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Beaches and boundaries

It caught my interest that about two weeks ago the residents of the Rockley environs were organizing to express their dissatisfaction to proposed plans to build a hotel on what is commonly referred to as the Accra Beach front. The singular question in my mind is why is a hotel with ten stories right for the Brown’s Beach area and not for the Rockley Area?

I know that there will be the usual accusers who believe that I try to stir up racial issues in Barbados but the only difference I can see between the two areas is that Rockley is home to people with power and money and colour. They know how to organize and they know that when they organize, they will be heard.

The people of Nelson Street have a colour, but that colour has historically hindered, and when the people of that colour organize they are usually shut down by law or weak financial positions. It is hard to negotiate from a position of economic vulnerability. I long to see the day in Barbados when we do not have what are, to my mind, these continued examples of how differently Barbados is experienced based on racial and socio-economic factors.   

Barbados does not need any more virgin soil to be taken up by hotel developments. This should not be a point that one colour or class of people in Barbados should be reserved to make. There are enough derelict hotel properties in Barbados that new development should be mandated to resuscitate these properties.

Additionally, trends in accommodation show that tourists are largely opting away from hotels in favor of more environmentally options such as Airbnb, Couch surfs and room share. In such a context, there seems to be little vision in continuing to sink millions of dollars into hotel plants that are environmentally obtuse and destructive to community ecosystems.

That was the first nugget I wanted to release this week. The other one has to do with a panel discussion that took place just after Fathers’ Day. The title was like a phrase from a clap trap manual – Mothers cannot be Fathers.  I was more than a little confused when I discovered that the Social Work Association was responsible for organizing the event. Nevertheless, I opted to attend, hoping that, despite the title, I would be persuaded that it was a worthwhile and wholesome discussion.

Social work is a branch of the social sciences which combines a multifaceted, non-judgmental and holistic approach to the provision of the biopsychosocial needs of an individual. Using a number of theories, the social work practitioner focuses on empowering the individual based on their expressed needs. By virtue of what social work is, there is no room for religious doctrine or judgements of rightness or wrongness based on foreign or preconceived notions. The ideas of the social worker are not the premium; the point of social work is to create a safe space for clients to grow while maintaining values important to them.

Knowing this, I was alarmed that the panel discussion featured at least three men who identified as Christian. The problem was not so much that they were Christian as that they approached their discussions from biblical perspectives. They espoused positions that were at variance with Barbadian historical and social facts such as that men were to be the heads of households. They insisted that Barbadian men were being hindered from performing their roles as men due to the investment of Barbadian women into the ‘feminist rhetoric’.

As the night progressed, I moved from being just concerned about the inciteful nature of the topic to cringing at the veiled misogyny that formed a part of the discussion on male and female roles in parenting. Panellists admitted that their own fathers were ‘wutless’ and not there for them in childhood, even as they insisted that their ‘god’ had created the man as the head of the household. The disconnect between theory and approaches to social work and the religious indoctrination was noticeable.

I think that that type of activity mounted by a national social work association is counterproductive and dangerous. It does nothing to address the causes of the dysfunction that is deeply embedded in the Barbadian household – and that dysfunction has nothing at all to do with whether the head of the household is female or male.

That dysfunction is more fixed by allowing the very safe spaces for individuals to explore their own realities and to suggest ways to move from those realities to different ones. It need not be an activity hosted in a church hall or even one with identifiable religious leaders associated. It should be a space governed by respect and equality of all human beings. There is no need for a head or an order of man vis-a-vis woman. It simply needs to be a space that premiums wholesome – whatever that looks like to individual people.

Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.

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