Rights, responsibilities and civics

Rights, responsibilities and civics

Michael Burke

Thursday, February 16, 2012

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Wilmot Perkins, who recently died, had different political and religious views from mine. We crossed paths on his radio programme, and I stood up to him; the last time being 11 years ago in 2001. But it always ended amicably and Perkins was quite sociable when we saw each other elsewhere. Perkins was the second talk show host for "What's your grouse" on Radio Jamaica, which started in 1968. And sometime in 1969, as a teenager, I phoned in, which was the first occasion I spoke to Perkins.

One good thing about Wilmot Perkins was that he, perhaps more than anyone else in Jamaica, was a human rights activist. About 23 years ago, the police shot a man while he was on the roof of his house adjusting his TV antenna. This happened on Harcourt Road off Portland Road in eastern Kingston. Perkins went ballistic. And he was even more so when he heard the size of the award for the man as prescribed by the court, which Perkins described as a "piddling sum". And Perkins never let up about the brutal murder of Michael Gayle.

About two weeks ago, Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites announced that civics would be reintroduced in schools this year. Civics is not only a study of the system of government, but also to let students know their rights and responsibilities. We have several rights in the Constitution of Jamaica but to my mind they do not go far enough.

Women today can take almost any occupation they wish. This is a major advance from the days when women were oppressed. Have we gone overboard? In Jamaica, the women's rights groups do very little for domestic helpers. In 1991 an association for household workers (domestic helpers) was set up. Whatever happened to it?

Why is it that when many speak to gender issues, invariably it means women's issues and never men's issues as well? I would like to see both sets of gender rights addressed under the heading of rights in a new Constitution of Jamaica, whenever that is written. One should point out, especially in Black History Month, that traditionally in most ethnic groups in Africa there are times when the men meet to discuss men's issues and likewise the women. In Jamaica, the trend has been for women to infiltrate the all-men organisations because many believe that men should not even have the right to congregate as a gender group. I believe that in looking at gender issues many tribes in Africa should be the models in terms of understanding how to deal with matters that are only natural.

Too many boys in Jamaica do not have their fathers at home. There is a historical reason for this bad habit; although it is no excuse not to correct it. And there are many mothers who bring up their boys like girls sometimes, without intentionally doing so. Unfortunately, in just about all of our schools, many women-teachers' opinion of what constitutes a well-behaved boy is one who acts like a girl. And many times boys are punished just for being boys both at school and at home; although that is never given so bluntly as the reason. This is both unnatural and unjust, to say the least. It is also true that with a lack of male role models for boys, young males look to adult females for models. One way around this is for some trained people, like children's officers, for example, to be given the authority to see to it that young boys are mentored properly. And this should be a right for young males which should be enshrined in the Constitution.

During the election debates in the lead-up to the general election last December, the question of gay rights was brought up. Portia Simpson Miller said that a People's National Party government would review the buggery law. Homosexuality is a sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church number 2357), but homosexuals should be treated with dignity like everyone else, despite their sins (number 2358). If the law is changed to allow consenting adults to do what they want sexually in the privacy of their homes (excluding housing schemes where the houses are close), I am prepared to leave that up to Almighty God for judgement.

What should not be condoned is paedophilia, gay parades and cross-dressing in public. And parents and guardians should be liable to penalties if they cross-dress their children. This has been one of my concerns for more than two decades. In 2006, I wrote and sang a song called Man fe look like man. Homosexuality should not be shoved in everyone's face anymore than prostitution or being forced to endure loud music after certain hours. And adults should have the right to bring up their children without undue influence of practising homosexuals, prostitutes or indecent songs in the media, which includes loud amplifiers. These are rights that should be in the Constitution.


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