THE third anniversary of Hurricane Dorian is quickly approaching. Much has been said about the current administration‘s plans which do not come close to centering the people directly affected by the category five hurricane and their needs. The emphasis was placed on a concert which, for obvious reasons, comes across as a celebration rather than an opportunity for reflection. For many of us, what the government announced was ill-conceived and, worse, an insult to the people who are still trying to recover.
There are several ways that we can acknowledge the anniversary, honouring the lives of those who died and supporting the survivors. It must, however, start with the affected people. It is not for the government to decide what would make good headlines, distract people from their realities, or make the organisers feel good about themselves. People need assistance, from repairing and rebuilding to mental health services.
The Prime Minister is obviously intent on positioning himself as a voice, on behalf of The Bahamas, on climate change. This is not particularly surprising. The Bahamas is especially vulnerable to climate change and, as demonstrated by Hurricane Dorian, has specific vulnerabilities to climate events and struggles to recover from them. Some, like the Press Secretary, would have us believe that the Prime Minister is further along in that process than is demonstrable at this time. A number of prime ministers in the Caribbean have been talking about climate change at the regional and international levels for years, and have done their homework, crunching the numbers, reading the research, and learning about the opportunities for building resilience.
We have to understand that resilience is not a quality to look for in individuals, but to build into systems. It is not up to people to bounce back from disaster. We, of course, do what we can to survive. We cobble together whatever limited resources we have to get by, whether that means starting over entirely or “making do” with the tatters left behind. Largely, we depend on each other to survive the aftermath, from the point of rescue from immediate danger and temporary rehousing to realisation, that it be that what we thought was a temporary situation will remain or that the promises we get are fulfilled. We depend on each other for temporary housing, for donated clothing, for discounts on purchases, for childcare and eldercare, for assistance completing forms, picking up supplies, and finding accurate information, and for raising hell until the right people notice that we have been left behind. This is interdependence. It is living in community.
Resilience is talked about as though it is a personality trait. People who have it are strong and smart. They are survivors. Often, they have financial resources that go a long way in bouncing back. Sometimes, they are not only survivors of the most recent disaster, but of years of abuse, and they have learned to keep getting back up and to be applauded for it by people who may or may not know the full story.
We need resilient systems. Home insurance should meet our needs. Life insurance should meet our needs. We should not have to wait years for payouts. There should be digital options to apply for and receive assistance. These options should be accessible to all, and this means there are captions, text-to-speech and speech-to-text functions, and centres in every constituency with devices and internet service for those who do not have their own. Processes should be designed by people who understand our particular circumstance. That means there are chairs for the elderly and people with disabilities, protection from the elements, number systems to keep track of the order and number of people waiting and the available resources. There should be a plan for every island, in the event of a hurricane or other climate event, that the people understand and in which they can easily participate.
These seem obvious, don’t they? They seem easy enough to design and put in place, right? Somehow, we do not even have this kind of function and flow when we are not in the immediate aftermath of disaster.
Yesterday, it was reported that the Minister of Social Services and Urban Development said that, due to inflation, it is expected that more people will need assistance. He said adjustments have been made, through partnerships with other entities, to prevent people from standing in long lines outside. The RISE programme, he said, will return, and the Ministry is now being attentive to people on the Family Islands whose needs were not being met through the social assistance programme. This is good news.
Unfortunately, it was also reported that people were in line — outside, in the heat — for five hours for coupons, many of whom were turned away when staff said they ran out of coupons. This is an example of a terrible, if not non-existent, system. There should, at the very least, be a numbering system that would allow them to indicate to people that they are at their limit. It is also ridiculous that they ran out of coupons on the second day of a five-day exercise and told the people to return. Why are coupons being rationed to the staff who are to distribute them? Are they being printed elsewhere and delivered on a daily basis? What would cause such a mess? The people who waited for five hours were incredibly inconvenienced, and we do not know that they can get transportation to return, and go through all of it again. Here, they are required to be resilient. What if resilience was built into systems instead of demanded of people?
Rise in sexual offences startling?
On Monday, at the consultation on the CARICOM Regional Gender Equality Strategy (CRGES) Assistant Commissioner of Police and head of the RBPF Domestic Violence Unit Dellareece Ferguson reported a “startling” numbers of sexual violence reports. In 2021, there were 48 reported rapes, and with more than one-quarter of the year left to go, there have been 51 reported rapes thus far in 2022.
There have been 69 cases of indecent assault and ten reports of incest. There have been 76 reports of “unlawful sexual intercourse” — a ridiculous term for the rape of a child — with people under the age of 16.
It is absurd that the police would call this “startling.” How is it startling when people are quick to call girls “fast” and “bad” when they are reported missing, knowing nothing about them and reserving judgment of the “grown men” they generally believe the underage girls are with and unable to give consent. How is it startling when The Bahamas has consistently been recognised in the region and all over the world as a country with one of the highest rates of rape per capita? How is it startling when successive governments have allowed the issue of marital rape to be debated, as if married people do not have the right to give or withhold consent?
Over and over again, prime ministers tell us that they are more concerned about the economy than the people in it. The current Prime Minister said: “My priority has been, from I got elected, to stabilise our economy and our fiscal affairs, which has been in shambles. That is necessary.” Who is the economy being stabilised for? Who is and will be well enough to participate in it when violence proliferates?
He said, “Other issues will come. You talk about marital rape; if you look in my Blueprint for Change, it’s not addressed at all. We are following our Blueprint for Change.”
Well, great point. Why is it not in the Blueprint for Change? We have been talking about it for years, especially since the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women delivered her report following her visit to The Bahamas in 2017. We know that the Sexual Offences Act needs to be amended. Is he saying that his administration will only act on what is included in “his” Blueprint for Change, to the exclusion of everything else?
The Minister of National Security said, about marital rape: “It impacts the institution of marriage, which is one of our social pillars. So we have to be circumspect and exact, we need to define what it is we want to criminalise.” This was after he said we should call marital rape something other than rape.
These are the people in Parliament. These are the people in Cabinet. The police are “startled”? That is more startling than anything. Perhaps they need to start paying closer attention to what is happening in this country — in cabinet, in parliament, in the media, in school, and in homes. These issues, these events, these challenges are connected.
What I found most startling about the report is that there was mention of “unnatural male sexual intercourse”. I question what is meant by this. If this refers to sex between men, this is an inappropriate term. If this a reference to consenting adults having sex, regardless of their gender, it is sex. In addition, it is not a criminal offense, so why are there reports and why are these numbers being included and shared in this way? The LGBTQI+ community does not need to be stigmatised. It is not illegal to have sex with someone of the same sex or gender. The Bahamas decriminalise same-sex sexual activity in the early 1990s and a number of Caribbean countries have followed. The Royal Bahamas Police Force needs to explain this part of the report and, with it, an apology to the LGBTQI+ community.
1 Race 101 at 6pm. The Bahamas National Reparations Committee, the Bahamian Expert Member of the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent Gaynel Curry, and Equality Bahamas are hosting a panel discussion on racial justice at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas today, International Day for People of African Descent. Moderated by adjust lecturer on political science Keisha Ellis, the panel features brilliant Bahamians who are creatives, researchers, and academics. This is a great opportunity to talk about race in The Bahamas, the challenges we have in discussing racism, the ways people participate in anti-Blackness, and the Caribbean movement for reparations.
2 The Morning Show. This television show zooms in on the people who run a network with particular focus on those working on the early morning show. It gives glimpses of their personal lives, but really showcases workplace drama. There are conflicts between anchors, behaviors driven by ambition, unsubstantiated rumors, sexual harassment accusation, lies and deceit, people getting canceled, and learning about and adjustments to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hard to know who to like or what to expect from this bunch.