West Indian women account for some of the most powerful people in the world. Publicly, like Kamla Harris. And privately, “all di rest of them.” Women have faced an uphill battle for an equal status since time immemorial. There may have been exceptions in some societies. However, the women in the West Indies faced more obstacles than fairness.
First, from 1662-1834 between 3-4 million Africans were enslaved on plantations in the Caribbean. Enslaved African women were initially outnumbered by 2:1, and victimized with cruel overseers, hard labour, and imposed physical restrictions. “Women's inability to maintain the pace of work required by plantation managers during pregnancy, their need for recovery time after childbirth, and the needs of their young children to be fed, cleaned, loved, and integrated spiritually and socially into the human community, all brought them into conflict with the demands of the owners and managers of the plantations on which they worked.” (Diana Paton, Newcastle University). The inverse occurred when slavery ended and owners wanted women to bear children to sustain the system. Contemporary reports indicate that birth rates actually declined in the Caribbean around abolition, and it was likely caused by poor nutrition and strenuous conditions.
Following abolition, the British imported hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured workers to harvest sugar in the Caribbean. Indian women, too, faced abuse similar to that of enslaved African women. Coolie Woman, by Gaiutra Bahadur, recounts how recruiters often tricked Indian women into indentured servitude. They were also preyed upon by captains and sailors during the three-month journey at sea. On the plantations, they faced attacks from the owners, overseers, and their own spouses. The highly uneven ratio of Indian men to Indian women created a power vacuum whereby women were so prized that the men resorted to violence to try to have one for their own. The British overlooked the fact that their purposeful disproportionate importation contributed to the violence against women.
Unfortunately, the violence and victimization have been constant. 45 women and 2 girls have already died this year alone in Trinidad. The mounting rate of violence against women in Trinidad include 18 year old Ashanti Riley, who was murdered and dumped in a shallow stream. Andrea Bharat, 23 years old, was also killed and tossed after being kidnapped. These deaths prompted international protests to protect Trini women from cold-blooded killers and abusive relationships.
Trinidad and international communities are urged to come together to protect West Indian women. Self defense techniques should be taught. Taxi drivers and other public servants should undergo background clearance. Courts should not be wrought with barriers to obtaining protection orders. Shelters and assistance should be easily available to those looking to escape abuse. Both the government and citizens should facilitate these resources to protect West Indian women.
(West Indian is a phrase that can describe the population of the West Indies as a whole, or the descendants of Indian indentured servants in the Caribbean. The expression is used in this essay to refer to the people of all races from the West Indies region.)
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