By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 15, 2018
As quiet as it is kept, women have always shaped our social and cultural identity. They have been the doers, recipients of the most brutal treatment at the hands of their oppressors and their mates, and a spur towards our liberation and development over the last two hundred years. Unfortunately, they do not always get the credit they deserve in our man-centered world.
Many theorists have spoken about the double bind in which women found themselves during slavery and indentureship. Claudius Fergus has argued, “Women were subjected to rape not only to satisfy the wanton lust of sailors but also as a ritual for ‘braking them in'” (Revolutionary Emancipation).
Judith Ann Weller noted that the shortage of East Indian women was often the cause of rape and excessive violence at the hands of their men. “In situations reminiscent of slavery, a managers’ son would desire sexual intercourse with the wife of an Indian immigrant, and if the request was denied, her husband would be sent away from the estate” (East Indian Indenture in Trinidad).
I make these observations, not only to emphasize the cruel treatment that our women have undergone, but to underscore the hope that the selection of Paula Mae Weekes as the president-designate can act as a soothing balm on a nation that is haunted by the specter of the killing of women and the self-annihilation of so many black men.
In Trinidad and Tobago there are no congressional hearings at which a person selected for high office can be subjected to questioning nor, for that matter, do we have a writing trail which tells us how this president-designate feels about matters of abortion, same sex marriages, the wanton annihilation of black men by one another, or the callous destruction and violence perpetuated on women.
As in so many other things, particularly in political appointments, one never knows how someone will perform a priori. Unlike her predecessor, we hope she can use the powers she has, symbolic and otherwise, to lighten the darkness over our land. The Lord in his heavens knows that we need divine light to shows us the way.
Women have always been in the forefront in the struggle for justice in our country, pleading with their mates to confront their oppressors and to assume their responsibilities. History has placed Ms. Weekes in a position in which she can help to shape our nation’s social conscience. While we do not know how she will face the challenges that she will encounter, we can suggest some approaches to their solution.
No leader can take us anywhere unless she confronts the wanton destruction of our women and young men. Ms. Weekes must combine the ceremonial aspect of her job with public advocacy to attack this burning policy matter. She should aspire to be the savant of the nation. Her irenic composure should help her to achieve this goal.
In any nation, there is human capital (the size and skill of a workforce) and natural capital (oil and coal, farm lands and ecosystems). Partha Dasgupta, emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University, explains: “With any entity—a family, a company or a nation—wealth is ‘what enables you to plan, by converting one form of capital into another'” (Financial Times, January 6).
Weekes must find a way to influence the nation’s leaders to preserve our human capital, the lifeblood of our future development; and influence how men respect women and how women respect themselves. While the misogyny of men has its place in the violence perpetuated against women, women also have to play their part and this is where Ms. Weekes unique influence comes in.
Our societal problems have little to do with money. They stem primarily from an absence of values: an inability to value life, the devaluing of the aesthetic sensibility, the incapacity to understand and appreciate what freedom means, a lack of reverence of our being-in-the-world, and the elevation of material things over our spiritual essence.
The solution to our problems also has to do with the development of a heightened consciousness, something Frederick Engels had in mind when he defined freedom “as the recognition of necessity” (Anti-Duhring). He meant that once you become conscious of why you act in a particular way, you realize that you are doing so out of your own free will, hence the importance of self-responsibility.
Caring for one another should become one of the nation’s watchwords. Ms. Weekes must be the embodiment of this value.
When Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president, came to office, she had to restore hope to a country that was devastated by twenty years of civil war. In her memoir, This Child Will Be Great, she described her country as being “a wonderful, beautiful, mixed-up country struggling to find itself.”
T&T may be in the same topsy-turvy state in which Sirleaf found her country when she began her presidency. However, the courage she showed in conducting her nation’s business redounded to the ultimate benefit of her people. Her achievements should serve to inspire Weekes, the first president of our republic.
It might be useful for Ms. Weekes to read Sirleaf’s autobiography before she assumes her office.