In light of some of the narratives that have emerged in these past weeks around Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya's murder, the resignation of former Port of Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee, and Rachel Sukhdeo's brave and desperate take to social media, it is evident that many people are still unclear about how these incidents are related and constitute a larger cultural acceptance of gender based violence.
The term gender based violence was introduced by women's rights advocates and eventually policy makers, shifting away from the more commonly used term domestic violence , in a deliberate attempt to challenge the gender blindness that began to depoliticize the term, by clearly identifying a victim's sexual designation as the basis of their vulnerability, as well as broadening the scope of what was considered violence and the various contexts in which it occurs outside of intimate partnerships. Despite these efforts, the imagery that seems to be conjured when we use these terms remains quite narrow.
This was evidenced by the public's inability to recognize how the death of Asami and the abuse of Rachel are part of the same problem. Rachel Sukhdeo posted a number of graphic images on social media of her bruises following an altercation with her husband Sheron Sukhdeo, which represents the typical 'man beats wife' understanding of how domestic violence functions in our society. Asami, on the other hand, was killed by an unknown assailant in a public place by way of strangulation. Despite this method of assault being generally classified as a 'crime of passion', particularly when the victim was not relieved of any valuables or sexually assaulted as was proved by Asami's autopsy, members of the public still seemed unable to identify her death as a gender based crime because it did not fit the template to which we are accustomed.
If we stretch our memory just a bit further back to October of last year when nude photos of Nikitha Cornwall were leaked by an employee of an electronic store, much of the conversation around these incidents was focused on women needing to take better care of their private images (or not having any in the first place) versus a discussion around an individual's right to privacy and the invasion of that privacy being an unethical and criminal act. In the same month we also saw Therese Ho's decision to pursue legal action against ex boyfriend and WI cricketer Lendl Simmons for leaked nude photos of the couple, set a legal precedent that resulted in him having to pay a $150 000 fine. There are countless other examples both here and globally, with women having to consistently redirect criticisms toward the perpetrator and away from the victim, not only condemning these acts as wrong but also firmly establishing 'slut shaming' and revenge porn as gender specific acts of violence that aim to police women's bodies.
In another contentious issue involving a WI cricketer, Chris Gayle found himself in hot water after asking Australian reporter Mel McLaughlin if she would accompany him for drinks during a post match interview, followed by him advising her not to blush. Women are consistently subject to this type of harassment in the workplace and other professional settings because there is an underlying idea that they should not be there in the first place. We are constantly being told directly and indirectly by men that if we bat outside our crease there will be unpleasant consequences.
Fortunately our legal system seems to be catching up, with the case of Therese Ho representing a real victory for cyber crime prosecution and the sentencing of a man to six months imprisonment for fondling a woman's breast without her consent in January of this year. These are positive indicators of an increased understanding for the protection of women against myriad forms of violence but there is still much work to be done. We must completely do away the idea that women can reduce the risk of being attacked by being careful, dressing modestly or any other recommendation with regard to their deportment because the fact of the matter is, women are being attacked because they are women. Because we are not considered equal to men. Because we are not fully acknowledged as human beings.
Many people asked where was the protest for Rachel Sukhdeo and perhaps we need to be reminded that there are over 5, 000 reported cases of domestic violence each year, all of which deserve our attention - but the load is too heavy for any one of us to carry alone. Outside of the bruises that we can see on our skin, women's dignity is being taken away from them, even in death. We must continue to speak out on all forms of violence against women and connect the dots, when they would rather distract us with the politics of divide and rule.
*This post has been altered slightly from the original article by the author, first published in the Trinidad & Tobago Express WOMAN magazine.
Stephanie Leitch is the Founding Director of WOMANTRA.