Friday, December 9, 2011

The 16 Days (Violence against women)

About this time every year, Cayman honours “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence”. There are a couple of marches, and a couple of speeches, and that’s it for another year. It has long disappointed me, that our community’s supposed concern for the safety of women is concentrated on such a brief period. Shouldn’t it be longer? It’s also disappointing that the concern seems to focus only on women who are Caymanian. Shouldn’t it cover ALL Cayman’s women?*

We don’t exclude black women or white women or brown women; why shouldn’t we extend our concern to the migrant women who work among us? (“But we do!” Oh, but we don’t!) Last month the Philippines government put Cayman on a blacklist for failing to grant adequate protection to its nationals in these Islands. How did our authorities react? Did our Immigration bureaucrats investigate the work-conditions of Filipino women in domestic service, and announce their findings to the public? Maybe they did and I missed it; more likely, they couldn’t care less what happens to migrants.

What kind of message does discrimination of this kind send to men who abuse women? Don’t rape Caymanians, but your migrant helper is fair game? Must be.

At an international conference I was at a few years ago, some female judges from several African nations spoke on the difficulty of enforcing the “right” of African wives not to be beaten by their men. International human-rights standards were fiercely opposed by tribal tradition, which verged on sacred. The battered wives invariably pleaded in court for their men’s freedom: babies would starve without their fathers’ work, they cried, truthfully. The men claimed it was their human right to beat their wives - just as some men do everywhere. Some Caymanians claim the right to exploit their migrant employees, on the grounds that it is their (the employers’) human right to do so. Well, what can you do with tribal traditions?

For many men in the civilised West, violence against women is still an equivocal topic. A joke from my schooldays, for illustration: Viking warriors! This is your captain speaking! Tomorrow we raid England. Here are my orders. Boat #1: you will do the looting! (“Hooray!!”) Boat #2: for you, the pillaging! (“Hooray!!”) Boat #3... (Groans and protests: “Oh, come on, chief! Not the bloody raping again!”)

Male violence against women is strong-versus-weak persecution. Rape is almost always about power and bullying, rarely about sex. Even in civilised societies it’s a kind of war, and every war is about strong-versus-weak. The motivation for wars is the reward you get for winning. In The Good Olde Days the prospect of rape and loot was what kept the troops in the field - and from what we read about the West’s occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, it still is.

A great many TV shows contain jokes about the prospect of male-on-male rape in prisons. Strong versus weak, again. For as long as the jokes about violence continue, our society is bound to limit its disapproval to sixteen days a year.

* This criticism is NOT directed at the Estella Scott-Roberts Foundation, but at our community as a whole. To the best of my knowledge, the Foundation’s work is beyond reproach.