March 11, 2017

#LifeinLeggings | Part 2

Hundreds of men, women and children took to the streets this weekend to rally against gender based violence. The energy was incredible, the mood almost electric. 

We started in Queen's Park and walked through Bridgetown, chanting and singing, encouraging bystanders to join in.

It was the first time I participated in something like this in Barbados, and I couldn't be prouder of the group of people who organised this event, and those who showed up to support the cause. By showed up, I mean showed up, banners, energy and all.

Summarizing the #Lifeinleggings experience is particularly challenging for me due to a number of different reasons. Firstly, there are no words that encompass the range of emotions I felt while marching with this incredible group of people. Secondly, the subject of gender based violence is complex and deserves a comprehensive discussion that takes into consideration the cultural context of the society where the violence occurs. I attempted to provide a synopsis of the #Lifeinleggings movement in a previous blog post; however, in retrospect this post did not do the movement justice. You really have to be there to experience it for yourselves.

I would also like to clarify that I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but a firm believer and supporter of women's rights and the rights of all Caribbean people.  I'm sharing my experience and personal point of view. #LifeinLeggings listed a number of incredible people and organisations that are fighting the good fight for various groups in the island and the region, and I strongly encourage you to check them out.

Though I myself am fortunate to have never suffered as a victim of violence, I have experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment throughout my life while growing up in the Caribbean. For as long as I can remember, I have been catcalled, verbally abused and harassed by men who comment on everything from my skin colour, my body (and what they want to do with it) and even on my 'bitchiness' when I don't respond accordingly.  

Society has taught me to simply ignore this behaviour and continue walking. My Dutch Mum 'aint easy' and I've learned from her example not to accept harassment, but it's only now as an adult that I've mustered up the courage to actually respond. She's told people off and given death stares, and I'm learning to perfect my own response, which is usually pretty blunt.

I've been asked why I bother to respond to these things, and my answer to that is that I can't accept it.

I've had countless discussions with women from varying age groups, races and nationalities and opinions on this topic are just as diverse. Some women are shocked by the level of harassment in the Caribbean, whereas others are indifferent or simply see it as an aspect of our culture. 

During one of the speeches at Saturday's march, the words of Ena Trotman Jemmott (a Chartered Organisational Psychologist, experienced researcher in gender based violence (GBV) and child protection specialist) really struck a cord with me: 

"We are resisting misogyny camouflaged as culture"

THAT, right there, hit the nail on the head for me.

Culture is not about teaching our boys and men to do whatever they please with women and girls.

Culture is not about disrespecting women and their bodies.

Culture is not about victim blaming, or shaming people into silence.

I marched because I believe that by forcing this issue to rear it's ugly head, Caribbean societies will be forced to deal with an issue that has been silenced for far too long.

I marched because I'm tired of accepting cat calls and sexual harassment as the norm.

I marched because I don't want future generations to grow up feeling threatened or undervalued.

I marched because I believe that if you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk.

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