful men who use their lunchtimes to 'juice' young women who are not their wives. We also do not choose to discuss the importance of easily accessible national healthcare. Rather, we choose to focus on every negative aspect of how those people do not know how to carry themselves.
Perhaps if we taught more of the real stuff about sexual health and not the respectability politics of it then we might get somewhere. To be sure, this in no way removes the responsibility of teaching responsible sexuality and sexual relations from parents, but when parents don't know, who will teach their children? The points being glossed over are many.
Sexual and reproductive health is not the responsibility of women alone. Why throw shade on women, or poor, working-class women in particular? Why cast dispersions on one group and then limit their access to services, while blaming them for their woes? We must be better at education boys and girls, men and women about how to better manage their sexual health.
We also need to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote life-long learning
With this goal firmly entrenched, the state can do a better job of creating awareness of what sexual and reproductive health and rights look like and how they can be achieved. This is not a lofty goal if we make clear and concise objectives and outcomes and measurable outputs part of all educational programmes. Yet we choose to make light of these and of discussing responsible sexual behaviour and sexuality. In fact, we don't want to discuss sexuality at all. How do we change this?
We do this by achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
Goal 5 of the UN sustainable goals says: "Providing women and girls with equal access to education, healthcare, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large".
Women overwhelmingly occupy jobs such as cashiers while shelf-stackers tend to be male--this demonstrates our cultural gender biases. Meanwhile, jobs like servers, cashiers and tellers are feminised and pay less than other jobs that are seen as masculine. These jobs are overwhelmingly negatively affected by policy changes such as the change announced last week by a large private sector business. These workers earn very little, and work long hours. On top of that, we police their bodies, tell them that they are bad women because they are not home with their children, tell them that they need to do better, even though they represent a sector of the culture that is usually under educated and struggling to survive.
However, we continue to heap respectability politics on these women, and then to complain that, even though they are working, they should not be having children, and they certainly should not be having sex. We expect them to become aware of sexual health on their own, and to practice sexual and reproductive responsibility without any functioning and measurable programmes being put in place. We cannot just have contraceptives available at clinics; there must also be programmes on their use and impact.