Disasters intrigue us. We are interested in how the fire started, who was targetted and why it took so long for help to come. Some become amateur detectives, trying to find motive. Some are self-appointed jury members and judges, deciding who did what and what they deserve as punishment. Not much time passes between freak accidents and terrorist attacks, especially when we have international news at our fingertips. There is always something to theorise, obsess, pray and argue over.
This week, the big news is the fire which engulfed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris which was probably caused by renovations to the spire. The art and architecture are being publicly grieved.
While some recognise the loss, others are taking a hard line, asserting this is nothing to be upset about because worse things are happening all over the world and not receiving coverage, and France is guilty of atrocities, including in the Caribbean region, for which it has yet to atone. These are the two main reasons to go about our lives are normal, refusing to acknowledge the fire or validate the feelings of those who are saddened.
The structure has been saved and hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged to rebuild, so everything should be okay, right?
Roll the calendar back just one month. News of the Christchurch shootings flooded media channels everywhere. Cyclone Idai completely flooded towns in Mozambique, creating miles of inland ocean, a death toll in the hundreds and leaving approximately two million people in need of assistance. Zimbabwe was affected by the same storm. Venezuelans are fleeing to Trinidad & Tobago which now finds itself in a humanitarian crisis. People of Haitian descent in The Bahamas contend with xenophobia on a regular basis, and are specifically targeted by legislation and policy.
What determines which of these stories make it to our newspapers and social media feeds and draw empathetic reactions? Who decides what the public — as a collective and as individuals — should know, and how? In what ways do our responses to crises inform the media and algorithms, developing our access to information? And then, why do we care so much about what other people care about, to the point that we want to control it?
It is entirely possible to recognise the loss resulting from the fire at Notre Dame while holding France responsible for its pillage and destruction of other countries, especially Haiti. We can be saddened by the loss of material and understand that human life is of far greater value. It’s difficult to keep up with everything happening around us and parse meanings and complicated feelings around them. There is often more nuance than we care to acknowledge. That would leave little room for our own superiority.
Are you capable of not watching Game of Thrones and refraining from telling everyone else as they share in the excitement of a new season? In drawing attention to your own brand of special — not watching Game of Thrones or not caring about Notre Dame — you steal, or force others to fight for their right to think and feel differently when it does no harm. There are ways to productively bring different perspectives and experiences to the conversation. It doesn’t have to be a competition.
Long walk to justice
Last week, the Equality & Justice Alliance (EJA) brought dozens of Caribbean parliamentarians, NGOs, academics and technocrats together to focus on reforming laws that discriminate against women, girls, and LGBT+ people. EJA introduced itself and its programme goals and created space for participants from nine countries to consider existing areas for reform, previous attempts at reform and successes within the region.
Former Minister of Human Development, Women and Civil Society Dolores Balderamos Garcia SC presented a case study on the reform of the sexual offences law in Belize. She walked us through the process, including high profile cases that helped to push amendments forward.
It is noteworthy that Belize has a Special Envoy for Women and Children. The office works closely with the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation and promotes the rights of women and children, advocates for necessary programs, and engages in activities to raise public awareness. Balderamos Garcia was able to highlight the strides Belize has made, the gaps that still exist, and the major role played by NGOs including PETAL, a leading women’s organisation focused on economic, social and gender justice for lesbian and bisexual women.
Head of Women and Development Unit at University of the West Indies Open Campus, Taitu Heron presented on safe abortion in the Caribbean. She began with the history of decriminalisation of abortion, starting with the Barbados Medical Termination Act of 1983 after which the maternal mortality rate decreased by 53 percent. She also looked at the Guyana Medical Termination Act of 1995 which removed restrictions, but Heron pointed out that access, especially for rural people, remains an issue.
The presentation included a detailed decision tree that enabled participants to walk through the process, from deciding to have sex to making the decision about pregnancy, birth and child-rearing where applicable. It made clear distinctions between planned and unplanned pregnancies, wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and safe and unsafe abortions which showed that access to information and services are critical to the people making decisions about their bodies and lives, and legal restrictions create unsafe environments that do not necessarily prevent abortions. They just put more lives at risk.
On the second day, I presented a small part of the youth engagement toolkit I have been developing for Commonwealth leaders working toward legal reform. It was useful to talk through the youth-identified needs and recommendations for engagement, and to receive feedback from the diverse group of Caribbean people who are interested in more effectively engaging young people in their work. EJA will produce and share the toolkit in the coming months, and the report on this two-day meeting will be available on the EJA website in a few weeks.
Leave earlier, slow down
I’ve seen far too many photos of terrible accidents over the past few days. There are two issues here. The first is that people are too quick to take pictures and videos of tragic events, even when gruesome and clearly showing the faces of victims. New Zealand has been charging people for sharing footage of the Christchurch shootings. Do we need to resort to that, or can we use commonsense and demonstrate empathy for the victims and their loved ones?
The second issue is that people are clearly driving recklessly. Nassau is not that big, the rads are not that long, and nowhere you need to go is that far away. We complain when traffic police direct traffic because it tends to slow us down, but maybe we need to slow down. Running stop signs and flying through red lights is not acceptable behaviour. Stop putting lives, including yours, in danger.
We all know there are too many cars on the road during the day. Traffic is ridiculous, and we all just want to get where we’re going. Reliable, affordable public transportation would reduce traffic, road rage, and expenses. The government keeps promising us a better system, but we don’t seem to be getting any closer. Is the attitude that the people who need a better system don’t matter as much as those who don’t? Have we not sufficiently expressed our willingness to use the system out of convenience, even if they need does not exist? There are places where it does not make sense to drive. Downtown is one of them.
It would be great to have a park ’n ride system to avoid parking issues on the personal level and reduce traffic for everyone. It could reduce accidents and traffic fatalities too. You can check safely check WhatsApp as a passenger. Who needs more convincing than that?