Of Bizzy, domestic violence and Zika

Todays WomanSeveral things have been resting on my mind this week. Forgive me for presenting you with several thoughts in this week’s space; but we must keep eyes on multiple issues if we are to continue problem-solving in our island.

Mr Ralph “Bizzy” Williams responded to my last week’s column, and we were able to have a chat about the issues I had tabled.

I am now more aware of how Mr Williams has set up his companies and of the fact that his employees get shares in the enterprises at five-year intervals.
I was heartened to hear about Mr Williams’ approach, and I think we also agreed that although that was the personal model of wealth sharing and creation he had endorsed and practised, it was far more the exception than the rule in Barbados.

There still needs to be an overall challenge to the race and class system in the island, but I had to concede to Mr Williams that all our problems and solutions were not the sole responsibility of the white Barbadian community. There is much to be done to among ourselves, in terms of how we treat and relate to each other as black Barbadians as well.

Mr Williams was willing to have a conversation. I am not sure if we agreed on most things, but we spoke and were able to agree on some things.

Engagement is a strategy which parties in Barbados are all too often unwilling to activate, especially when they perceive that what was said is critical. The only way to build consensus and move Barbados forward is to talk; both when it is comfortable to do so, and when it is not.

Domestic legislation. The amendments to the Domestic Violence Act were debated in Parliament last week. Those of us at the forefront of advocacy for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls are obviously gratified with the improvements. However, the legislation still stops short of some of the critical elements needed to fight domestic violence.

For instance, the offence of domestic violence is still one against a person and not the state. Hence women can still be coerced by perpetrators to drop legal action. I believe this is a significant shortcoming of the amended legislation.

Nevertheless, we are further along; and we must now ensure that in concert with the amendments we create a culture of change in the relations between men and women in order to get maximal buy-in for the new legislation. There has been some public discussion about the part of the act that seems to give the police powers of arrest upon suspicion that a party will commit an act of domestic violence.

If men in the Barbadian society are concerned about this part of the legislation, the Government and its spokespeople should not glibly dismiss the concerns. Perhaps explaining the intent would serve more purpose.

In the majority of cases, before a woman gets seriously injured or loses her life in a domestic scenario, a pattern of behaviour emerges from the perpetrator. The behaviours are usually identical, and researchers have been able to create several lists –– which are easily found on the Internet and in papers.

In many instances, early intervention can result in a woman being able to save herself. I believe that the spirit of the legislation is that where there have been two or more arrests or state interventions against an individual, the police, in response to further unrest, could take that individual into custody.

This would be acceptable because the arrest would not be carried out against a random Joe on the street, but against a known individual with antecedents and predisposing behaviour.

The band of the law cannot be seen to be so wide that it could possibly affect law-abiding men going about their daily business. This is counterproductive to even strengthening the legislation, because it is the change in attitudes and culture that will alleviate domestic violence; not legislation.

If the legislation makes men feel alienated and turns them off partnering with us even more, we are worsening our position; not strengthening it.

There is no law in Barbados that gives the police power of arrest on the suspicion of will to commit an offence. Officers arrest in the past tense, not the future. A police officer can ask an individual to move along if they do not have an adequate explanation for where they may be, or if a disagreement has started.

In the same way, I agree with an officer having the right to ask a party to leave a premises out of an abundance of caution, if a dispute has occurred. I stop short, however, of agreeing that a law should be instituted to lock up a man just because he seems angry, or because his face looks like he may commit a future crime.      

On the Zika virus. The discussion on Zika continues across Barbados. I saw in another section of the media that our island has been chosen for a study on the virus. I also note that the Ministry of Health has advised it will not caution women of child-bearing age in Barbados to delay their pregnancies like other countries have done, including Jamaica, one of our
CARICOM counterparts.

If there was a link between the study and wanting women in Barbados to continue getting pregnant, there would be full disclosure wouldn’t there? As far as we know, the cases of Zika in Barbados are still in the double digits, according to the Ministry of Health, right? What would be the attraction of choosing Barbados as a research area when other areas in Central and South America have been so hard hit by Zika?

If our rates of infection were higher we would know, right? It would be ethically wrong to allow women in Barbados to get pregnant to see if there is a link between microcephaly and Zika only, or if there is another variable in a country, say like Brazil that distributed vaccines to pregnant mothers, right?

In the absence of full disclosure my mind sometimes wanders about. Full disclosure, though, is not a norm in my country; it is an exception. You can sooner get a private citizen like Mr Williams to engage you on an issue than Government representatives, say from the Ministry of Health, that are paid with my VAT, my income tax, my land tax, my Solid Waste Tax, and my Consolidation Tax and . . . . Well, you get the idea? I am running out of column space!

Why are they choosing Barbados as an area for a Zika study? Do you know?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.
Email mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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