Gender, Social Justice

The Caribbean is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman

I recently attended a memorial service for a woman who was kidnapped and found dead a few days later. It shook me to my core.

For the last decade or so, there has been an increase in violent crimes in Trinidad, with an alarming number of them being against women. Dozens of women and young girls have been reported missing; some were kidnapped and their remains found, some kidnapped and never found, some have disappeared, and others have been victims of horrific crimes – in some cases by their relatives or partners, other times by strangers.

As each kidnapping and crime-related horror unfolds, we make sure to take extra precautions for the next few days, even weeks. But eventually, we let our guards down, until the next story breaks and shakes us to the core once more. Sadly, there hasn’t been much reassurance from the government and protective services. Sometimes their “reassurance” takes the form of reckless comments perpetuating rape culture,  which later have to be clarified, but are never rescinded.

Most times, we’re able to digest these reports without being emotionally invested in the story, but sometimes, it can hit too close to home.

Recently, I attended a memorial service to mark the one year anniversary since a young woman went missing and was found in a grave just days later. She was killed just before her next birthday. She wanted to take the next step in her career and was taken advantage of, and murdered by a man who said he’d help her.

As I sat there listening to sermons directed to her family about being strong, that justice will come, and that the family should remember that death can happen at any time, I found myself being overwhelmed with emotion. In my admiration of her family’s composure throughout the program, I was angry. I shouldn’t have been sitting in a memorial service for someone who was only trying to move on with her life – she was young, ambitious, and hopeful about her future, and she was preyed upon because of it.

I’m sick and tired of my fellow Trinidadian women being statistics. I’m tired of seeing story after story come out about a new atrocity, only for it to circulate for a few days and then die down. I’m tired these women only being remembered when something similar happens and reopens the already too-fresh wound. I’m tired of others complaining “it’s only getting worse,” and not doing anything to help inflict change.

Trinidadian women are the punching bags for Trinidadian men, and it’s despicable. Worse yet, there’s no way out. If a woman stays with her abuser, she’s considered the problem. If she tries to get away, she can become the victim of an attack by her ex-partner acting in a jealous fit of rage. Or, most chillingly of all, she can be going through her daily routine, “playing by the rules,” and still become another statistic.

Too often the conversation goes back to “why did she stay with him,” or ” be careful, you can’t trust anyone out there,” instead of having serious conversations about the violence that Trinidadian men inflict on the women around them, and trying to unpack the reasons why they do so. Half the population can’t be living in fear of the other half, hoping that they don’t become the next statistic.

In 2016, there was public outcry following the mayor’s statements “women have the responsibility to ensure they are not being abused,” which came after the discovery of the body of Asami Nagakiya, a Japanese national and competitive steel pan player who had visited Trinidad many times before, who’d been strangled in her Carnival costume. There was a nationwide petition which got thousands of votes, women showed up to protests in their Carnival costumes, and he officially resigned the next week. This was unprecedented – never before had widespread public outcry led to the resignation of a mayor. It serves as an example of how we can all come together to bring an end to victim blaming and work towards making a safer space for all women of the country.

A 2017 report cited the Caribbean and Latin America as the region with the highest rate of violence against women. This is despite the fact that there was an increase in policies passed directed at protecting women.  Domestic partner abuse was the main culprit of the violence.

In Latin America, women have been bringing light to these issues by leveraging unconventional platforms. For example, beauty pageant contestants have chosen to list statistics on violence against women in their respective countries instead of their physical measurements.  In 2017, there was the region-wide #lifeinleggings march which saw multiple countries across the Caribbean participating- the first of its kind.

There are some women, who despite never meeting, you never forget their names, you never forget their stories, you never forget the ordinariness of the last things she did before her life was snatched away, and you carry the hope for justice for her with you.

I’ve found that person. It was through her death I found out she was my family, but how many more women will say the same before things change?