Featured Storyteller

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: How a Hashtag Is Changing the Conversation on Sexual Violence

Denisha Ramdhan
Posted January 3, 2017 from Trinidad and Tobago

Denisha Ramdhan is fed up with violence against women. Now, thanks to a social media movement, she knows she is not the only one.

“These stories are not about a piece of fabric. They are about our right to live our lives.

“When the body of 20-year-old Shannon Banfield was discovered beneath boxes in a storage room on December 8, so many of us in Trinidad and Tobago had already reached our limit of pain. The glass was already full and this threw an ice cube in the glass, overflowing our emotions.

“Shannon had been reported missing three days earlier. Her mother, Sherry Ann Lopez, said she would normally drop her only daughter off at workat Republic Bank and pick her back up every afternoon. But on that day, Shannon opted to travel home on her own—nothing out of the ordinary for a 20-year-old. Shannon called her mother around 3:30 pm, saying she was headed to two well-known stores on one of the busiest streets in Port of Spain, our capital city. That was the last time Sherry Ann Lopez spoke to her child.

“Shannon Banfield’s face was plastered across various media platforms when she went missing, but there were no sightings of her. I can only imagine the despair Shannon’s mother must have felt when she received the dreaded call that her daughter’s body had been found.

“This incident could have been quickly forgotten and swept under the carpet just like so many cases of violence against women. But this time, it seemed to hit home especially hard. The moment the news was released to the public, cries of pain, anguish, hurt, and depression were expressed across the country.

“Some have argued that this case has gotten more attention because of Shannon’s complexion, or because she had long, beautiful hair. I don’t agree. I think the women of Trinidad and Tobago have simply reached our limit.

“Why shouldn't we be spiraling in a fit of panic? We are outraged for the 200women who have been reported missing in Trinidad and Tobago in 2016. We are outraged for the 45 women who have been killed, and for those who have yet to be found. We are outraged for those who are still alive who are victims of rape and domestic violence.

“To the men of Trinidad and Tobago, we need you to know how nerve-wracking it can be to be a woman in our country, our homeland. Why should we be afraid to leave our homes? Why can't we walk the streets without being harassed and without you making mention of our body parts? Is it even possible to go to a party with our friends and not have you gyrate on us without invitation?

“Do you have to resort to name calling and insults because your advances were rejected? Do you have to try to run your filthy hands on our legs and make it look like an accident when we take public transportation? Why should we have to worry about cars pulling up next to us and whether we will never be heard from again?

“It doesn't matter our race, nationality, religious beliefs, or financial status: We face a daily challenge simply by being women. We are verbally abused; we face sexual harassment on the streets, on public transportation, and on the job; many of us are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. We are constant targets and we get no days off from this life.

“I am inspired by two Barbadian women, Ronelle King and Allyson Benn, who recently started the #LifeinLeggings movement to highlight women's sexual assault stories and show men how widespread these experiences are. As women began using the hashtag to share stories of abuse and harassment, others gained the courage to add their stories. This movement that started in Barbados quickly reached my country and has spread throughout the Caribbean region and beyond.

“This hashtag gives me hope that the plight of women will no longer be ignored and that men will begin to understand and join us. Still, some men dismiss the violence we are speaking out about by citing the number of men who were killed in gang violence. Some choose to make fun of the movement, asking what response we should expect if we wear leggings in the first place. This, of course, is missing the point. These stories are not about a piece of fabric. They are about our right to live our lives.

“Shannon Banfield could have been any one of us. She was not somewhere where she wasn't supposed to be; she simply ventured into a store to purchase some items and ended up dead.

“What happened to Shannon is what we fear most, but it is only one of the terrifying possibilities that we as women face. Thanks to the Life in Leggings movement, we now have many stories documenting our struggles. These stories are the first step to confronting the reality of women’s lives—and creating change.

As a heartbroken sister, this is my plea to the men of Trinidad and the entire Caribbean: Please, we beg of you, just stop. Place some value on our lives, make us feel safe again. Fight for us, protect us, stand up for us.

I don't just speak for the women of Trinidad and Tobago, but for women across the globe. We need to get back some form of normalcy in our lives. From our homes to the streets, we need to feel safe again. We are your sisters, your daughters, your mothers, your aunts, your cousins, and your grandmothers.

And we are tired.

Comments 11

Log in or register to post comments
Feka
Jan 03, 2017
Jan 03, 2017

Dear Faith,

Your story is touching. Our men must learn to respect us and our decisions. 

Women have rights for crying out loud!

nessa s
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Everything you say is so true everywhere. Even IF Shannon's complexion was a reason for her being mourned, it still brought the details of what women and girls in Trinidad and Tobago are suffering  - including in your article here.

LillianVB
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Dear Faith,

There is strength in numbers , the louder the voices the more they cannot be neglected. Highlighting the plight of other women and taking action to ring the bell strengthens their loved ones and other women around the world experiencing similar challenges. Social media is definitely a good tool.

Best of luck in your fight for justice and closure in Shannon's case

Tamarack Verrall
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Dear Faith,

We are moving into different times now, when women are becoming unafraid to fully voice our profound sorrow and our rightful rage when a woman is brutally murdered. The life of this woman has been stolen by the complicity of governments worldwide in accepting, even encouraging violence against women. With the death of Shannon Banfield the women in your area have ignited and united. Your words here are a soothing balm on the raw wounds we all have as women, soothing because of your fearlessness in being angry, for Shannon, for her mother, and for all that women have faced and are facing. "Why shouldn't we be spiraling in a fit of panic? We are outraged....We are constant targets". It is such wonderful news that #LifeinLeggings is taking off, spreading through your region. This hashtag is giving you hope, and the strength of it shows that you have reason for that hope. A similar hashtag was begun a few years ago here in Canada by a woman who had been silent for 40 years, #beenrapedneverreported. It also spread like wildfire as women wrote in for the first time, and it truly did and continues to move us forward. How powerful to learn that women in your area are coming together this way.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Rahmana Karuna
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Denisha, thank you

Denisha Ramdhan
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Thank you so much for your kind words and your support. I look forward to continue working together with this community to not only raise awareness but to eliminate violence against women and children all together. Much love and Happy New year to all of you. 

Ana Isabel Paraguay
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Great moving and sad story. Hope it adds up to your strength and endurance towards change. Please keep us posted here on news and hope...

Best,

Ana Isabel Paraguay

Denisha Ramdhan
Jan 09, 2017
Jan 09, 2017

Thank you anaisabelbbp. I most definitely will, Happy New Year.

Thank you for this eye-opening story. We are also dealing with similar issues here and thus around the world. Way to go with spreading awareness and educating others. Olivia

Denisha Ramdhan
Jan 09, 2017
Jan 09, 2017

Thank you Dr. Friedman. It's a collaborative effort. Happy New year, looking forward to connecting with you. 

Kat Haber
Jul 17, 2018
Jul 17, 2018

Checkout TEDxPortofSpain. Say hi to Keita and his parents the Demmings for me.
You will be inspired and possibly networked in amazing ways.
Awakening takes vigilance & resilience.
Be both for women in T & T.

You might be interested in this:
https://www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/peace-fellowships
May Peace Prevail in our Places.