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T&T’s women feel betrayed

Published: 
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Outrage at PM’s comments on domestic abuse...

Several women’s groups and activists have expressed outrage at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for saying that women should choose their male companions more wisely.

Among them was Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who said when she entered her office yesterday, all her female employees were talking about Rowley’s statements.

“They all felt very betrayed that the Prime Minister was blaming women because of the choices they made,” she said

On Monday night at Maloney in the first in a series of 14 National Conversations, Rowley made the comment in reference to the spate of domestic-related killings of women in recent times.

“You called on the Prime Minister to do something about crime. I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men,” Rowley said.

Statistics from Victim and Witness Support Unit of the T&T Police Service show that between 2005 and 2015, almost 300 women were killed as a result of domestic abuse, while there were some 7,000 reported cases of domestic abuse between 2008 and 2015.

Yesterday, Mahabir-Wyatt said it was unfortunate that once again women are being blamed.

“Women were being blamed for not choosing properly rather than the perpetrator being blamed for their action and violence, and that is what one of the problems is,” she said, adding that in the last 12 months 40 women were killed as a result of domestic violence.

Noting that the Office of the Prime Minister included a ministry dealing with women’s affairs, Mahabir-Wyatt said Rowley ought to be a role model to men and exemplify what men should not be doing rather than blaming women’s choices. She said this would make a difference in domestic violence.

On whether Rowley was being crass and insensitive, she said his comments reflected a “general cultural attitude” that women are responsible when they are molested or killed.

“The statement is that women should chose better, not that men should cease violence,” she added.

Feminist advocacy group Womantra accused Rowley of victim blaming and said that type of behaviour must stop.

The group’s co-director, Khadija Sinanan, said: “The Prime Minister’s comments are disappointing to say the least, especially given the unprecedented acts of violence against women, both inside and outside the bedroom.”

She said the statements also showed a lack of sensitivity towards domestic violence victims.

“Too many men and women have fought hard against this backward idea that domestic violence is people’s private business and is a personal issue.

“Instead of blaming women for choosing the wrong men, perhaps Dr Rowley’s time would be better spent on pontificating on his responsibility to the women and girls of this country who are maimed, raped, defiled and disappear on a now daily basis. Stop blaming victims and start protecting them,” Sinanan said.

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Lecturer and head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Dr Gabrielle Hosein, said Rowley’s statements were “very disappointing,” as they failed to recognise that violence against women is not simply about women’s choices in relationships.

“This in fact takes place in a context where there is no gender based violence sensitivity training in schools. There is insufficient training around gender based violence protocols and responses among the police and social services, as well as the court system,” Hosein, a columnist with the T&T Guardian, said.

She said the fundamental message the Prime Minister should be sending is that women are not responsible for male violence. Hosein recommended that the PM convene an emergency meeting with women’s organisations to come up with strategies to deal with domestic violence.

Also weighing in on the issue was the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc). In a release, the union said for the past three weeks it had been highlighting the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and calling for the removal of Dr Rolph Balgobin as chairman of Angostura Holdings Limited.

Natuc said women are not powerless and urged them to raise their voices for the right to work in a safe environment, for the right to travel from place to place and feel safe, for the right to send their daughters to school and welcome them home at the end of the day.