Every morning, I drive from Santa Cruz, along the Eastern Main Road, to work at the UWI. Every evening, I return home by the same route. My baby girl Ziya, so acutely observant, sits in the backseat gazing out of the window absorbing it all, her mind working faster than the speed limit. Along the way, I point out the colours of the traffic lights, and letters and numbers on signs, so that she could learn from and become observant of the world around her. Daily, I drive by billboards that in large print tell her: “It’s a man’s world, you wouldn’t understand,” even now, when people think that women have everything they could ask for.
We pass multiple such signs, like a looped soundtrack, telling this little human that she is not equal in power or status, that her equal claim to the world will be shouted down from billboards, that she will have to fight simply to not be made invisible or positioned below others just because she was born female.
What does it mean when the landscape you live in assures you that this world is not yours, and not an adult in sight cares enough to go and tear down a message as full of violence and disdain as my tiny blossom is full of promise? Despite an advertiser’s view of her, my girl is not dumb and mindless, and when she understands exactly what that sign means, what reasons will she find for the fate of living in a world denied to her before she can claim it? Will she decide this is right and give in, like a slave whose spirit has been broken? Will she decide this is wrong and live with anger at the casual brutality scattered everywhere, continuously aiming to cut her down? Will she, more responsibly than me, stop her car one day and call on anyone anywhere with a conscience, a sense of outrage at gratuitous injustice, or even a boy or girl child who deserves a world better than this, to tear down these billboards, just as citizens who decide they deserve better tear down the statues of dictators and walls that divide us against each other for generations?
Daily, I feel sick that the men and women put their minds and their money to so deliberately put down capable, hardworking and flourishing women and girls who only ask for an equal chance to aspire and achieve. Daily, I turn the blame inward, against myself, for trying to get us home amidst the afternoon traffic, like everyone else, rather than destroying those signs however I can because my baby girl deserves more than these people with power will allow her. Daily, I feel helplessness, anger, frustration and fear that maybe I am the only one that knows this company understands women as plantation owners understood coolies, as bodies to use and control, and people to disrespect and dismiss, because it’s good for profits. Daily, this is the Trinidad my girl is witness to. Daily, I stop myself from stopping the car as any mother with a girl child and a conscience, and the will to stop those billboards from beating her down, should do. Mothers, fathers, am I alone? Will you help me? Please say yes because Ziya and I need you.