D people Parliament is not the place for patriarchy; period. All candidates seeking public office should be meticulously screened, not only for portfolio and party compatibility but also for biases that impact their ability to serve the national community. Sexism is among these biases and one of the most dangerous. The attendant risks are not assuaged by the ‘plausible deniability’ tactics, such as being quoted “out of context,” employed by politicians to dismiss public outrage and backlash. And while our country-folk are accused of having short-term memory, the words and actions of our politicians have been well documented by local media, the legacy of which informs what is deemed acceptable behaviour for those in authority and continues to haunt us today. In the midst of the 2020 general election campaign, it is clear that this problem persists. In the past few weeks alone, we have witnessed the nomination of a candidate currently before the Courts on charges of rape and sexual assault; the granting of an interim protection order against an aspiring candidate; serious online allegations involving sexual offences being levelled against another candidate; the resurfacing of allegations of sexual harassment, victim blaming and other instances of grossly misogynist narratives. We note that these problems are wide reaching and that aspiring Members of Parliament from at least 3 political parties have come under scrutiny, underscoring the need for urgent and collective attention to end violence against women in politics.
D Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago must be free from ideologies, behaviours and people who put women at risk, whether in the home, in the street or in public office. In this vein:
We call for the amendment of Chapter IV of the Constitution to provide that persons who are convicted of any offence involving sexual harassment or assault be disqualified from being elected or appointed as a member of the Senate and/or the House of Representatives. We further ask all political parties to give an undertaking that persons who are accused of domestic violence and sexual offences, including sexual harassment will not be nominated as candidates pending their exoneration by the relevant authorities.
We also call on the Privileges Committee of the Parliament to review the booklet on parliamentary language and update it to admonish the use of sexist statements, comments or words. Borrowing from the 2020 Council of Europe (COE) report, we echo the call for our Parliamentarians to take a strong stand against sexist attacks targeting women and to introduce or revise codes of conduct explicitly prohibiting sexist behaviour and speech in their assemblies. The COE Report also recommends that States be vigilant during election periods with regard to sexist attacks against women and to monitor candidate nomination procedures for inequalities.
We urge the TTPS to take all allegations made against political officials or aspiring representatives seriously and commence investigations promptly, particularly given the impending election of August 10th. We encourage all persons who have been affected or have witnessed acts of sexism or assault especially in public office to make a report to the TTPS. Instances of revenge porn must also be swiftly investigated by the Cyber Crime Unit of the TTPS.
We stand in solidarity with women candidates who have been the victims of such attacks and firmly denounce the claims that victims of revenge porn should be barred from public office. Such a position is difficult to reconcile with the recent amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, which expand the definition of emotional or psychological abuse to include unwelcome or intimidatory contact through electronic means.
The candidates who wish to enter d people Parliament deserve close scrutiny if they are to represent us. Perpetrators in positions of power not only silence victims but are granted access to further perpetuate their power and control over those they are charged with protecting. If violence against women is allowed to run rampant at the House of Representatives, how can gender equality be achieved in the lower rungs of the public service, the corporate sector, and within the home? We cannot and must not allow persons who commit crimes and devalue women, in words or in deeds, to have access to the seat of power in this country. Violence against women cannot be business as usual and we demand more from our leaders.
This statement is endorsed by the following organizations:
- CAFRA T&T
- Caribbean Feminist (CARIFEM)
- Caribbean Male Action Network (CARIMAN)
- Catcalls of UWI
- Conflict Women, Ltd
- The Silver Lining Foundation
- Women’s Institute for Alternative Development – WINAD