A system disconnect with mums

Today's WomanThere was an article carried in the local media recently that indicated women were purchasing most of the homes in the middle-income bracket in Barbados. The article appeared just after the land tax bill for this year had arrived in the mail.

My first thought at seeing the new land tax demand date of August was: which Government in its right mind could adjust a land tax date to coincide with families (but especially mothers, because Barbados has predominately single woman-headed households) getting children prepared for school?!

Women in Barbados have been able to use a few opportunities to pull themselves past some of the systemic poverty that kept them historically vulnerable and subservient to men. Education has been a significant impetus for women to be able to improve their options and enjoy upward social mobility, particularly in the latter half
of the 20th century.

Despite the strides made by women in the Barbadian society, there is no corresponding systemic change to improve the status and position of women in the Barbadian society.  The latest adjustment to the land tax demand and other policy decisions over the course of the last few years clearly reveal that the system in Barbados does not place emphasis on the empowerment of women as a primary focus. It shows a disconnect between those making the decisions and the understanding of how the decisions trickle into the everyday reality of the populace.

Mothers still use credit systems and loans to be able to afford the lump sum expense of back to school. Adding a land tax payment to the mix is punishing those women who, through pure resolve, have swum through unfavourable metaphorical waters to achieve home ownership.

Let us be clear that the system in Barbados still makes men believe they have the right to be the head of the house, even when women have bought the house. They believe that hiring a woman gives them
the right to sexual favours. Older men in Barbados generally seem to resent the strides being made by women; and many of them quietly seethe about the advancements.

What is also concerning is that women seem to believe that men still have these rights too; so the system remains largely unchallenged, supported by both men and women.  The moving of the land tax demand reveals that men are still seen as the predominant homeowners and that other factors like women balancing back to school with the tax demand were not even remotely considered.

Small things do matter. Some will simply dismiss the linkages I outlined in the change in the tax demand and what it says about our national philosophical orientations about women and girls –– except that we recently had a glaring consequence of the maladjustment the culture we engender in Barbados can cause.

We produce people for export, and the world culture has generally gone past us with respect to the perceptions about girls and women and how to create an enabling environment. If we keep producing men who feel they do not have to raise their standards about women and girls, we are going to create men who fail in their new environments, no matter how otherwise talented they are.

Whereas victims in Barbados are shamed, victims in America and other “developed” societies are always given the benefit of the doubt. Where we are comfortable to protect men who are successful when it becomes known they have transgressed in ways that are not socially accepted, this does not happen overseas.

What is the sense then of keeping an antiquated system firmly entrenched if we desire to produce world citizens?

There are small things which we overlook in Barbados that would be simply scandalous if they were attempted elsewhere. We keep talking improvement, but we refuse to live it; and our country is suffering badly from the lag.

Just as a child has to be taught how to add and multiply, we also have to teach social interaction and respect. We must teach our boys and girls their differences, but also how their differences are complementary to each other.

We must teach boundaries and readjust our perceptions about power, ownership and other related concepts. To address the social disorder in Barbados we must turn the culture of how we view men and women and their place.

Now, to conclude with an issue my little Facebook sister drew to my attention. Early last week, SLAM FM had a prostitute on one of its morning programmes sharing the experience of her life. I have to publicly underline my pleasure with SLAM and some of the issues it chooses to interrogate on its station.

Patrick “Salt” Bellamy is doing a good job of ensuring that young people get information about issues in a way they can process and interact with the information.

I was also inspired by Lady Envy’s willingness to push the envelope by venturing to do the interview with the popular Barbadian adult entertainer, although I thought the interview itself needed more preparation to delve into the “real issues”.    

My little Facebook sister, after hearing the admission of the young lady on air that she was a prostitute, became alarmed about the possibility of her contracting HIV/AIDS because the two share a nail technician. How do we still have such misinformation about HIV/AIDS among us after spending so much money on a national campaign for over a decade now?

There are no good people and bad people in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Prostitutes get HIV/AIDS, but then so do “church girls”. A baby’s mother who has HIV/AIDS and does not take precautions can infect her newborn infant. So what if your nail technician does the nails of a prostitute?

What my little sister centred for me, though, is that we women use a range of personal care services –– from nail technicians to wax therapists and hairdressers –– but are we certain there are industry standards that keep us protected enough? I am not thinking from HIV/AIDS per se, but from all “bugs”.

As I pointed out to my little sister, we do not ask the gynaecologist whom he used the speculum on before us.
We just trust that the industry standard for cleaning the utensil keeps us safe.

I pointed out to little sister that we do not need to shun prostitutes or nail technicians who have prostitutes as clients, for that matter. What we need to do is assure ourselves that there are industry standards to which these personal care service providers are held accountable.

We need to ask who checks up on them and ensures that they are going for their own regular health consultations. Then we can be as comfortable and confident as we are at the dentist or even the hospital.

So may I use this forum to ask: who regulates personal care providers on the island? And are there industry standards for hygiene practices?

(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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