Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chaotic stage set for chutney, soca ‘sans’ policy

The Ravi B incident at Skinner’s Park on Sunday night only highlights a deeper malaise in Trinidad and Tobago of what is wrong with the promotion of culture of this country and the need for an Independent Commission for Culture and sound directions for cultural policy and actions.
On the one hand, there is the yet unanswered questions of where were the police while a contestant was calling on the crowd to ‘pelt something’, and why did they not react instantly? (The answer may be that their culture of lethargy is so deeply entrenched it was definitely on display that night). On the other hand, the entire framework of the show points to the kind of lawlessness that seems to be pervading the society. In the broader contexts, which are likely to move into oblivion in the now-ensuing ‘bacchanal over B’ in which all and sundry is currently finding delight, it all points to the futility of trying to advance a sector just by throwing money at it, especially in the absence of informed vision and directions.
The intemperate behaviour of the fans who responded to the call instantly proves that judging of a competition of this nature ought not to be left solely in the hands of injudicious groupies.
How could a competition purported to be an international one be conducted in a kind of ‘no rules’ framework that would choose the winner through instant messaging – the same format proposed for the upcoming International Soca Monarch competition? Have those who devised that scheme taken a look at the statistics of technological savvy individuals in this country?
All data reflects that most citizens own at least two cell phones – the numbers of cellphone users in all reports point to above 120 percent which would effectively give those cell phone owners who are interested at least two votes. That is aside from the nagging question of what kind of tracking system was in place to ensure that no one voted more than once.
Additionally, the vote-by-text system also immediately eliminates many citizens, and certainly many chutney soca fans not too familiar with the technology - clearly very, very large numbers if anyone were paying attention to the startling recent revelations about high levels of information technology illiteracy in the country discovered by the Caribbean Telecommunication ICT Roadshow. And that is compounded by the fact of reported technical difficulties with the online streams done for the benefit of the ‘diaapora’ who were also invited to key in to text in their votes, again on the assumption that they are all cell phone whizzes.
Besides the high potential for technological lapses, any competition - international or not - ought to be adjudicated by professional judges guided by clear ground rules; who understand the genre they are called on to referee. If that was the case, the knowledgeable judges would recognise that a substantial number of the presentations at the show were directly replicating music from Bollywood which should have instantly eliminated them from qualifying for the finals of a competition which much-touted two million dollar prize was meant to advance the artform. Whatever rationale for that system that gives precedence to over-exuberant ready-to-pelt groupies, and deprives genuine artistes from making the competition and winners’ row, may deserve being pelted.
How that potentially infringes on the copyright of the musicians, is but one issue, to other equally important matters that includethe implicit insult of such copycats to local musical talent, and the resulting denial of true expression of creative development of the unique amalgam of musical influences that are at the heart of our multicultural milieu. Indeed, chutney soca evolved out of the music of India – the Bhojpuri peasant songs of north India, not the tinselled tones of Bollywood, mind you – and judges who understood the genre would have immediately recognised how the wholesale replication of Bollywood music was incongruent with the succinct chutney-soca genre that we have evolved.
Within this context, the issue of a two million dollar prize becomes mute, because the broader concerns detailed above show that no amount of money thrown at culture would fix the festering malaise in the continued lack of sound, well-thought out strategic directions, planning, policy and actions for local culture.
That conclusion is no different to what surfaced at a UNESCO meeting of Caribbean cultural practitioners I facilitated in Grenada last year – that approaches that are piecemeal, lack vision, and a holistic framework are doing more harm than good to our cultural sector. That has been behind the continued criticism of various plans and actions towards the past - shorn of insight and appreciation for the tremendously unique cultural situation we find ourselves in that can become trendsetting to the rest of the world in their newly evolving diversity.
And that will persist for as long as we fail to clearly define on our own terms the roles for the state, the private sector, individual artistes, promoters and others in the mix. We have been hearing that a cultural policy – in the making for the last 47 years, is still in the making. Who is making it and what is their expertise in understanding the ramification of cultural policy, remain a mystery. Whoever they may be, a word of advice that they frame our cultural direction so that it can leverage the international environment and not the other way around of being led by metropoles (foreign experts) – who like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron are pulling hairs to come to terms with their newfound multiculturalism.
We may happily allow ourselves to be drawn into the bacchanalia of the moment in inebriated oblivion to the broader picture, or take time to shed a tear for culture, until the next controversy breaks out – perhaps as we trigger our instant messages for the next International Soca Monarch?
Dr Kris Rampersad is a UNESCO Culture Consultant and a Director of the International Culture University (

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Letter to UN Women

Dear Michelle Bachelet,
Congratulations on your appointment as the first head of UN Women. Like others in this forum, I am thrilled to learn of the creation of a new space for women’s voices and activities within the UN system. Indeed it signals a broadening of the approach to international governance and for recognition of the contribution and potential contribution of women to the process and to balancing the equation for nearing the millennium development goalposts.
However, I believe there is need for significantly deeper interrogation and analyses on the capacity of women leaders for change; to identify challenges and come up with solutions given that there is widespread belief that even where women’s leadership and participation has increased, there has not been concurrent reflection related to their impact on their spheres of leadership.
I may refer to a recent analysis, for example, which highlighted the clear disjoint between increased women’s participation, in this instance, political participation, and the impact they have had on their areas of jurisdiction in the Caribbean where, not only efforts at increasing participation are sporadic and piecemeal, research and documentation in this area is also poorly lacking.
That report looked at efforts by the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, of which I am international relations director, in increasing political participation by women through training, networking, funding and documentation
It found that representation of women’s interests by women in power did not increase, despite increases in their numbers and the exposure to ideas and tools of gender equity. Women MPs and decision makers are not raising issues of concern to women as they should.
For this, there may be several reasons. These are the reasons that UN Women needs to unearth and turn its focus on. Not to discount the fact that in several societies, including our own, there are substantial numbers of disadvantaged, disempowered women, it seems for too long we have hid behind the victims’ veil; as recipients rather than shapers and molders of modes and models of governance whether at the domestic, national or global levels.
But there is an inherent paradox that most of the societies where the problems seem most endemic, boast of matriarchal systems. There is another paradox that UN Women can lead the way in deciphering: that while women – stereotyped as we are – have for centuries formed the majorities in the nurturing category and hence part of the baseline in shaping character, habits, beliefs and behaviour – as care givers, mothers, teachers, nurses –there does not seem to have been any equivalent transference of notions of gender equality, equity and respect for women across the board in our societies.
In effect, it seems to me that as architects of the perspectives and outlooks of boys as much as we are of girls and as primary transmitters of culture, knowledge and education, women have not been changing, but replicating and transferring habits, beliefs and practices that promote inequalities to the boys as much as the girls who grow up to become leaders.
We need to examine more deeply and find means of addressing perceived lack of impact women leaders have been making in their spheres in a more holistic manner. Commendations to the Organisation of American States for organising the upcoming symposium on women’s leadership in collaboration with your organization, UNIFEM and others, but unless the outcomes of this are not collated and critically analysed and set before the global public, it runs the danger of becoming another talkshop.
What are the anticipated outcomes of this forum? Increasing numbers and increasing awareness are clearly not enough. There must be deeper focus on targeted programmes and actions that can bring desired results for gender equity, as well as for women to not just pass on responsibility for shortcomings and failures on historical and/or patriarchal systems and beliefs, but also to come to terms with and admit our own failures as well as part of the process of mapping a way forward.
I would like UN Women to deepen the introspection and interrogation of the intrinsic ways women have been shaping our societies – to unearth both the negatives and the positives and so advance and evolve more meaningful solutions for new directions. In doing so we can celebrate successes, but we also need to own our shortcomings.
Qualitative is as important as quantitative change. Are we owning-up to our own responsibilities for the gender gaps and development divides? What have we as women, mothers, as executives and leaders not done? Where have we fallen short? This seems to me to also be a crucial element in the way forward.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nominate 100 women agents of change

Every morning for some 60-odd years, she was up by 2 am; prepared food for her family and set off to plant or reap crops of sugar cane, and later vegetables, ground provisions and beans before the sun came up. On those mornings when she did not go to the land, she went to the wholesale and retail market in San Fernando or Princes Town to sell the produce, which she would also share with neighbours on request.
When she returned home, it was to prepare meals, clean the house and look after the demands of 13 children, two of whom she had inherited.
Poverty was not a condition she acknowledged. She instilled in her off-springs that intelligence was the greatest wealth, and that came with knowledge and education. No sacrifice was too high to ensure that her children had as much of that as could be accessed.
She had no parenting books to consult, because she never leant to read English, and what ought to be primary and secondary school days were occupied with looking after the domestic wants of relatives who took her in. Her mother had died when she was only and infant. Married at 15 with her first child at 18, parenting came from instincts and whatever information on child-rearing was passed on through oral lore, neighbours and friends. None of the sons, and eight daughters scattered across the hemisphere in variety of fields that now do acknowledges women’s work, some supporting families of their own, ever questioned her authority on parenting. All draw inspiration from her effervescent spirit, tirelessness, and refusal to be cowed by life’s seemingly daunting confrontations, including loss of her husband two decades ago.
At four scores and one this month, it is difficult to get her to break that routine. Still up in the wee hours of the morning, all but one of her children in homes of their own, her indomitable spirit refuses to allow her to concede that her health is failing and she is less capable of doing the things she has been doing all her life. Frailty of body is in constant conflict with strength of a mind that has been the catalyst of change for three generations.
Her contribution to home, family and community would never feature in either assessments of productivity or otherwise for national or other recognition. Recognitions, when they are given, are usually to those who have developed a public image, as executives, politicians, singers and actors, people in media, education, sports, science, research and others.
But many of these would claim that there was some catalyst for change that fuelled their success, and in many of those instances, these would be a woman. Though the lights of fame may never shine in their sunburnt faces, women like these have been the bedrock of our society, on whose shoulders stand the achievements of our businessmen and women, executives, sportsmen and women, politicians, superstars and other professionals. These are the women whom the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women hopes to bring to national attention with its call for 100 Women Agents of Change.
In support of the theme for Commonwealth Day and in recognition of the centenary of celebrations of International Women’s Day by the United Nations, the Network, in collaboration with the Trinidad and Tobago chapter of Friends of the Commonwealth are looking for 100 women among us who have been catalysts and who have inspired or are inspirations for change.
It is the Network’s belief that in remembering and acknowledging the real source of genius or of greatness, and the hallmarks of true achievement beyond the sizes of one’s incomes, cars, houses or the number of times featured in the media, those who hold high office are less likely to err. As we get organisations and communities contemplating and submitting nominees, we are hoping they will also engage in interrogating definitions of success and achievement, which will help us move closer to identifying the true centres of power and influence in our society.
In keeping with this year’s theme, Commonwealth’s Day, March 14, Women as Agents of Change celebrates women whose work has made a positive difference to the lives of others; who are successful in their own right; have achieved something for other women and whom can be proudly held up as role models. It will identify the transformative role women have in our society, and our world.
The exercise echoes the awareness tabled by the Network and other women’s organisations at the 2009 Commonwealth People’s Forum in Trinidad and Tobago “that gender equality is viewed not only as a goal in its own right, but also as a key factor in enhancing democracy and peace, eradicating poverty and violence against women, ensuring education for all, improving maternal health, reducing child mortality and combating HIV and AIDS.”
Nominee may come from any walk of life, social background or profession. A nominee could be a professional, charity or NGO worker, volunteer or family member. By submitting a nomination, persons must have the nominees’ consent to allow the text and any supporting documents and photographs to be published, publicised or otherwise promoted by the Network and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Winners must be willing to participate in publicity surrounding the competitions including the publishing of their details, photographs and video footage which will be made available in all media, including on the internet.
The 100 women selected will be featured in a publication on Women Agents of Change in Trinidad and Tobago, and from them will be drawn nominees for the Commonwealth Women Agents of Change who would form part of the delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth Australia in October 2011.
Further information and nomination forms, which include contact details of nominee and persons nominating (who must not be self are available on the Network’s website (; email:
Completed forms must be submitted to the Network at the Professional Center, 11-13 Fitzblackman Drive South, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, by February 26, 2011.
Also, listen to Heartbeat Radio 103.FM for further details and join our Women Agents of Change of Trinidad and Tobago discussions on facebook.