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The Alicia Wallace Column: Don’T Be Blind To The Power These Men Hold

Last week, on the heels of Bishop Simeon Hall’s call for the church to take a strong position against sexual violence and his distinction between rape and sex, the president of the Bahamas Christian Council contradicted it with reckless remarks meant to turn people against Carnival.

The event has been controversial since its introduction and the Bahamas Christian Council has played no small role in making it about women’s bodies, its perception that men have no control over themselves, and sexual violence occurring as a result.

It has been corrected numerous times between 2015 and now. I have addressed its victim-blaming, conflation of rape and sex and the irresponsible nature of comments which suggest the onus is on women to protect themselves from sexual predators in columns, press releases, and interviews.

The Christian Council has been challenged by advocates, gender specialists and other religious leaders, but it persists with its misogyny, using fear rather than reasonable, sound arguments to support its anti-Carnival position. Many Bahamians, especially young people, are alienated by the positions taken by the Bahamas Christian Council and its failure to acknowledge its wrongs. We have to wonder what it expects to gain through its efforts to control the public.

Are right-thinking religious leaders engaging the Council? Are they engaging in healthy debates on issues of national concern? How does it come to its decisions? Who does it represent?

Over the past week, I have seen people dismiss the Council as irrelevant, ineffective and inconsequential. Unfortunately, these assessments are inaccurate. While some of us, as individuals, see it as ridiculous and useless, there are people who align themselves with the Council and its views. There are people who, because of their deference to religious leaders, actively support them or, at the very least, refrain from opposing or even questioning them. It is not wise to discount the influence of this group.

Political parties look to the Council and a number of religious leaders for direction. This is not because they value religious counsel itself, but because they recognize the power these people hold. There may be no group of people with a more dedicated, consistent audience that voluntarily avails itself to receive instruction.

The church is a large constituency and its leadership is taken seriously by political actors. How did the wording of the fourth constitutional amendment bill — to add “sex” to the prohibited ground of discrimination — that went to referendum in 2016 get changed? Why did an issue of non-discrimination on the basis of gender get framed as a same-sex marriage issue when provisions explicitly allow laws pertaining to marriage to discriminate? Why doesn’t the “marital rape bill” — on the back burner for months — use the word “rape” to describe the rape of a spouse?

The Bahamas Christian Council is frequently incorrect, patriarchal and misogynistic. Many of us disagree with its statements. This does not mean it is not a body of influence. It has the ear of politicians who want another term. It convinces congregations of its definitions of morality. It feeds, through its public statements, public sentiments about women, women’s bodies, men’s lack of self control and sexual violence. It cannot be underestimated. It needs to be challenged.

Can the Bahamas Christian Council care about women’s safety without supporting, or even engaging, women’s organizations? Without addressing men? Without talking about sexual violence in the church? Without providing safe places for women and children to stay? Without providing assistance to women experiencing poverty? Without recognising women as human beings with agency?

We can complain about the Council and its selective responses to national issues, but that isn’t enough. Call out the ridiculous, and pressure it — and religious leaders — to take action to make The Bahamas a safer place for women and girls, especially if you are a member of a church. Take your tithes to a church that put them to good use every day. If they want to lobby, let’s set the agenda.

Our minds, like our bodies, need care

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it has been great to see people talking openly about their own mental health over the past week.

This month is not only about acknowledging and talking openly about diagnoses or struggles, but about healthy practices. Mental health, like physical health depends on us to be good to ourselves. Sunshine, meditation, eating well and exercise all help to boost mental health. They are not, however, replacements for medication. While we do not want to be on medication of any kind, sometimes it is the best way to manage a health issue. There is still stigma around mental health challenges and medication, so most people are not talking openly about their needs. That does not mean they are not under the care of a professional or trying to stay on a care regimen.

This month is a good time to break bad habits and start new ones. Stop using words like “crazy” that perpetuate the stigma. Check in on your friends. Ask how they are feeling, listen to the answer and offer to help in tangible ways. This could be accompanying them on evening walks, filling prescriptions, finding a mental health professional, taking a meditation class together, or letting them off the hook when plans need to change.

Remember this month isn’t just about other people. Give yourself some attention too. Do more of the things that make you feel better. Does your day go better if you wake up a bit earlier so you can have a slower start to the day? Make adjustments so it’s easier for you to do that.

Are you always anxious at a certain point in the month because you have so many lines to stand on to pay bills? Call those companies and find out if you can avoid the hassle and pay online. These are little things, but they can have big impact.

Take a few minutes to do a quick assessment. What would you be better of with or without? Who can help keep you accountable when you make new commitments? How can you make your life easier? Start making the changes you need now and see how you feel in June.

If you think you need the support of a professional, start looking. Your doctor can make a referral, or you can call the Bahamas Crisis Centre for direction.

Our minds, like our bodies, need care. We don’t have to wait until we’re sick to pay attention.

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