Why feminism matters to Caribbean development  

What we know of feminism, its actors and causes is often linked to Western realities in the United States and Europe. What we read and what is televised can sometimes give a false understanding of a movement which is relevant to all spheres of the globe including our own. But to be able to appreciate its value within our society means connecting its objective with the multiple social issues which plague Caribbean societies.

Emma Watson accurately defined feminism as “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Undoubtedly, however, too many stories and actions have falsely framed it as solely the cause of women, when this could not be further from the truth. Throughout the world, feminism matters to men, women, boys and girls. Accordingly, feminist and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advances the idea that both boys and girls should be raised feminist.

Within the Caribbean, feminism is tied to racial, social, economic and political struggles. It is embedded throughout the history of our region, in the enslavement of our people, the foundations of the education system, politics and governance, the administration of justice, the structure of the economy and crime. These issues are societal, but have varying impacts for men and women, making one or the other more susceptible to being victims of injustice or having an unfair advantage because of their sex, which is based on biology or their gender which is determined by socialization.

The Caribbean reality is punctuated with many social cancers which can be better understood and addressed through feminism. The underbelly of rape culture in which predominantly young girls and women are raped and murdered is an important example. It is grounded in the idea that women are objects, property owned by men and not people. From 9-year-old Ariel Bohla in Grenada, to Sadia Byron in St. Lucia, and the wave of assassinations of women in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and beyond, the need for equality and justice is undeniable.

It is also part of the devalorization of Caribbean men and the normalization of their death in bloody, brutal and senseless ways. Their lives are so quickly reduced to statistics that regrettably their murders become as normal as sunshine is to the Caribbean. Importantly, in observing the domestic violence landscape, injustice based on sex and gender is reflected in the belief that it is normal and natural for a woman to be beaten by her male partner.

Similarly, it contributes to the false construct of what masculinity or being a man is which allows men to be victims of domestic violence without voice or recourse. Moreover, beyond identifying these problems, it is essential to identify sources that can provide pragmatic solutions or minimize their occurrence. For example, within the mandates of political parties, issues linked to gender justice are either non-existent, miniscule or utilized as political weapons to reduce the legitimacy of opposing candidates.

As well, in national parliaments, legislation is more often than not under utilized in resolving problems that impact men and women disparately, and therefore require special measures to be passed. Critically, if one examines the allocations of national budgets of Caribbean states, it becomes clearer why gender-based challenges exist, as ministries that deal with Gender Affairs receive a small slice if not crumbs of the monetary pie. Thus, reform is needed in how we deal with these national issues at all levels of governance and within national politics.

Furthermore, the role of the citizen cannot be excluded from this discourse. Societies play a pivotal role in creating certain ideas and cultures. Ideas of masculinity, femininity, and rape culture are no different. They become normal and acceptable when members of the society speak and actualize them, are silent towards the injustices and abuses they facilitate and do not demand change by creating change themselves.

For instance, when a woman is raped, the focus shifts from the perpetrator of the heinous act to criminalizing and policing the victim herself for what she wore, where she was and how she looked as validation for her exploitation. Hence, she becomes a victim of rape and victimized for being a woman who was raped. Similarly, falsehoods of what masculinity is, also makes men and boys who are raped victims suffer in silence.

The notion that men are always strong, erases the likelihood that they too may also fall prey to sexual predators. Consequently, these narratives must be destroyed within our families, churches, schools, places of employment, government and all social spaces.

And so, the cause of feminism in the Caribbean is intertwined in ensuring that the humanity of every citizen is prioritized, regardless of what sexual reproductive organ is below their waist. It is meant to expose the systems that make men and women unequal citizens, where either one can be made invisible and subject to abuses, denying them opportunities and rights in the home, workplace, churches, justice system, economy, education, media and government.

It would do us good to be feminist, standing against the injustices that impact men and women, thereby creating an environment where Caribbean civilization can flourish because all its citizens are free to live their best lives.

Source: (Rhyesa Joseph is a graduate student of the Cave Hill campus, currently pursuing an MPhil in Political Science in the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work)

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