Ironically, on this Valentine’s Day when love is commercialised as Cupids and cushioned in chocolates, public platforms resonate with protests regarding repeated violence against women in Trinidad & Tobago. Last week, while our nation prayed fervently for Andrea Bharatt, another victim of such violence, the discovery of her body tossed down a precipice has plunged the nation’s women into the precipice with her as they clamour for protection and they prepare for battle.
Interestingly, this national outcry against the abuse of women is mirrored in Pope Francis’s monthly prayer intention during February which is for women who are victims of violence. The Pope asks the faithful to pray for the victims “that they may be protected by society and have their sufferings considered and heeded by all”.
This protection by society is paradoxical. It takes on forms that are often neither practical nor particularly helpful, oblivious to the realities that women face. Self-defence videos now abound which describe what to do if being abducted, but these are seemingly unaware of the terror and fear that can immobilise one in such situations. Petitions proliferate social media, asking that people step-up to protect women. However, they do not petition that cultural practices, such as those in Calypso that largely judge women as negative be discontinued on the airwaves.
Instead, recriminations against legal systems which have failed women abound, yet these wilt on lips that let criminals off on bail and the pepper spray debate continues unabated. Ironically too, during this pandemic, laws that seek to protect women from domestic violence, also continue to lock them down in their homes with their perpetrators. How many more women must die before their sufferings are truly considered and their voices heeded? How many more?
Today, on public platforms, women describe themselves as “fed up” and “fearful”. Their angry voices pepper spaces where the traditional gatekeeper has lost considerable ground – in the government, in the family, in education systems, in the economy and in religion. Indeed, Pope Francis must know that all women are victims of violence—some are victims of physical assault, rape and kidnapping but others are the victims of the violence of words hurled at them in workplaces and domestic spaces and many are the victims of religious systems which see its goal of faith as protecting cultural traditions. In this milieu, women are “fed up”, “fearful” and angry, well-aware that their sufferings are not considered nor are their voices sufficiently heeded.
Women are using their anger, fear and frustration to prepare for battle. Many are taking a stand against the devil’s scheme as they point out discrimination, identify gender bias and clamour for justice. They recognise that their struggle “is not against human forces but against the rulers and authorities and their dark powers that govern this world” (Eph 6: 11-13).
Women are not ill-equipped for the battle ahead. Some already have in their arsenal prayer power. Others have found a purpose as they continue to stand firm and use their voice to speak their realities, with the belt of their truth buckled around their waists. They will not stop speaking until their sufferings are considered and their voices heeded.
Even though many no longer believe that it is the ‘hands that rock the cradle, which rules the world’, thousands of mothers, aunts, sisters and grandmothers in union with fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers who too have been tossed from that precipice with Andrea, will continue to rock that cradle, educating sons, grandsons, husbands and colleagues towards respect for women.