By Jasmyn Sargeant
In local dialect when someone seems to be telling you what to do when they have no authority to do so, a popular response would be “Youz meh fadda/ mudda?”. This response usually ignites a burst of laughter in the group but did you ever consider if the law also acts like a fadda/ mudda?
Well on the surface one may think that is what the law is there for, to parent. To essentially tell us what to do, and then be corrected when you fail to follow as instructed. Let’s take this a step further and look specifically at the ‘parent daughter’ dynamic, where most young women may have experienced limited freedom, as parents feel more inclined to be overprotective of their daughters. The law can have that same paternalism with women as well.
Let’s travel to 1926, in Trinidad and Tobago when it was the first time women were given the right to vote (enfranchised). WAIT! Only women over thirty years old who had their own property, that was not linked to their husband, were enfranchised (and you could imagine these women in that time were very few and far between). In 1926, men over twenty-one who owned property were allowed to vote. Why the difference in age?
All citizens were given the right to vote in 1946 but women had to lobby to be included in that campaign but at that time only men could run in elections. So a woman could vote, but only for a man. Then in 1950 women were allowed to run in an election. Exactly what were they protecting women from? Voicing their own thoughts?
But that was 70 years ago and it’s all good now!
“Our Body, Our Choice”. By the phrase you might already know what it alludes to. There are multiple bodies of work against the criminalization of abortions (which applies in T&T). Moreover, in Trinidad and Tobago there isn’t legislation pertaining to tubal ligation (tying tubes). The operation is legally allowed in both the public and private health sector, however it seems to be regulated by doctors. Many doctors refuse to do the procedure on young women and in some instances married women had to have their husband’s consent in order to proceed (although it could not be confirmed if the same applies for a husband getting a vasectomy).
There is no legislation in place to afford women the comfort in making their own choice on whether they want to be a mother. This ideology implies the notion that a woman MUST want to be a mother some day and so the law should ensure that their dreams come true (of being a grandparent?). In a State where abortion is illegal and the right to choose a tubal ligation is ultimately up to a doctor or a husband in some cases, where does a woman have a choice?
Do you see it now? The law is doing it’s best to ensure that women and girls are safe and protected (from themselves).
Law makers don’t make laws for women. They make laws to remain popular. If we examine laws in a global context that have been passed to give women rights, they came to be as a reaction to public outcry and persistent protest. This is good, this is democracy. Yet the intention is focused on politicians wanting to remain popular and/or to quickly calm down the masses and so there is a haste to pass these laws, and unfortunately such haste tends to leave gaps in legislation where adequate protection should be afforded. In this case the laws’ overprotective parenting is even proving to be irresponsible. A law that is meant to protect women, yet not fit for purpose, where perpetrators are still slipping through the weaknesses of that law because of its rush to be passed, cannot be a law with women in the centre.
In this parental analogy, you can see that women seem to be begging the law to go out with their friends or sent back inside to change their clothes. Women are tired of being overprotected. Protection through the law is not the answer. Instead the law (and institutions linked to it) should change its approach and give women the autonomy to decide how they want protection. Shouldn’t they be able to choose how they want to live?
Is that too much to ask?
The right to choose. [online] Trinidad Express Newspapers. Available at: <https://trinidadexpress.com/opinion/editorials/the-right-to-choose/article_eb8ff74e-d335-11e8-9e1b-0f349afc1b93.html>
The Woman Franchise. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=sBA9kKOzWVY: Office of the Parliament.
Trinidad Express Newspapers. Woman denied ‘tube tying’ procedure at Mt Hope. [online] Available at: <https://trinidadexpress.com/news/local/woman-denied-tube-tying-procedure-at-mt-hope/article_1a7aba9c-d1b2-11e8-bc53-530a960ae3ee.html>