WE ARE rapidly coming to the end of another year that our government has not made the necessary changes to legislation toward gender equality or for the advancement of women. Marital rape has still not been criminalised, though it has been discussed for months and months and a symposium that was a complete failure was held to discuss the draft bill. Women still do not pass on citizenship to children or spouses. We have known that there are critical issues that need to be address for years. Still, it is all stalled.
The government blames us for its lack of progress. It says it will only do what we want it to do. It says it needs to consult, but that only seems to be true when it comes to issues of women’s human rights, and not when it comes to, say, the removal of the statue of enslaver and genocidal murder Christopher Columbus. There is no guidebook to help us pinpoint which issues depend on us and which can be addressed with no contributions or feedback from us. It seems, in fact, that “consultation” has become an excuse, a stalling tactic, and a way to eschew responsibility. Yes, Members of Parliament represent us and ought to engage us on a regular basis and understand our positions as individual and as a collective. In addition to that, the government has obligations it must meet, that it understands, and that cannot be superseded by the the whims of particular groups of people who prefer power imbalances and the ability to oppress other people.
This week, three sexual assault incidents were reported in the news. The response, as usual, was one of shock, sadness, and a very temporary anger. This is the way it goes. An issue exists. We may or may not know that it is rooted in some other issues, usually systemic. People largely choose to focus on the single incident. They express that they are upset. “Something must be done!” It is the talk of the town for one or two days. Then something else comes up, and attention shifts. Before anything is ever done, the focus is placed on the more recent incident, and that too is forgotten in less than one week.
It is not often mentioned that sexual assault is not just an issue on its own. It does not come from nowhere. It is often discussed in a reductive way and people are distracted by their tendency to blame victims. They must have done something to attract the rapists, the ignorant say. Not only is rape not sex, but rape is not the result of sexual attraction or a desire for sex. Sexual violence is about power and control, much like the oppression and hatred of women. Sexual violence is connected to the systems that degrade and dehumanise women, including patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a system in which the father or the oldest man is the head of a family and men hold the power in societies and governments. This is demonstrated in the way men are asked for their daughters’ hands in marriage, fathers “give” their daughters to grooms at weddings, and boys are the preferred inheritors. Yes, it exists in some practices that people romanticize and enjoy. People find ways to “explain” patriarchy and the practices that uphold it. They say that men are “providers” and must earn the money to take care of households, but we all know that women work, and Black women have always worked, and one income has never been enough to sustain a household. They also say men have to take care of families, and this is why they should inherit the property rather than the women in the family. Our reality today, however, disproves these excuses. The only functions of patriarchy are to concentrate power in the hands of men and prevent women from being able to make their own decisions.
Patriarchy is used to control women while allowing men to get away with anything, including sexual violence. Patriarchy says that women must be protected. This is why they must be under the rule of their fathers until their fathers decide there is a suitable man to take over that role. For many women, brothers must step in at some point as protectors. Women without this protection are seen to have no value. Notice the way a woman can say she is not interested, but many men will only leave her alone once she says she is married.
There is no interest in addressing the factors that create a world where women need to be protected. This is advantageous for men. They benefit from women being in need of protection and, even more than that, afraid. If women are afraid to venture out alone, they will stay in and everything they do can be closely monitored because their “protectors” are also supervisors, spies, and reinforcers of the patriarchy. Patriarchy shows up in our government, where only seven of 39 seats are held by women. How, then, can we address patriarchy in the government? How might political parties be keeping women out to maintain this system?
Patriarchy goes hand in hand with misogyny. This is the hatred of and prejudice against women. This may sound harsh, but know that the reality is even worse. When there is a report of sexual assault, people come up with justifications for violence. They find ways to place the blame on the victims. Even people who claim to love and support women say things like, “Women need to be more careful”. Whatever the intentions may be, what they are doing is reinforcing patriarchy. They are saying that women are responsible for their own safety, particularly when they do not have the protection of a visibly present man who is in relationship to her. They are saying that women can prevent violations against them, just by being “careful”. This is not true. There are no locks, cameras, nail polishes, hair clips, or buildings that completely protect against people who are determined to commit acts of violence. People are violated in their homes every day, some of them by their own husbands. The problem is not women. It is rapists. It is the patriarchal system that portrays women as weak and convincing everyone — women and men — that women are subhuman and deserving of less than men. Less money, less freedom, less power, less control over their own lives.
If a woman chooses to go somewhere or do something without a man, there are rules to follow, and even then, she must know what she is risking. She needs to be extremely alert. She should wear shoes that are comfortable for running. She should avoid darkness at all costs. She needs to have some kind of weapon, whether it is mace or a makeshift tool. She needs to do the right thing with her phone, whatever that is. Maybe it is not using it at all, maybe it is having the line open with someone on the other end who can hear what is going on. Maybe it is using the app that tracks her, the one that will set off an alarm if she doesn’t tap it in five minutes, or the one that automatically sends her location to her three selected contacts. Maybe it is using the camera to record everything. Maybe it is not having a phone at all. This is the other thing. The rules are not always clear, and they often change. Technology changes too, and it, too, puts the onus on women to protect themselves. All of this, in a world where relationships are sold to women partly on the basis that men are protectors. Men, though, are also the predators. The violators. The rapists. So women need men to protect them. Against men?
Patriarchy is not a solution. It is the problem. Rapists are the problem. Victim-blaming is the problem. When sexual violence make the news and people angrily talk about punishment, and not prevention, that is the problem. By the time we get to punishment, a terrible violation has already occurred. What are we going to do about sexual violence now to prevent it from happening tomorrow? How does the way the government treats women — by failing to follow through with legal reform — uphold patriarchy and endanger women? How do the people convince the government that this country needs gender equality, and its laws need to prove that it is an irrefutable fact that women are human beings with human rights? When will the government meet its obligations and stop blaming the people for its failure to act?
The Global 16 Days Campaign starts on Friday, November 25 with International Day to End Violence Against Women, and Equality Bahamas has planned a series of events for its annual participation in the campaign. The theme for the 2022 campaign is “Let’s End Femicide” and the organisation will host events focused on the killing of women and girls because of their sex or gender. It begins with the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) Speaker Series session on nationality rights with Vice Chair and Rapporteur of the CEDAW Committee Aruna Narain on Saturday at 10am, and you can register at tiny.cc/cedaw9. The full lineup will be available on its social media channels (equality242) this week.
1 Mothers by Jessamine Chan. This novel is bewildering. It is far enough from our reality that it is strange, and maybe even absurd, but close enough that it is unnerving and can feel like prophecy. Frida is a single mother with an 18-month old baby that she is just learning to understand. Harriet cries a lot and keeps Frida awake just about all night. Frida has one very bad day, and it leads to many other terrible days, away from her baby, trying to prove to everyone, including herself, that she can be a good mother. This novel exposes the reader to the truth about society and the way it views women (as subhuman) and sets ridiculous expectations of mothers (as though they are superhuman). It suggests that there is one way to mother, and any mother who does not meet the exact requirements as set out is not only a failure, but must be punished. Frida is punished, and she forces herself to prove her ability to meet the expectations and become a good mother by those standards, all while surrounded by other women like her, some of whom are ready to give up.
2 Spirituals by Santigold. Santigold has always defied genre, and her music has informed and shaped R&B and pop in many ways. It is no surprise that she brings electronica, punk, and funk to Spirituals. Her first album in six years, Santigold told NPR that making Spirituals was her salvation. It was a way to move beyond her circumstances and to find joy and freedom in her own creativity. For example, she spoke candidly about “My Horror” which was about losing balance when motherhood took up all of her time and energy during the pandemic, having no one else to cook, clean, or attend to the other needs of her six-year-old and her two-year-old twins. In the music video, she looks like a housewife on the run, literally, on the street in a suburb. Interestingly, the music is not at all depressing and does not give an overwhelming feeling of desperation one might imagine. My Horror is like looking at someone with a layer peeled back. My current favorites from the album are Shake and No Paradise.