T&T: PM refuses symbolic rose

Trinidad Express:-Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley refused to accept a Valentine’s Day rose and card from Side by Side member Sunity Maharaj and a small group of activists against domestic violence at the back entrance to the Parliament Chamber, at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, yesterday.

Rowley waved as he entered the building on his way to the Parliament sitting.

Artist/activist Turenesh Raymond had designed the special Valentine’s Day rose from newspaper clippings bearing heart-wrenching articles about women and girls being abused and killed in Trinidad and Tobago. The rose’s petals were symbolically dipped in red, to signify the blood spilling in the nation’s homes and streets. A bit of blue ribbon was attached to its stalk.

On the front side, the red section of the accompanying heart-shaped card read: “83 women and children were murdered in 2016.”

The black area read: “19 of these murders were as a result of domestic violence.”

On the flip side, the card listed demands directed to Rowley and MPs, such as Amend the Domestic Violence Act to provide protection from the first act of violence and strengthen the police’s responsibility to investigate domestic violence as a crime.

Having attempted to present Rowley with a rose, Maharaj said it was important for Rowley to “continue the conversation which he had started about domestic abuse at his next meeting”.

Maharaj said men and women have become “emboldened” after Rowley made the comment “I am not in your bedroom” and “I am not in your choice of men”, during “Conversations with the Prime Minister”, at Maloney, last week Monday.

In its aftermath, Womantra and other civil society groups strongly condemned Rowley’s remarks.

Maharaj was accompanied by activists such as Damian Prescod, Alcira Peters, British High Commission head of Political and Economic team Beatrice Rose, researcher Caroline Allen and St Augustine Campus Masters ‘Gender students Asha Maharaj and Adaeze Greenidge.

“The rose is symbolic and unintimidating,” said Sunity Maharaj. “It signifies Valentine’s Day (being celebrated today). It was crafted from newspaper clippings…stories about women and girls being killed. It was symbolically dipped in red. At a time when people are focused on love, we are looking at what it signifies and the complex dynamic that is underpinned in bullying and sexual violence.

“We are all willing to give Rowley the benefit of a doubt. His point was made…his responsibility includes to continue the conversation.

“It’s very clear Rowley needs to have a conversation with the stakeholders. We have been sensitised by gender violence and the whole issue of victim shaming. If you look at the conversation on social media, men and women have become emboldened.

“Are you saying if I choose to live in Laventille and you are killed, you should not have been living there? He has a responsibility to continue the conversation.”

We did not ask for the PM to be in our bedroom. We are asking they be in their offices and eliminate the problems,” she added.

Anticipating Rowley’s next stop, Maharaj said: “He would do well to use the time and forum to discuss it. He could bring NGOs and halfway houses and people who do research and advocates. It must open up his eyes about the conversation he started. We want to make it clear the issue of domestic abuse can’t stand solely on women. It is spiked with misogyny. He should use the next meeting to discuss domestic violence.”

When National Security Minister Edmund Dillon arrived, he did not take the rose. And as Finance Minister Colm Imbert approached the Chamber, attempts were made to present him with his special rose, but he muttered: “No thanks. Late for Parliament.”

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi also said “I’m late,” while Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh took both rose and card, along with Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds and United National Congress (UNC) Senator Khadijah Ameen.

Opposition Senator Rodger Samuel took the rose and card from Prescod and Princes Town MP Barry Padarath volunteered to take a bunch of roses inside the Chamber and give a rose to Rowley.