Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Alfred Dawes | Women’s place in the House

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2021 | 12:17 AM

I was never a fan of Barack Obama. The euphoria with him being the first black president was the manifestation of the hope that his reign would usher in a new era for Afro Americans who had suffered so long under slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racist economic policies that limited their ability to escape the welfare system.

Obama’s contribution to black history ended when he uttered the words “So help me God”. Admirers of the president claim he was hamstrung by political opponents and did what he could do for blacks. History, however, will show that Obama was able to accomplish more for the LGBTQ community than any other president in spite of strong conservative and religious backlash. It was a matter of priority.

The eight Obama years offer enough evidence that we can accept the ascendancy of a minority representative as proof of progression of the group -even if they do nothing with their newly accorded powers to empower their own.

I had made a promise not to touch the George Wright saga for more than one reason. However, in spite of personally knowing the more jovial and hardworking side of the man, there are many questions that have been raised – first, by his decision not to deny or admit that it was him on the tape; and, most important, the reactions of those who have the opportunity to use the convergence of outrage and commonality to advance the cause of gender-based violence.

 

DEAFENING SILENCE

There is absolutely no doubt that George Wright will resign as member of Parliament. He will quietly ride off into the western sunset and the howls of outrage will fade. It is, however, the deafening silence of the women in Gordon House that will be heard long after Mr Wright has gone.

There is a record-breaking 18 female members of Parliament since the September general elections. Never in the history of Jamaica have so many female legislators been elected. One would have jumped to the conclusion that this is a watershed moment in our history.

We have the numbers now to effect positive changes for the “minority” – Jamaican women who get sexually harassed constantly; who cannot leave abusive relationships because there is no victim support available; whose first sexual experience is far too often coerced; where their gang rape is euphemistically called “battery”; whose young daughters are reported as missing in order to hide them away from dons who send for them; where they are trafficked for sexual favours; and preyed upon in the workplace and even in their own homes by lustful beasts called men. These are the rights that need to be fought for by the female caucus sitting in Parliament in a non-partisan way. But in true Obamaesque fashion, far too many female legislators believe their mere presence in Parliament is evidence of their awesome contribution to women’s rights.

In an election campaign, the team has to not only examine the physical constituencies, but also the non-geographic constituents such as the youth, women, the unemployed, etc. In order to win their votes, one has to make pledges so as to woo them as much as roads and water are used to sway voters per constituency.

 

Nature of our politics

It is an indictment on the nature of our politics that we do not need to garner the support of the non-geographic constituency of female voters in order to win an election. If that were so, the status quo could not remain. Those elected would be forced to represent these constituents as much as they do for those in geographic constituencies.

Female voters would rightly be unimpressed with female legislators bigging up themselves as “powerful women overcoming the odds to sit in elected seats”. They would hold them accountable to fight for the rights of every single Jamaican woman and usher in an era of less toxic masculinity and gender-based violence.

Instead, what we have seen is the ignoring of the chorus of voices from all sectors of society uniting to condemn any alleged violence against women. This, coming right off the collective pain of the nation following several heinous murders of females.

The country is primed and waiting for that female legislator to take up the cause as much as the man who lends his name to the Parliament building, George William Gordon, took up the cause of the downtrodden who didn’t even have the privilege of voting for him.

It is not enough to send out a video of their collective voices condemning violence as was seen circulating on Friday by the government female legislators. This, after public uproar about their deafening silence on the matter. They need to use the powerful platform they now have in the House to take a resolute stand. One that leaves no question as to their position on the issue. And one that will lead to decisive action to address this scourge that has plagued us for far too long without any meaningful redress for the helpless victims. We need legislators to legislate!

How long will we have to contend with the silence, muted responses, reactive approach, or outright attempts of deflecting from the issue? There is a mob waiting to be appeased. There is a platform from which the entire world can see your stance even if it will cost you the support of your dissenting colleagues. Simply being in Parliament is not a sufficient act of feminism. You must use your unique position to advocate for the victims of gender-based violence in a meaningful way.

After a series of violent rapes in Israel, it was suggested at a Cabinet meeting that women should be placed under curfew to protect them. However Golda Meir, the first female president, refused and said: “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home”.

It is such bold moves that are necessary to enable meaningful change. If we cannot get that from the most females ever in Parliament when national support for addressing gender-based violence is at an all-time high, then God help all of the female friends and relatives in my life!

 

- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com.