400 Days

Just over four years ago I became actively involved in advocacy, specifically LGBT rights advocacy.

Just over two years ago I became actively involved in gender equality advocacy.

Just under a year ago I aggressively took on the issue of sexual violence.

I am now on my way out of activism, and I’ve learned that being a part of a movement that is focused on addressing the issue of sexual violence is not easy; it is probably the most difficult kind of activism there is.

For some people, I get a lot of things wrong, some days I wonder if I got anything right.

I continue to disappoint myself (and I suppose others) because I don’t see the change happening, and because this problem of sexual violence sometimes seems insurmountable.

The work is also emotionally draining, and I understand why many people don’t actively do it.

In hindsight, I perhaps should not have taken on this problem. So I’ve decided to give myself 400 more days in this fight, in this movement. I will be criticised for my decision; I’m certain of it.

People will say I don’t care anymore.

People will say I don’t have the stamina and emotional fortitude for the work – this, this would be true.

But I do hope that those who will criticize my decision to give up, and those who will say I don’t care anymore, and those who do have the stamina and emotional fortitude needed to do this much needed work, will step up and do much of what I couldn’t do, and much of what needs to be done.

There is a certain kind of perfection that is expected of you as an activist.

You are often not allowed to be human.

You are not allowed to have personal distance from the survivors who need you, even if it’s to keep your sanity.

You are not allowed to care for self if it means you can’t be there enough for all the survivors who may need you.

You are not allowed to say no because you’ve said yes so many times that you are now almost at the proverbial ‘burn out’.

You are not allowed to slow down because you’ve always been known to go hard, sleep less, and do more.

You are not allowed.

Because for some, once you say you are doing this work to end sexual violence against women and children, once you say you are a part of this movement, you are expected to be a saviour for all survivors who may cross your path.

So I have learned to accept the criticisms and live with the narrative that many may now have of me because I am going soft, sleeping more, and doing less.

My 400 more days will be spent doing the best I can with the little experience, wisdom and expertise I have. And if I can inspire hope and be there, be really present for 10 survivors over these 400 days, I will retire alright; I will retire happy and healthy and grateful.

And for everything I may have gotten wrong, it is my hope that I can get it right for 10 survivors.

Before I go, I ask of you, all of you, to never forget the humanity in activists. Don’t place the burden of change on their shoulders only. Please. Activism is not easy. And activists want to be healthy and happy too. Allow them to breathe. More often than not, they are doing the best they can do in their bid to make life even just a little better for the lives they touch.

 

 

Let’s be kind to our children

Since the widely circulated video of a mother repeatedly hitting her child with a machete, the conversation about the abuse of children has intensified. More recently, UNICEF reports show that Jamaica is a violent place for children. Just last week, State Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information – Floyd Green announced that the Government of Jamaica intends to ban beating in all schools – principals and teachers will no longer be ‘allowed’ to hit children. Yesterday (November 7, 2017), Prime Minister Andrew Holness asserted in Parliament that it was time for Jamaica to have a full ban on beating children, not just in schools, but in homes. In his assertion, he noted that there was no consensus on the issue across, and within party lines. I find that to be rather unfortunate.

It is unfortunate that all our political leaders do not recognize that adults hitting children is not something to be tolerated in homes, in schools, in communities and in the society.

I often tell people that when an adult hits a child, it is simply about that adult lacking the capacity to control their rage only in respect of children. Many adults (including teachers) who hit children would never dare raise a hand or belt or whip or machete at their employer if the employer disappointed them, or treated them unfairly. It means therefore that these same adults know fully well how to control and manage their rage if they deem it important and self serving to do so.

But with children, they perhaps believe they are the power holders, so they disregard the full humanity of our children and sometimes forget that children are citizens with rights.  After all, Jamaica is a very unkind place for some our children to live.  Between 2011 and 2015 thousands of children have been raped and otherwise sexually assaulted. This year alone (up to October) 47 children were murdered. And the brutal crimes being committed against our children are perpetrated largely by adults.  It is clear that some of us have little regard for our children; we don’t engage our children as if they have a right to a life with dignity.

In the great debate about the ‘right’ of adults to hit children, one of the first questions folks like to ask is, how do you discipline a child who has done something ‘wrong’? It is almost as if the default thinking is: hitting children is the only and primary method of creating an environment where children avoid doing ‘wrong’ or misbehaving or disappointing adults. And in that debate, when some people propose ‘alternatives’ to hitting children as a form of ‘discipline’, it often sounds like emotional and psychological abuse – the isolation, denying them access to the things they enjoy, temporarily banning all play, preventing them from engaging their peers, etc.

But all we need to do is have conversations with our children.

We have to do a better job at conflict resolution.

When we get in an angry fit because a child disappoint us, and we feel the (disappointing) urge to hit them, have a conversation with them instead. You do not need to hit them. And if you are so angered that you can’t have that conversation, I am suggesting that you take a time out – go outside, look to the Lord in the heavens and scream as loud as you can, for as many times as you need. If after that you still feel like you want to hit the child, whatever instrument you would have used to hit that child, find that same instrument and hit yourself repeatedly until you are tired, absolutely tired. In your tired state, you should then drink some water; that should cool you down too. After the rage has passed or at least subsided, you can then attempt to have a conversation with the child.

We do not need to hit children for them to know that we are disappointed in an action they took or an utterance they made. We do not need to hit children for them to know that they have done or said something ‘wrong’, which should not be repeated. Many of our children are smarter than we were when we were at their age; we can reason wid dem.

I have a 7-year-old nephew. If he does something I find to be disappointing, I have what usually turns out to be long conversations with him about a better course of action he could take or a better way to voice his discontent so that it doesn’t cause physical or emotional harm to his peers, teachers, parents and other family members.

I often use many analogies and ask questions about what would be the outcome of applying his behaviour to the circumstances I present in each analogy. Sometimes it’s time consuming, but I stay the course because I want him to learn the importance of dialogue in conflict resolution and behaviour change. After our long conversations, he usually recognizes the error/s he made and the harm he caused. He would then sincerely apologise and commit to doing something kind to make up for the harm he may have caused and the disappointment I felt. Outside of him talking excessively in class (because in my opinion he’s not being cognitively stimulated at school) he has never repeatedly committed the same ‘offence’.

Our children are citizens of this country. We need to be more considerate of their welfare. I do hope that we will have that national ban on hitting children. I also hope that a part of that process will be the (re)socialization and conscientization of our people, to ensure that we all have the tools we need to be better caregivers and duty bearers for our children.

Let Me Abort if I Want

Dear Minister Tufton,

I have seen the report in today’s (November 5, 2017) Sunday Gleaner that women continue to turn up at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston & St. Andrew needing care because of botched abortions. We know this has been happening for many years.

I also note that in your interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, you acknowledged that we should be having dialogue about the issue of access to safe and legal abortions. You also noted that our religious leaders are likely to vehemently oppose giving citizens access to safe and legal abortions.

I know that as a society we like to call ourselves Christian, and we sometimes like to listen to religious leaders more than we listen to the rest of our citizens.

It is something I understand,  perhaps because some of our religious leaders are what some would call model citizens who have made significant contributions to Jamaica’s development. My dad is one such leader, so I get it, I really do.

But it is my opinion that as a state, we do an injustice to our people, and we infringe on their human rights when we decide that our religious leaders should have a say in what a person does with their own womb.

It is my opinion that each citizen who has a womb should decide whether they want to keep that womb, whether they want to allow a foetus to develop in that womb, and whether they want their womb’s lining to shed blood each month.

As a state, we have been sending a very dangerous message to some of our citizens for over a century. And that message is this: some citizens do not have rights over their own bodies.

And if the state is sending that message, it is no surprise that some citizens believe that they have rights over other citizens’ bodies – we see it in sexual assault and rape cases every day.

The state cannot continue to send that message to its citizens, that it supports the controlling of a person’s womb by religious leaders, by Ministers of Government, by everyone EXCEPT the owner of the womb.

Last year some U.S. citizens made daily calls to then Indiana Governor Mike Pence to give him detailed updates on their periods because, like the Jamaican government, he believed he should control citizens’ wombs.

To many, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to do, but note, that’s the same ridiculous thing a state is doing when it tells citizens what they can and cannot do with their wombs.

You are a pragmatic Minister.

I would also like to believe that you would like to stop sending a message to citizens that you intend to continue controlling their wombs by forcing them (through the law) to do what you want them to do with their wombs, and if they don’t, you are going to put them in prison for the rest of their lives, as prescribed by the law.

I am hoping that you will recognise sooner than later that abortions need to be legal, safe and accessible to every citizen who may need it, as it is in Guyana and Barbados. It is my view that we can learn from, adapt and improve upon what Guyana and Barbados have been able to achieve in this regard.

We owe it to our citizens.

We see what has been happening at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital for several years. And we know that this law, which makes all abortions and all attempts to access and to complete an abortion, is an unjust law.

I am counting on you to protect and respect the rights of every Jamaican citizen.