COLUMN – On making that needed difference

Today's WomanThere were no responses from the women’s organizations I wrote to last week. That is no real surprise to me. The women’s organizations in Barbados have long since lost their sense of purpose.

They have also not been good at ensuring the young females in Barbados see involvement in women’s lobbying as important and fundamental.

The lack of viable lobby groups on the island forms a part of the narrative of why Barbados is in the precarious position in which it finds itself. There can be no effective democracy without the active participation of the masses. Our nation has found itself lacking the advocacy necessary to create a balanced system by the halting power of dissent.

The well managed transfer of power to the former colonies, now known as the Commonwealth Caribbean, has been the beginning of the repression of free remonstration in the region. But although there was a carefully managed process, first by the British and then by the United States, the discontent did spill over as the 1937 Riots, and uprisings and marches in the 1960s and 1970s.

Generally, the mechanisms such as trade unions and community groups, formed during the immediate pre- and post-Independence times were thought to have worked in protecting the interest of the masses, especially in the 1980s. There had become less need for marching and other forms of mass protest.

However, in the early 1990s, when the trade union movement in Barbados felt the workers’ gains were being eroded, Barbadians were motivated to take to the streets in their large numbers to remind their leadership that social democracy was a goal and parameter of the Barbadian state.

For the under-35 looking on at our current state of affairs, two obvious questions will come to mind. First, where did we lose both the agent of protection and the art of mobilization to the detriment of the masses and democracy? Second, will we ever be able to relearn and reclaim our pre- and post-Independence legacy of intervening in the direction and agenda of our nation on behalf of the needs and concerns of the masses?

In answering the questions we have to first realize that we made the situation worse post-1995, when the country was fully submerged in the politics of inclusion. Then Prime Minister Owen Arthur offered positions and other inducements to various heads or strategic officers in a number of community groups, unions and other non-governmental organizations. The immediate benefits of having a Government supported by all these stakeholders were obvious.

At that time in history, the island may have even benefited from the shared purpose that emerged after the 1991 to 1994 years. But as has also been shown, there were some negative effects of the politics of inclusion.

The strategic personnel and leaders lost by the non-governmental sectors, inclusive of trade unions, women’s movements and community groups, have left these organizations nigh rudderless and ill-equip to perform as gatekeepers and agitators on behalf of their major constituents –– the masses.

The political party has now become all-powerful and supreme, whereas before it worked alongside and in tandem with several other groups in the nationalist period (broadly 1930 to 1979).

The disdain which we have for the political party currently must in part be addressed by drastic reform within the political structure. However, the other part of the solution has to be to rebuild the non-governmental sector in Barbados and to reshape the role of swiftly dying agencies, including churches, community groups and other non-governmental actors.

I posit that the introduction of Constituency Councils was due to the acceptance of the facts set out above, but it was too politicized and expedient a ploy to be any real solution. To restore functionality to the Barbadian democracy we do not need to deepen the scope and reach of the political party machinery. Rather, we need to restore the checks and balances eroded by the politics of inclusion.

Our country’s women’s organizations must reassert themselves –– their role and their vision. The people of Barbados must learn how to organize their own fish cake parties –– if not tea parties!

Until this kind of movement takes place on The Rock, we will all be plodding along a dimly lit, slippery cart road where nowhere is everywhere and somewhere is elusive. Sometimes, I come very close to losing hope –– like when the women’s organizations can neither refute the claims I made in last week’s article nor be bothered enough to pen an explanation, or defence. Then a glimmer of hope appears, and I am patriotic enough to keep believing in the Idea Of Barbados.

A group of under-40s have me hoping big at the moment. This group comprises a potpourri of the best and worst our educational system has produced. Some are parents; some are not. Some were born to privilege, others barely ate coming up.

The group is only loosely known as Against Brutality. The rest of it will come as we go.

At the moment, we have decided to close ranks around the widow of Selwyn Knight to protest and cry until the death of her king man is recognized and signalled as the horrific tragedy and injustice it is.

We have officially sought permission from the Royal Barbados Police Force to march in the streets of Bridgetown to display in a vivid way our frustration and lack of hope in how our island home is treating to several issues. We are simply “trying a t’ing” because we feel in a real way that we and the generations after have more to lose in the current dispensation than even the generation from which our leaders have largely been taken. We have to believe that our peaceful, lawful action can make a difference. We have to believe that you really care about the future of this nation. We have to believe we have the power to change our island home, for if that and free education are taken away, what then will the under-40s be really left with?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email:

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