Vandana Mohit

Vandana Mohit mayor of Chaguanas.

STOP shaming Chaguanas Mayor Vandana Mohit.

This was the expression of support yesterday for the newly sworn-in and youngest Chaguanas mayor who has come under attack after nude photos surfaced on social media.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday she was proud of Mohit and believes she is strong enough to overcome the “nastiness” meted out by those opposed to her.

“Vandana is a very experienced councillor, well educated. She is well suited for the position, that’s why we recommended her to be the mayor. I think she will do very well. She is a performer, she is a worker. We are very proud of her. All politicians whether you are male or female are subjected to attacks from detractors. Vandana is a strong person and I think she will be able to withstand any viciousness that comes her way,” she said.

There was support for Mohit on social media and condemnation of moves intended to shame her.

Founding member of the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) Folade Mutota said this was need for a deep national conversation on woman shaming in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The business of shaming women, especially in public life is very problematic and so that really is the major challenge. The core to that problem is the status of women in the society. Women still have to struggle to carve out and protect their space in public life. This must be rejected at any and all times when it rears its head,” she said.

“Whether it was Ms Mohit or not, to me it doesn’t matter who the woman is, it’s not a question of the mayor of Chaguanas, it’s a question of a woman’s right to privacy and a woman’s right to protection from abuse of her rights,” Mutota added.

She said there was another aspect that must be engaged, ie, pursuing the course of action to “bring to book” the person who shared the private photos.

Dr Gabrielle Hosein, director of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), said women’s personal lives have always presented a greater risk to their chances of public leadership.

“It’s established in Trinidad and Tobago legal precedent that personal and intimate content, shared confidentially by women and then later publicised without their consent, is illegal, unethical and a form of gender-based violence. It is a violation aimed to cause harm professionally and politically. By supporting Ms Mohit in her validly achieved position and giving her a chance to succeed, we can avoid being complicit in such violence,” she said.

“Frankly, I think surviving this makes her even more of a role model, for this is an increasingly common reality and risk globally and nationally, and will continue to be, for a generation of young women. There are many young women who will see her step rightfully into office as a survivor of such violence, breach of trust and backlash and will remind themselves that it’s possible if or when it happens to them too,” she added.

Inciting divisiveness

Former president of the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce Richie Sookhai and UWI economist Dr Vaalmikki Arjoon condemned Mohit’s critics in a joint statement.

The men were in praise of Mohit and her work ethic.

“Although she is young, Ms Mohit is no rookie; this is the third time that the people of Cunupia have elected her. She has developed a reputation as one of the hardest-working and dependable councillors in the country, even at times when the odds were against her. She is an excellent example of a youth that puts people and country before all else. She is bright, well-educated and prides herself as being guided by honesty, integrity and selfless service to all. These are qualities that make her an ideal role model for other young people. These are qualities are indeed lacking in many others today who call themselves our leaders!” they stated.

They added: “We are therefore urging the youth of the nation to follow her example and commit to service in excellence to build our country. There are many talented youths who are hesitant to become involved in national development because they are afraid to speak out, don’t have an avenue or a role model to emulate. Indeed, many people in leadership roles who are supposed to be creating inclusion and unity, are instead inciting divisiveness. We cannot wait for those at the top to create our future – we, the youth of today need to be agents of change!”

Former UNC senator Larry Lalla also defended Mohit, stating: “Seeing all the nude photos circulating via WhatsApp and alleged to be of a newly appointed Mayor. If the photos are genuine THEY HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with her ability to do her job with competence and integrity in the interest of her burgesses. In the present difficult circumstances the country is facing, a moment’s indiscretion sometime in the past can and should be ignored in favour of the promise of a better tomorrow. Give the young woman a break!”

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