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  • A carnival procession on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

    A carnival procession on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 February 2018

Trinidad and Tobago passed a new law requiring consent to "wine" - a hip-swivelling dance traditionally performed during carnival season.

More efforts are being made to combat harassment against women during carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Brazil during this year's street festival. A good example in the Caribbean island's case is a new law requiring consent to “wine” - a hip-swiveling dance traditionally performed during carnival season.

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Unlike past carnivals, where 'wining' could descend into a free-for-all, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, TTPS, have warned carnival fans that performing a non-consensual “wine” can lead to an arrest this year, according to Global Voices.

In light of harassment and violent acts committed against women during previous carnivals, many feminists groups hailed the passing of the new law.

However, famed local soca singer Machel Montano added some fire to the flame when he was quoted as saying “when it comes to wining, it's better to seek forgiveness than permission.” The statement was allegedly made after a local newspaper published a photo of him gyrating on a female patron during a Carnival fete (party).

People took to social media to express their disapproval of Montano. Maria Rivas-Mc posted on Facebook that “Words have power and are even more powerful when you are someone of note. Machel could have used the opportunity to speak about respecting women, and all people.”

Meanwhile, Rhoda Bharath posted that “A sexual advance is not sexual assault. If you advance and I turn you down and you persist...that is where the problem starts.”

Omari Ashby weighed in on the matter, writing the “wine debate is what happens when traditional knowledge is not passed down...as a matter of fact the asking for a wine was part of the dance itself...the approach would be made the offer would be accepted or declined, all within the dance moves...but we failed to have faith in ourselves and our way of doing things.”

In a private Facebook post, republished with the permission of Global Voices, Franz Gellizeau noted that “It is absolutely infuriating that people are discussing this 'new law' about wining. Morons, it is assault to just jump on someone and start gyrating, and it always has been.”

Harassment against women during carnival, and throughout the year, is also a major issue in Brazil. Not only that, the South American giant is also home to one of the world's highest homicide rates for women.

“Some men have this feeling that they can do whatever to your body,” said Ana Lobo, a 29-year-old, a six months pregnant woman who participated in a pre-Carnival street party.

“A woman can be naked in the street and nobody should be allowed to touch her,” said Debora Thome, a former reporter who, in 2015, co-founded an annual block part called “Mulheres Rodadas,” or “Women Who Get Around.” She emphasized that carnival is an optimal time to focus on combatting harassment against women because it engages the matter of respect amid scantily dressed partygoers, according to the Northwest Herald.

Thome, along with Renata Rodrigues, organized the party in response to a viral Facebook post of a man waving a sign in Portuguese that said he “didn't deserve a woman who gets around.”

Rodrigues, for her part, said: “Carnival is just a small piece of a much larger problem.”

Many other women are following Rodrigues and Thomes' example, organizing their own block parties with themes that challenge traditional western gender roles and replete with all-female musicians, including shirts, necklaces and crowns. The carnival accessories bear messages tackling female harassment, as well as campaigns aimed at cracking down on and reporting abuse.

At a recent party, hundreds of women donned costumes resembling animals they said they had been called while walking the streets: cobras, hens, piranhas, cows, and others, according to the Northwest Herald.

“They (men) say they are against machismo but won’t put their hands in the fire when a woman is in a dangerous situation,” said Roma Neptune, a 29-year-old high school sociology teacher. She learned how to play the agogo – a percussion instrument normally played by men during carnival. However, Neptune expressed disillusionment with men who claim to be supportive of women but, in practice, are not.

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Maria Marzal, an emergency room nurse, attended the feminist-themed party with her 3-year-old daughter. She reflected on the “real fear, a cruel fear,” women face while listening to the pulsating music, saying that every shift she sees at least one woman who has been raped.

The military police in the city of Rio de Janeiro received 2,154 calls related to violence against women during carnival last year. In light of the statistics thousands of stickers are being distributed with messages such as “Grabbing me won't get you a kiss!” and “No is no!” this carnival season, which officially kicks off on Friday and lasts until Wednesday. However, in some cities, like Salvador in the country's northeast region, the party is a multiweek extravaganza.

Police officer Claudia Morais, said that recent changes in the law have made it easier to prosecute rape cases even when intercourse was not involved. The change may have been in response to a recent wave of men ejaculating on women while riding on public buses, one of which attracted public outcry after the judge hearing the case released the perpetrator only 24 hours after the incident occurred. His explanation – the crime was punishable by paying a fine.

Morais objected. “At the very least, a guy who gets arrested and goes before a judge will think twice” about assaulting a woman in the future, she affirmed.

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