Former government minister Verna St Rose Greaves staged a one-woman “naked” protest outside Parliament yesterday against what she said was the Government’s continued failure to protect the country’s women and children.
St Rose Greaves, who had been gender, youth and child development minister until losing her portfolio in Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s first Cabinet reshuffle in 2012, marched in front of the Parliament building dressed in a peach-coloured cotton bodysuit with a red shawl draped over her head, carrying a double-sided placard reading “The Empress Has New Clothes”—a reference to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale—on one side, and “Another Baby Dies; Another Mother Cries” on the other—a quote from a calypso sung last year by Lady Adanna.
“(You have) to be stark raving naked and bawling for what happening to our children. You doh have to shame for nothing when your children under attack. You can’t shame, yuh have to stand up. You have to strip yourself bare because of how they are stripping our children of their dignity,” St Rose Greaves told reporters outside the Parliament Building, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
Her protest served two purposes: to highlight the death of baby Simeon on March 1 when his head was cut during a Caesarean section on his mother, Quelly Ann Cottle; and despite this, while several prominent citizens, including Archbishop of Port of Spain Fr Joseph Harris, have criticised the behaviour of women for Carnival, none of them has yet decried the circumstances of the deaths of baby Simeon and others.
“We spend time on all kinds of other things, but the things that are important we don’t... I want to hear Joe Harris and them talk about what has happened to this child and the others. Let us hear. I haven’t heard them, but they worried about all kinda woman wining down and all kinda thing,” she said.
Her costume, she said, represented her nakedness, and the fact someone has to tell another they are naked. It also symbolised the nine months (of pregnancy) and what happens after.
She also had a shoe box, which had multiple meanings as well, including the hopeful message of love, but also the more cynical notions that “as a state we pay more attention to our shoes than our children”, and also the “coffins of many of our small children”.
There is a history of child abuse, she said, that is not only from the outside, which is what is always talked about, but from within the hospitals.
She said to nurses who were afraid to speak out that their silence will not protect them, although she asked the universe every day that one’s tongue will be loosened and the truth be told.
She also criticised the population, saying unless something happened close to home—a child or grandchild—people will not pay attention and act.
She was very harsh toward Health Minister Fuad Khan—to whom she wanted to present the shoe box—and his response regarding the enquiry into baby Simeon’s death. “I was listening to Dr Khan yesterday on TV and I’m thinking, they already are trying to put up a defence. And you come out on the TV to say the woman has 12 children. That is what he always does. He puts people business out there. (Even if) she has 142 children out there, each one is precious.
“The father said he needs anger management. I can only imagine what that man is going through. All these parents who lose children, you ask what is the follow-up... I want these people to get a good team of lawyers because we need justice. Not just justice for them alone, but all before them... and there will be many more to come because nobody is doing anything about it,” she said.
She added Khan, who had attended the Senate and left during her protest, “passed her like a full bus” as he was leaving.
She also demanded updates on the activities of the Children’s Task Force that had been established by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar after the brutal murder of six-year old Keyana Cumberbatch last November, and an examination on the current laws against (medical) negligence, “whether it accommodates this type of silence on these matters”.
Asked if she felt there was no reaction from authorities on her various protests on these and similar issues, St Rose Greaves said, “I feel good about what I’m doing. I have to do what I have to do. I cannot account for other people’s inaction.”
This is not St Rose Greaves’ first Parliamentary protest. After Cumberbatch’s death she had to be physically removed by police officers after she interrupted a sitting of the House of Representatives by shouting from the public gallery: “It cannot be business as usual! Our children are dying! Do something! Oh God! Kamla! Yuh fail us! Yuh fail de children!”