Archive for June 2nd, 2008

The freedom to insult?

| 02/06/2008 | 0 Comments

By Judy Singh – Monday, 2 June 2008

7 comments

Having read MLA JuliannaO’Connor Connolly’s recent comments during
the Finance Committee hearing (here)
I am compelled to respond. I am deeply disturbed by Ms O’Connor
Connolly’s comments regarding Radio Cayman’s potential
obligations under the proposed Bill of Rights to give equal airtime to
religions other than Christianity, and specifically her reference to
Hinduism and Satanism in the same phrasing. How can an educated woman
and member of our country’s government say something so insulting?

Hinduism is a peaceful and loving religion that preaches devotion to
God and integrity of self above all other things. I can’t think of
anything less satanic than that. My parents are devout Hindus and are
the most honest and compassionate people I know in this world and they
most certainly are not devil worshipers.

They have always taught me to have the utmost integrity in myself and
to be gentle with others.  God, they say, will always be there
for the pure-hearted person, regardless of the ifs, whats and hows of
his/her theology. I have always admired their ability to sift through
the often outdated rhetoric of organized religion (including their
own) to focus on what’s really important – God and Love.

As a non-practicing Hindu I would like to offer a few points worth
noting about my family’s ancient practice of “Satanism.” 
Hinduism has been practiced for thousands of years (since at least
1500 BCE) and is the world’s oldest organized religion.  Hinduism
has been around longer than Satan himself! It is the 3rd most
practiced religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. It
is also not polytheistic as many people assume. Hindus worship
one supreme God and the other lesser deities are the equivalent to
Catholic Saints, representing various aspects of life and
virtue. I think many will also be surprised to know there is even
a Holy Trinity in Hinduism made up of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – much
like the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Many of the old religions of
the world are not really that different if you look closer at the
framework of their doctrine, and I think upon such closer examination
one might find several parallels both structurally and contextually.

I take great offense to these brash assumptions that any religion
other than Christianity is the equivalent to Satanism, which by the
way isn’t even a religion!  I make this retort, not for Hindus,
but for everyone, including Christians and non believers, so that no
person of any faith or non faith should have their beliefs insulted so
recklessly in a public forum – during government business no less!
Regurgitating rumours, stereotypes and uninformed misconceptions is
hardly appropriate behaviour for members of government. The above
circumstance is case in point of the true necessity of “Freedom of
Religion” in this country. Are all non-Christians supposed evil
devil worshippers by our government? Why not then make sworn
Christianity a prerequisite for all work permit holders?  Heck,
why not make church attendance mandatory for everyone? 

That all being said, we might all do well with a little reality check.
Thousands of people from numerous backgrounds and faiths have co-
existed on our little islands for decades and we can all agree that
this is a Christian country – and always has been.  How many
other faiths really practice openly here that aren’t denominations of
Christianity anyway? There is the beautiful little Jewish Synagogue on
the Brac, but other than that, probably nothing of substantial
noteworthiness.  Has anyone ever heard of devil worshipers here?
What about Hindus for that matter? Of all the hundreds of Indians I’ve
met who actually live and work here, very few are practicing Hindus
most are Catholics from Goa. 

Don’t you think it’s just a little ridiculous to think that passing
the proposed Bill of Rights (which nearly every democratic country
employs and every other British Overseas Territory honours) is going
to magically bring devil worshippers (or Hindus) to the island to set
up shop and take over the island or its airwaves?

 If there have been no signs of religious combat to Christianity
now, it stands to reason that there aren’t any. Under a Bill of
Rights, Radio Cayman, or any other government agency for that matter,
doesn’t have to do anything different than what it’s already doing
unless it’s actually asked to – which is simply unlikely. If it
is asked, requests can be dealt with in a reasonable manner. If a
small group of Hindus wished to put together a half hour segment to
celebrate God and educate the people of Cayman about the true and pure
nature of their religious beliefs would that really be such a bad
thing? Looks like we could use a little education on the
religions of the world around here!  

Freedom of religion is about acceptance, and we all accept that this
is a Christian country. Christianity is deeply ingrained in the
social fabric of Cayman and a law saying that it’s OK for someone to
be Hindu is not going to change that one bit. Yes, there are crazies
in the world, but our population is equivalent to a small town in the
US and simply cannot be weighed against the stories we hear on the
news from places with millions of people.  Let’s be realistic and
not cater to our pedantic whims. Shouldn’t we be focusing on how
the Bill of Rights will empower us by making us equal as human
beings? Shouldn’t we examine how it will bring the incredible
cultural mosaic that is Cayman together? Fear mongering and
propagating unlikely scenarios is just a waste of time.  Why are
some people so obtuse to the reality of the world? Is it because
they are afraid that if Cayman is educated about other religions that
some might choose to explore these faiths?

Nicky: Della, first of all, Grand Cayman is not a country. It
is one of a trio of islands that make up a country, and having lived
on Cayman Brac for 20 years, I can tell you that people on the Sister
Islands get pretty tired of being dismissed out of existence.
Secondly, the United States was founded on the basis of tolerance and
acceptance of people and their right to their own beliefs – a reaction
away from the religious intolerance that dominated Europe throughout
most of its history, which the Founding Fathers recognised as a bad
thing for nation building. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of
the Declaration of Independence, said, “The constitutional freedom of
religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.”

Thirdly, as a mother of two Caymanian children, one of them teenager,
I can say that yes, you are right – one of the great things about
raising children here (on the Brac) is the emotional and physical
security of a small community, and I wouldn’t want to raise them
anywhere else. However, Caymanians are human beings not a
nation of saints, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, certainly
does happen in these islands and always has. 

Godfrey McLean: After reading these letters it makes you
realize how many of the expats we so depend on are ignoramuses, and
the scariest part is many of our leaders subscribe to this type of
thinking. After listening to the circus called legislative meetings on
the radio, it leaves you wondering what is going to happen to us. So
much intolerance and hate mixed with vindictiveness that is spouted
each session.

reply@caymannewsservice.com

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An education in sexual health

| 02/06/2008 | 0 Comments

Although sex education is controversial in the Cayman Islands, the
reality is that, despite the continued and wholly futile prohibition
of pornographic magazines like Playboy, most young people today
have access to unlimited graphic pornography on the Internet and late
night cable television. In addition, as a video posted on YouTube (now
removed) ably demonstrates, the simulated sexual acts (hardly
dancing) at clubs and dances in the Cayman Islands leave little to the
imagination.

Unless Cayman society concedes the sexual education of young people to
such sources, a better way to provide them with a clear guide to
sexual health is obviously needed. Moreover, establishing sex
education into the schools’ curriculum follows trends in the developed
world, where teen pregnancy is viewed as undesirable for both teen
mothers and society as a whole.

In September 2008, the Department of Education Services (DoES) will
introduce the new curriculum into government schools that will include
age-appropriate sex education as part of a more holistic approach to
what students learn in schools, covering such objectives as self-
awareness, respect for others, and resistance to peer pressure among
the more traditional academic subjects.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that teen pregnancy is nothing new in the
Cayman Islands, but precise figures are not available. Statistics
on Live births to teenage
mothers
  supplied by the Ministry of Health and Human
Services do not include abortions, miscarriages or births abroad.
Nevertheless, they show an expected correlation between age and birth
rate, with 41 teenagers giving birth in 2007, nine of them 17 years or
less. Figures have fluctuated between 41 and 26 over the last 5 years
(2003-2007), with an average of 35, though the birth rate to teen
mothers in 1995-99, especially to 17-year-olds, appears significantly
higher, reaching 58 in 1998.

 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Clearly by its very nature this is a very personal and
potentially emotive aspect of education,” says Head of Curriculum
Services Clive Baker. “Nonetheless, given the pressuresof society and
the statistics about youth sexuality, it is an area that we have a
moral duty to deliver.”

Baker notes that the national curriculum considers the area of human
reproduction and sex education in separate documents and at different
age levels, and stresses the distinction between learning the biology
of the reproductive system and learning about sexual feelings and
behaviours.

“Whilst the two subjects can be intrinsically linked, they need not
always be so. For example, girls need to learn about changes in their
bodies ahead of them happening (typically beginning at about age 10).
We can recognize the need for them to understand the changes happening
in their bodies, and what its significance is, without them
necessarily considering the broader issues of sexual behaviour, which
would then be considered when the students were more mature.
Undoubtedly, there will be some students identified at higher risk of
premature sexual activity for whom targeted information would be more
appropriate or even necessary – but it is not a one size fits all
solution to give all students this information in Year 6,” says Baker.

A guidance policy from the Department of Education Services for sex
education is under construction and will be completed before the start
of the new curriculum in September 2008, he notes.

The Cayman Islands, however, does not have condoms available at
schools, although studies show that students at
schools in the US with condom-availability programs – as part of a
comprehensive sex education programme – have sex less often than those
at schools without these controversial initiatives. Condoms, both male
and female, which when used correctly help reduce the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases, are available at the Public Health
Clinic and all Health Centres at no cost. (CNS is expecting
clarification of the details of this policy).

Statistics on reported cases of sexually
transmitted infections
  other than AIDS, also supplied by the
Health Ministry, are not broken down to show age and sex distribution,
nor is separate data kept for Cayman Brac. Since 2006, however,
figures for STI’s have been based on laboratory confirmations and
also age and sex, but the report is under preparation, the Ministry
reported.

According to Brent Holt, Head of Student Services at DoES, in addition
to the formal curriculum and the specified topics on human sexuality
and reproduction which are covered in the life skills and science
curriculum, government schools place a great deal of emphasis on the
broader issues of helping young people deal with the difficulties of
adolescence and of preparing them for the challenges of adult
life. 

“For this reason, teachers, counselors and a range of support and
pastoral staff work with students individually and in groups on all
kinds of issues, including sex education. Schools also take advantage
of the expertise of other groups interested in helping young people,
and government departments, non-governmental organizations, service
clubs and churches all provide valuable time and support for young
people in this area and in other aspects of what we would term
preparation for adult life.”

One such organization, the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), has given
talks in the schools in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac on topics such as
healthy relationships, domestic abuse, and entering into non-
traditional careers based upon sex, says WRC Director Tammy Ebanks-
Bishop. “We would like to expand our services to increase the number
of times that we visit the schools during the year in order to provide
students with information on healthy interpersonal relationships,” she
says.

“We have recently had a staff member trained to conduct information
sessions for a programme entitled ‘Owning Up’. This programme targets
young people and seeks to empower them, either as perpetrators,
bystanders or targets, to stop violence and humiliation in personal
relationships. We see providing information to young persons on topics
such as these as a proactive approach to spread knowledge about
healthy relationships. When young persons are equipped with knowledge
as to what a healthy and unhealthy relationship is, then perhaps they
will be more empowered to not enter into relationships in which they
are either perpetrators or victims of intimate partner violence,” says
Ebanks-Bishop.      

“Social and cultural norms do influence how we raise our boys and our
girls; this is called gender socialization,” says Ebanks-Bishop.
“Gender socialization determines the roles, responsibilities, values,
etc, that we assign our children based upon their sex (which later
translates at many levels into adulthood). This in turn assists us as
a society in determining what we consider ‘normal’ masculine and
feminine behaviour for our culture.”

She points out that, in regards to teenage sexual activity and
pregnancy, there are many gender socialization issues at work, such as
the double standard of sexual activity and fidelity when it comes to
men, young adolescent men and women and young adolescent women.

“It is more acceptable for males to be promiscuous and have affairs
than it is for women. Females are labeled with negative names, and
males are viewed by their peers as being more ‘successful’ the more
partners that they have.  Bearing that in mind, it is almost as
if too often the young girls who do get pregnant are met with
dismissing attitudes that they no longer are worthy of support or are
of no value to society. It does not seem as though the males who are
the fathers of the teenage mothers are met with the same kind of
dismissing attitudes,” Ebanks-Bishop says, noting that another aspect
of gender socialization differences when it comes to boys and girls is
self-image.

Based upon her observations, Ebanks-Bishop says it appears that young
girls have limited access to contraception. The reasons for this
observation are unknown and could be a result of various contributing
factors, she commented.

“Perhaps it is that Cayman is such a small place and the younger
adolescent women are not comfortable accessing services from clinics
or medical health facilities because of being afraid that their
confidentiality would be breached to their parents. Perhaps it is due
to gender socialization. Some females may not be confident or educated
enough to demand that their partner uses protection during
intercourse. They may not be aware that there is, or have access to, a
female condom. Perhaps it is because of parenting practices and/or
religious beliefs.

“Young adolescents may not feel comfortable talking to their parents
about their sexuality and thus do not get educated at all on (sexual
health). Perhaps there are issues of sexual abuse. We have to be
mindful that in some instances of teenage pregnancy, the young woman
was being sexually abused and therefore there really is no room for
consensual decision making with the male about contraception. Perhaps
there is a legal aspect at work. Does society think that young persons
under the age of consent should not have access to contraception?
Unfortunately, there seemsto be more questions than solid answers.”

Ebanks-Bishop also points to a socio-economic aspect to teenage
pregnancy, since young people who are in lower socio-economic levels
often don’t have correct information about sexual health or lack
information about contraception or access to contraception.

“Additionally, perhaps due to economic situations, young women are
‘groomed’ and exploited by their own family members in order to
reap economic gain from older men. This could be in the form of gift
giving or even covering expense such as rent, etc. There seems to
be an attitude again of blaming the young woman instead of the adults
who have ‘groomed’ her or the older men who have exploited her,” she
says.  

“Finally, I would stress that teenage pregnancy has to be addressed in
a more holistic manner including examining parenting practices, gender
relations and socialization, and socio-economic and education
factors.”

Holt adds, “Young people learn best when the entire community comes
together to support them in their learning and development as
individuals and citizens, and this ideal is enshrined in the
description of the ‘Educated Caymanian’ that is the touchstone of the
new education curriculum.”

When it comes to sexual health, knowledge is power (including the fact
that it’s OK to say “no”) and ignorance can have far-reaching
consequences. AIDS cases and deaths
are still low in the Cayman Islands, but this is a disease that can
lie dormant for years and reap disastrous consequences on a community.

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