COLUMN – A word to women’s agencies
My purpose this week is to put the spotlight on some dark recesses of the Barbadian way, featured on social media, and ask that the topics raised be the centre of official discussion in mainstream media. There are so many open secrets in this country sheltered in the dark and perpetuated by lack of scrutiny!
However, because a friend encouraged me to –– and I try to take advice whenever possible –– I am going to pretend that I do not feel all these organizations I am about to write to know what is going on in Barbados. I am going to pretend I am unveiling a secret and I am going to ask for the support of all Barbadian women to echo the cry that enough is enough.
I wish to pen an open missive to the National Organization of Women (NOW). I want to carbon-copy the said to the Institute for Gender and Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit (IGDS: NBU) and the Bureau of Gender Affairs (BGA). If any of the entities responds, I will publish the response in this same column, so my readers also have the benefit of the response.
A few days ago, the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation felt the need to issue a warning to teachers against becoming romantically involved with their students. The minister was, at the time, addressing the speech day and prize-giving ceremony of one of the island’s secondary schools.
Speeches at such functions are usually used to provide sound bites about noted happenings in the nation’s educational system. So, that the minister addressed the issue of student/teacher relationships suggests there is some evidence of ongoing incidences of it.
Even before the minister said it, we all knew this was happening. We all knew, because all of us went to school and we heard the accounts. We know!
Moreover, the abuse of office to gain sexual favour is not only happening in schools. Over the last few weeks there have been several accounts of such behaviour surfacing on social media involving doctors. Some people may be quick to dismiss the accounts as “rumour”, but they would be the people who do not really understand the psyche of my island home.
I remember The Investigator as a girl. I also know that we like Pudding & Souse-type news where we all know just enough to make out the story, call a friend and gossip about what we know are true stories; but we worry less about official fallout or who will be held accountable. We are comfortable that everybody has to eat, and although we know there are some people doing things that are not in keeping with good professional ethics and conduct, we refuse to call them to account.
The area of provision of medical services in the doctor-patient context is one that is being betrayed by some power holders in the situation –– some doctors. I knew that this was happening in Barbados. I have heard numerous stories; but I must admit to being alarmed at the rampant highlight on social media.
How exactly do we have the collective agency of NOW, IGDS: NBU and BGA, and there are still so many men on this island who feel confident enough to prey on women in this way? These three institutions seem to be presiding over a system that is as absolutely broken and ineffective as it was in 1856.
How do we justify the money that donor agencies are spending to support various work plans for these entities, if there seem so few changes in the areas under their mandate?
On one thread, a discussion started about a particular doctor. In less than an hour there were about 15 women who were either testifying of their personal experiences or verifying the veracity of the story because they had friends that had lived through it. Whatever we think of the website or not is not the debate I am trying to initiate here. While I do not agree with every story posted on the blog, it seems to be fulfilling the role of gatekeeper that our three women’s agencies receive money to perform. I want these three institutions to reflect on the fact that we could have what seems to be at least 20 women who were allegedly abused by a single physician, and yet none of them had the confidence in the “system” to launch a complaint about what happened.
There is going to be a chorus about women who “want it”. Still this suggests to me that the work of NOW, IGDS: NBU, and BGA is not as impactful as it should be. If the average woman in Barbados in 2015 still believes that they have to transact sex for medical care, or other services, it means that the cultural changes which these agencies champion are simply not being achieved. That is scary and disappointing to me.
If we cannot persuade the women, and we have not been able to deal with renegade physician, why do we continue with what seems to be a facade of women’s organizations?
I want to issue a clear message on behalf of the victims of such behaviour that enough is not being done to protect the dignity of women in the procurement of services on this island. I want to say that there is a duty of care for NOW, IGDS: NBU and BGA to bring this issue out of the realm of gossip and ensure that the right circumstances can be created both to ensure that the victims have the support of community they need to heal fully, as well as to call for better mechanism to regulate the behaviour of our service providers.
I want to end by apologizing to the victims of such experiences. I want to say that, as a person charged with writing on behalf of women, I will try my best to highlight the issues I know exist in this country and are in need of address. How can we be comfortable keeping these secrets collectively?
Are we aiding and abetting the very things we say we abhor?
Did I really say anything here that any of us did not know?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)