BY KEISHEL A. WILLIAMS
“Women have the responsibility to ensure they are not abused.” – Mayor Raymond Tim Kee, 2016 Trinidad & Tobago
After a hectic two days of music and revelry in the streets of Port-of-Spain, Ash Wednesday 2016 was a sobering jolt back to reality for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) as their Mayor’s words echoed throughout the country. Asami Nagakiya, a 30-year-old Japanese professional pannist who visited the country every year for Carnival, was found murdered in the Queens Park Savannah on Ash Wednesday morning. She was still clad in her carnival costume she donned the day before. When I heard the news, I thought of the fear she must have felt during those moments her life was being snuffed from her as her attacker strangled her small neck; her lithe body carelessly left on the ground like just another piece of trash from the previous day’s merriment.
And to add insult to what was an internationally embarrassing crime, the then Mayor of the nation’s capital, Port-Of-Spain, issued a statement implying that the vulgar behavior of women during the carnival is the cause of such tragedies. During a press conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Mayor Raymond Tim Kee stated: “You know before Carnival I did make a comment about vulgarity and lewdness. The woman has the responsibility to ensure that [she is] not abused.” Not only did this young woman’s friends and family have to deal with the loss of a loved one killed in a country that was like a second home, they also had to hear from the city’s Mayor that she’s a vulgar slut who got what she deserved. Within a few weeks, the Mayor resigned due to public pressure as a result of his statements. But what has really changed within the one year that has passed since the tragic murder occurred? Tim Kee is the perfect example of the misogyny that plagues the country and continues to perpetuate the rape culture that we see today. When calls for his resignation via petitions and protests ripped through the country, male religious leaders came out in support of Mayor Tim Kee. According to the Trinidad Newsday, Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, shamelessly stated: “I agree with him (Tim Kee) that women’s vulgar and lewd behavior makes them vulnerable to sexual crimes. Why should he apologize? He doesn’t need to apologize.” Pastor Cuffie, Pentecostal Pastor, added: “If there is one event which shows women are their own worst enemies, it’s Carnival. Carnival is all about the sordid, callous denigrating and exploitation of women by the dragging of their dignity, worth and value into the gutter. And the saddest part of this is that the most ardent accomplice to this crime is the woman herself.”
Women are being told repeatedly that their own behavior is the cause of men attacking them, and if they choose to participate in the carnival festivities they are likely to be mauled by members of the opposite sex. Women cannot hit the streets and enjoy the music and have fun without being groped and strewn against the nearest truck by a man if he so wishes. During the last year’s carnival season, many Facebook rants by women suggested their good time was being marred by aggressive men who believed they were entitled to their bodies while in a fete. It has become public knowledge that Asami’s body bore marks and bruises even about her waist. This thought made me cringe because it reminded me of a man aggressively grabbing me about the waist during that same carnival season in an ill-advised attempt to dance with me. Any attempt to push them away is often met with hostility as this type of aggression is part of the culture – according to the men.
Even many of the Carnival songs call out women who refuse to have fun in that way, referring to them stush [believed to be above the rest] and attempting to shame them for not wanting to participate. There are songs urging women to take what “they get” which means in whatever way a man sees fit to approach and handle a woman, she is required to accept it because “it’s Carnival.” The entire carnival experience has now grown to be vulgar, loose and downright deplorable under the guise of fun.
Regardless, a murdered woman cannot and should not be blamed for the actions of someone who chose to end her life for reasons we the public still do not know. As another Carnival rolls around, in light of that situation leaders should not be attempting to tell women what they can or cannot wear, or do, or even who they can share their bodies with if they so choose. The conversation should be leaning towards teaching men, young and old, that a woman’s body is her own and should not be abused. I have yet to hear people in authority in T&T actively speak to the men about the way they treat women. Many women are faced with this rape culture every day and have no other choice but to live with it because women’s rights is not a prominent issue being addressed. Before last year’s Carnival, a high school student was placed on suicide watch after two male classmates forced her into a classroom and one raped her while the other watched. At that age what gave these young men the impression that they had that type of authority over her body to engage in such an act? The daily rape culture they see from the men in their society is what gives them that impression and dare I say, permission, to engage in such acts.
One year later, with Carnival 2017 three weeks away Asami’s murder is still open with no arrest made. Since the beginning of the year, gender-based violence has been a hot topic in T&T with the number of women being killed rising almost daily. And as if right on cue, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley last night boldly stated: “You called on the Prime Minister to do something about crime. I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men,” in response to yet another woman murdered by the hands of a man in HIS country. These are your leaders. These are the men making the laws that govern women’s bodies. These are the men who refuse to protect those in their country. Let that sink in!
Carnival has become open season on women! Asami’s assault and strangulation was no more important than the other violence against women in the country. It just added to the international spectacle of the injustice women face under the umbrella of culture. Although the Mayor has resigned from his post, people like him still has a long way to go in understanding women’s rights in T&T. No one has been charged with Asami’s murder yet and no one is expected to be charged as the world may have now forgotten about her. How long are we going to sit back and allow this rape culture to rule the country of Trinidad and Tobago?