The Politics Of “Flexi-Rape”

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There is no excuse to joke about rape. If jokes of that nature had been okay when Senator A.J. Nicholson was a younger man, they certainly aren’t today. Attitudes have changed and society has come to accept the unspeakable violation which occurs when a woman is subjected to sexual violence. I am pleased that the condemnation of the crude joke was swift and unyielding; and while it took some time, and perhaps even some coercion, I am happy that the goodly Senator tendered an apology to the women of Jamaica. Still, in all the condemnation, three voices have been deafeningly silent. In other settings, these voices have rang loud and clear as crusaders for the equality of women, for ending gender based discrimination, and more recently, for  gender quotas in politics. But on flexi-rape, these voices are silent. I’m speaking about Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Sen. Sandrea Falconer and Sen. Imani Duncan Pryce. I admit that I was baffled as to why these stalwarts of the women’s equality movement had not lent their considerably influential voices to the chorus of disapproval. As I waited for word, an uncomfortable truth occurred to me – all three women belong to the same party as Senator Nicholson. Could this be the reason for their unforgiveable silence? I think it is. After all, how often do our politicians call out their party colleagues on wrong doing in this country?

I’m always reluctant to call on the Prime Minister to comment on anything, mainly because I have come to accept that she will not provide that kind of leadership. However, I find her refusal to speak out on this incredible, to say the least. Is it that the Prime Minister, indeed her female colleagues, only stands on the gender card when it suits them politically? Their silence betrays a gross absence of moral courage. By refusing to call a spade a spade, as Senator Kamina Johnson Smith was quick to do, the comrade trio may have dealt a blow to the credibility of their case for gender equality. I believe this matter has highlighted that far too often our leaders are prepared to talk the talk, but they are not willing to walk the walk.

A campaign for gender equality is a sexy one, it has the right message and it casts the campaigners as progressive and forward thinking, it’s easy to get in line for that. Having the courage to stand up to a “party man” is apparently an entirely different matter. How do we now reconcile the failure of these women to stand up for what was right with their constant chatter about the need to end gender discrimination? There is an uncomfortable disconnect between those two actions that strikes me as disingenuous, possibly even dishonest. To be sure, there is much merit in the campaign for gender equality, and I wholeheartedly support the thrust towards it. Still, I believe that when those who lead a cause are not willing to show active support for their expressed convictions, it diminishes their impact.  It should have been second nature to take a stand in the name of women everywhere who will never be able to find the joke in Senator Nicholson’s unbecoming comments. I’m disappointed that it wasn’t.

Do political alliances run so tribally deep that our political leaders cannot stand up for what they believe in if that means offending a colleague? This leads me to question how many times legislators have legislated not in the interest of this country, but in their party’s interest. How many other times have politicians, on both sides of the divide, looked the other way in the name of political expediency? I naively believed somethings were outside the stifling grasp of politics in Jamaica. The realization that I may be wrong is a truly frightening prospect. Such a reality is an indictment on our country.  I don’t believe politics was meant to be a destructive force; I’m actually convinced it can be a force for good, but when we cannot see beyond the orange and green, how do we proceed? How does our country advance itself? Has our politics been so debased that the first and principal concern is remaining in power, never mind our convictions and what is right and decent? Many young people, like myself, see that as the chief reason for staying away from politics in this country. If the price of political power is a betrayal of my convictions, I would rather not have power at all.

When Senator Nicholson crossed the line, the Senate of Jamaica should have spoken in one voice. The orange and green should have been set aside in the interest of an issue that knows no political boundaries, an issue which demeans so many women. Senators Duncan Pryce and Falconer should have been in full flight, clothed in the certainty that they were on the side of decency and respect. That did not happen, and still has not happened. They will hold their tongues, because to speak out would be to invite consternation on their party. It is shameful cowardice, but such is the politics. Not even flexi-rape is above it.

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