The heavy downpour on February 12, slowed the initial gathering of participants of the march for female victims of gender-based violence. It was also the funeral for Andrea Bharatt, whose body was found down a precipice in Aripo, a week after she went missing on the afternoon of January 29.
Her murder, barely two months after Ashanti Riley who died in a similar circumstance, both enraged and saddened a nation tired of the apparent constant threat to women’s safety as they went about their day-to-day business.
Many participants voiced the “enough is enough” sentiment. Amber saw the series of marches and vigils as a chain reaction to all the other female victims, “…and I think that the public felt enough was enough”. She continued: “We need to change the way people think, the way the government does things, the way police react to situations when things happen.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Chrissy said among her friend group there were many experiences of rape and other sexual trauma, and inadequate resources to assist women. Friends can only do so much, “trauma bond”, but could not “offer the targeted, needed information…to recover…. I chose to stand up because something has to change.”
Despite a placard held by someone that read that a vaccine was required against toxic masculinity, Shaleeza, 40, sought to clarify that this was not a movement against men. “First, I would like to highlight all the support of the men. We as women are not against men. We think there are a lot of good men in Trinidad and Tobago. We believe that the men who are standing in solidarity with us, are going to help make these changes…we need men.”
Marches for women in the year of St Joseph
Three members of clergy walked in the march with the crowd: Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar of Communications Fr Robert Christo and Fr Simon Peter Ango.
Fr Sirju, when asked about the importance of St Joseph, especially in the context of the week’s events spoke about St Joseph as the model for men in his fidelity to marriage, Mary and his Son, reminding that Jesus would have also become who He was under Joseph’s guidance. “Joseph is a model for men yes, in many ways, in hard work, as a father, as a husband, but also he faced poverty.” Of the two classes which existed in Rome at the time, the family of Joseph, while not destitute, would have belonged to the lower classes. Thus, poverty does not exclude a healthy and loving family relationship.
He said the issue was more than just toxic masculinity—there is toxicity in relationships that went untreated. People, he said, are going into marriage and stable relationships with human toxicity. A return to scriptures was necessary, and the acknowledgement of the mutual benefits to be derived in healthy relationships between men and women: “We were meant for each other, not to stand alone. Women must stand with men; men must stand with women.”
There is work to be done on many levels: religious institutions, civil society, children, training the mind of the young, educational programmes, and sexuality. Hopefully, he said, “the nation will do something that we have not done before—make people stand up and take notice.”
Andrea Bharatt, Fr Sirju observed, has done for the country what George Floyd did for the United States. “We are tired of the bloodletting; we are tired of the loss of innocent life; we are tired of the carnage. If it is to get better, it has to be the work of all of women, and men as well.”
Justice for all…and hope
At the Red House, when the chants of “justice!” grew more fevered with the arrest of Aboud, Fr Sirju talked about the multi-dimensioned aspect of ‘justice’. There must be justice for the women who were tortured and raped, murdered or still missing, but there is a “wider social justice as well”. Each person, regardless of perception of their being “evil” must be treated with justice. “Do we know if they came from toxic homes? Is there mental illness?” or a lack of social services or infrastructural connectivity (water, electricity, drainage, roads etc)? The reach of justice, he said, had to be “very wide” so that everyone can flourish. “It is only when we address these myriad justice issues that it will have an impact on the men…we have a social issue and they are a product of the home.”
Fr Simon Peter Ango stressed the awareness that God is everywhere, even in the midst of what is happening in Trinidad and Tobago. The Church, he says, is attempting to talk to men, in this year of St Joseph. For everyone however, it is essential that hope and trust in God remains.
— By Simone Delochan