Post 326.

The government is proposing amendments to the Sexual Offences Act which would put a National Sex Offenders Register in motion. Civil society organisations have been welcomed into the process, and have argued for a rights-based and restorative justice approach to this legislative proposal.

Registries enable convicted offenders to be tracked so societies can take preventative actions to protect vulnerable groups.

It’s clear that traffickers, pimps, consumers and producers of child pornography, and repeat sexual offenders, particularly against children, present a risk that emerges from opportunity, impunity, and the need for greater integration of information, social services, policing and border security.

But, for some other convicted offenders, being put on a register may not be the best approach. Some categories of offenders, such as sex workers, should be understood in terms of their vulnerabilities, not as a risk to society. Sex work doesn’t have to be decriminalised for such protection, though this is definitely needed. Rather, those convicted under this category in the Sexual Offences Act can be exempted.

Putting up convicted offenders’ names in every police station to name and shame may result in increased vulnerability as children and those who report are blamed for the effects to families’ names, and blamed for convicted sex offenders’ difficulty working and living after they have completed their sentences. Indeed, reporting is still low when whole families know about child sex abusers in their midst because of fear of scandal and a belief that such matters should be kept private.

Civil society groups have argued that the register should be private, but fully available to protective services, social services, the judiciary, immigration officials and more. As well, CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice, as part of a wider coalition, has suggested that a ‘duty to verify’ by employers, religious authorities, school authorities, sports groups and day care centres, for example, is better than a public list and similarly ensures that children can be protected from offenders. These groups should request confirmation whether or not those with such potential access to children are on the register. This, rather than full public accessibility, should be built into the amendment.

Civil society groups are also arguing for clear protocols for the judiciary – where sentencing takes place and where it is decided which offenders would be registered. For example, a teacher who fails to report out of fear for her life would have a case to be kept off the register but the list is potentially very broad and it’s not clear where the onus is placed. Should an abused mother have to make a case for why she should not be convicted and put on a register or should the courts have clear guidelines that specify that registered offenders should be those that present a clear risk? These matters can be dealt with through a special division of the court, applying and extending model guidelines for dealing with sexual offences, and use of psychological assessments.

The register’s power to prevent sexual offences is limited by low rates of reporting and lower rates of conviction. As civil society has observed, one in five women will experience sexual abuse from someone other than her partner in her lifetime. Of every 75 women who do, only 12 (16%) will report it, 6 (50%) will have those reports become a legal case, and only one conviction (17%) will result. This means that trust in the system of policing and prosecution must be strengthened such that victims and others are prepared to report. It means that the rates of successful convictions must improve or else only a minority of sexual offenders will actually make it on the register. Currently, the majority of sexual offenders will remain unaffected by this valuable amendment.

Thinking about the rates of intimate partner sexual violence, which is reported by between 3% and 16% of women, were the system of justice to work as it should and both reporting and convictions match prevalence, it would mean that tens of thousands are registered – without mandatory rehabilitation upon conviction being part of the process.

Strengthened protocols and protections that encourage reporting, integration of experts in psychological assessments, comprehensive sex education, and widespread gender-based and sexual violence sensitisation across all ages have been recommended by civil society.

A register alone cannot change beliefs normalising child sexual abuse and sexual violence against women. Integrated institutional response, clear protocols, monitoring, and a commitment to gender equality are necessary for it to be effective in ways presented to a public desperate for solutions.

 

 

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Post 319.

The Break the Silence Campaign, familiar to most because of its blue teddy bear symbol, enters its tenth year in 2019. Focusing on raising awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest, providing training about these as issues of gender-based violence, and building communities around empowerment of children as part of prevention, the campaign has indeed seen silences broken.

There’s more reporting now than before, confusing our understanding about whether the rates have risen, or just the reporting, but confirming our position that too many children continue to be harmed.

There have been 11, 787 reports of children in need of care and protection since proclamation of the Children’s Authority. Over 2016-2017, there were 4, 232 reports of child abuse and maltreatment, averaging 353 reports per month. In relation into sexual abuse, girls are harmed at four times the rates of boys, but the rates of neglect and physical abuse are nearly the same, and in fact slightly higher for boys than girls.

At the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) meeting yesterday, researchers highlighted childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, as a significant denominator among perpetrators.

Perpetrators also spoke about lacking healthy, involved and connected father figures. This doesn’t mean blaming women-headed households, which are managing the balance of both being freed from toxic masculinities while being burdened with unequal responsibilities.

It also doesn’t mean that it takes fathers to be fatherly figures or influential role models. It takes men in boys’ lives who care, enable them to feel accepted, and loved “like a son” so that boys don’t get used to “always walking around with hurt feelings as a young boy”.

CAFRA’s data is part of larger project to shift  cultural norms in order to end gender-based violence as it affects men, women, boys, girls, and especially those from marginalized groups defined by disability or sexual/gender orientation. This makes sense once you understand how striking the data is, and how complex explanations for it and solutions to it have to be.

In 2016, 3, 312 reports were made to the national domestic violence hotline, 150 to Rape Crisis Society, and 1, 141 to the TTPS. Why do hurt people feel safer to seek comfort from a stranger on the end of a phone than to reach out to the relevant authorities?

How were those lives lived after that call? Did the violence in that caller’s life end, and did it end with a perpetrator’s conviction for the crime of violence or with counseling as a path to accountability? Was there healing? Was there greater safety in our islands with as much as 1, 240 breaches of protection orders between 2009 and 2017? What happened to the children?

In the eighteen months between January 2016 and September 2017, ninety-nine women were murdered, but 857 men. As we think about the rates of boys and men murdering other boys and men in our society, who connects such killing to what we describe as domestic violence, or the ways that power is wielded in families that lead to experiences of trauma, harm and a will to hurt.

Even more significant, who has made the connection between child sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse in boys’ lives, and their later actions that cause trauma, harm and death?

Currently, there is no national, state-led approach to prevention, prosecution and healing – including something as simple and necessary as age-appropriate curricula for primary schools that aim to change a culture that normalizes gender-based violence and forms of family abuse.

The Break the Silence Campaign is one example of a national focus on ending child sexual abuse and incest – which is so horrendous that it’s unbelievable we tolerate it enough as a society for it to exist. Any society that values family life above all else should have zero cases to report . What we have is a society that prioritizes fear, respectability, religiosity, discipline and silencing above children’s rights while children live amidst threat and vulnerability.

A decade on, the BTS campaign needs private sector and community infusion of support and investment so that it can continue to press against such silencing and violence for another ten years.

If we make the connections between child sexual abuse and incest, later domestic violence, and wider male violence and killing, we may prevent crimes before criminals are created. For the TTPS and its allies, this should be a priority, for it’s the more humane solution to the desperation of a shoot to kill policy.

 

 

 

Post 228.

Almost forty years ago, Audre Lorde wrote, “we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and still we will be no less afraid”. Around the region today, women are posting sexual harassment, abuse and assault survival stories as part of the #lifeinleggings movement, precisely to overcome that silencing and fear.

The hashtag and postings were started by Barbadian women Ronelle King and Allyson Benn to highlight the pervasiveness of sexual violence. Can any of us say that we don’t know one woman who has experienced such threat, fear, harm and denial of choice, possibly many times?

They linked their initiative to Barbados’ 50th independence and, therefore, to the impossibility of ‘development’ without also ending gender inequalities. Caribbean states have paid scant attention to the realities of rape culture while reframing twenty years of lip service into a story of “too much focus on women”. Yet, the courage it takes to share these stories suggests that silencing remains more dominant than safe space for women’s truths about their relationships, families, communities and nation.

Breaking these silences remains a risk. Families are invested in hiding stories of sexual predation, telling women that it happened in the past or that it’s more important to just keep peace. People respond that, somehow, you must have looked for that because of your clothes, your job or smile. Others’ trauma at hearing what happened to you has to be managed, sometimes making it easier to say nothing. It’s common to not be believed or to be blamed or seen as bringing down shame or wanting attention or, worse, as a joke.

Now isn’t the time to say not all men rape, assault or harass. Women are not accusing all men, they are simply no longer hiding what actually happened to them. Women are not responsible for protecting themselves, for ‘men don’t molest decent girls’. These stories begin when we are children and modesty provides no safety. Women don’t want men’s protection, we want their solidarity. There’s one message that can change women’s #lifeinleggings, and that is that men’s sexual self-responsibility has no excuses.

From Bajan politicians to Guyanese indigenous women to Jamaican reggae singers to Trinidadian university educators to policewomen in St. Vincent to disabled girls across the region, every kind of Caribbean woman has stories. Imagine what it means when education, class privilege, fame, age, ethnicity or profession makes no difference?

Audre Lorde has written, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you”. Almost forty years later, in support of #lifeinleggings, Tonya Haynes, in the Caribbean feminist blog, Code Red for Gender Justice, wrote,

“Women broke every silence. We spoke of street harassment: girl, yuh pussy fat! Principals who made no room for comprehensive sexuality education but slut-shamed girls who were themselves sexually abused. Rape by current and former partners. Years of sexual abuse by fathers, step-fathers, uncles, cousins. Stories of men who told us that they’re waiting for our four-year-old daughters to grow up. Men who offered jobs or rides or food or protection only to demand sex. Only to split our bodies open when we refused. Men who raped us because we are lesbian, because we are women, because we are girls, because they could. We exploded every myth about how good girls and good women are protected from this violence. That good men will protect us.  That all we have to do is call in our squad of brothers and uncles and fathers. We asked, and who will women and girls call when our fathers and brothers and uncles assault them? We affirmed that asking men to protect us from male violence is not freedom. All men benefit from male privilege and unequal relations of gender which disadvantage and devalue women and girls. We demand autonomy not protection! We split this island open for every woman and girl who has had her body split open. We split this island open and let all the secrets fall out”.

If you want to break your own silences, there is a #lifeinleggings gathering, on Saturday from 4-6pm, at the Big Black Box on Murray Street in Woodbrook. Go. Listen. Share. Let all our own islands’ secrets fall out.

Post 224.

Government has the right and the power to amend the laws on child marriage. This right and power is not just because Parliament’s responsibility is to legislate for the best for all in the nation, particularly its most vulnerable citizens.  More precisely, it is because the government should and must harmonize all the laws governing the minimum age of sexual consent.

The Children’s Act (2012) sets the age of sexual consent at eighteen years old. Sexual relations between girls and boys who are both minors or within three years of age have been decriminalized. However, sex between adults and minors, meaning children under eighteen years old, is defined as rape.

In the case of the marriage laws, the majority of child marriages occur between girl children and male adults, at times constituting the legalization of statutory rape. This is the overriding issue that our society has to address.

The argument that we should pay attention to teenage pregnancies rather than child marriage is a misleading one. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy are parts of the same problem, which is too early sexual initiation, particularly in the lives of girls.

The sexualisation of girlhood, by older men, is a phenomena that has devastated the lives of girls across the region, leading to high rates of early forced sex, to girls 14 to 24 years old having one of the highest rates of HIV infection, and to teenage pregnancy. The consequences of these affect girls’ educational and economic options, cementing their dependence on others, rather than increasing their independence and self-sufficiency.

Both teen marriage and pregnancy also have to be situated in a wider context of widespread child sexual abuse, mainly by adult men.  This month, the Children’s authority publicized that 1000 cases of sexual abuse were reported to the Authority in the period May 18, 2015 to February 17, 2016. Of that, 142 children were in sexual relationships with adult men, with 61 of them becoming pregnant or having had a child. If those children were married to those adult men, would that make their situation more morally acceptable? To whom?

We’ve dealt with girls’ greater vulnerability to early sexual initiation by denial of the importance of sexual education through our school system. How else to protect our nation’s girls but with information about their bodies, health, safety, rights, options and sources of services and support? Learning how to make and live those decisions best for your future as a growing girl is a better solution to teen pregnancy than marriage.

The second approach that we have taken is shame and blame. The marriage solution makes sense in this context, for it seeks to restore respectability to a girl child, restoring respectability to the family. But, here, obeying the tyranny of respectability may not be doing what is best.

Research on past child brides suggests that girls were compelled into marriages far more than they chose them. Forced by parents who saw them liking a boy and decided a wedding had to take place. Other girls agreed because they were unhappy in their family homes and marriage provided escape. Still others were just doing what was expected, without understanding all the implications. Minors ending up in relationships with adult men had far less bargaining capacity to decide the fate of their lives, and had higher risk of violence.

Over the past six decades, girls themselves have decided against marrying as minors. This can be seen in the vast increase in the age of marriage over this period, once the decision was increasingly in empowered girls’ hands.

This also means that the actual numbers of child marriages are low. However, this is not a numbers issue. It is an issue of having a single, consistent legal position about the age of consent, what constitutes rape of a minor, and what the right approach to different aspects of girls’ sexual vulnerability should be.

The Hindu Women’s Organisation, and leaders such as Brenda Gopeesingh, have been consistently and fearlessly calling for this change for the last decade. There is also significant public support nationally and internationally. Despite sound and fury, amending the marriage laws is a low-stakes change. The political fall-out from this decision will be minor. And, a necessary message will be sent about girls’ right to be children, leaving we adults, rather than them, with the responsibility to resist their early sexualisation.

For more information, see the IGDS 2013 Public Forum on the Marriage Acts of Trinidad and Tobago which provides informed perspectives by Gaietry Pargass, Dr. Jacqueline Sharpe and Carol Jaggernauth.

http://www.looptt.com/content/womantra-religious-support-under-age-marriage-obscene%E2%80%9D

 

 

Post 188.

Last Thursday, my Men and Masculinities in the Caribbean students were out on campus learning through engagement with pro-feminist men’s movement-building. These were students who never imagined they would choose to publicly critique homophobia for hurting both gay and straight men. Students who never imagined they would become passionate about raising boys, not to be men, but to be good people, considered to be nurturers just as naturally as women.

Students who never imagined they would commit to the idea that men’s issues are best addressed through men and women’s solidarity to dismantle and transform men’s unequal privilege and power. Older men who never imagined they would play Midnight Robber breaking down patriarchy and younger men who never imagined they would say that this is what a feminist looks like, referring to themselves.

You might think this kind of movement-building is not possible, or too feminist for folks of all religions, races, ages and creeds to connect to. But, it’s amazing how students change once it clicks that patriarchy and the culture of male domination both benefit and hurt boys and men. For, different men occupy different positions of power and status that give them uneven access to resources, rights and respect.

While students saw men’s issues as their higher rates of suicide and alcoholism, high rates of prostate cancer, high risk behaviours, lower investments in schooling, and greater silence about experiences of child sexual abuse, they also understood women’s experiences of male domestic abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment as men’s issues.

Such movement-building creates greater consciousness of the idea that men, not just women, are responsible for advancing women’s rights to equality and equity in politics and the economy, challenging women’s sexual vulnerability to men, and breaking the interlock between femininity, housework and care of children. It sees women’s full freedom to choose whatever happens to their bodies as a question of justice in which men should invest. For, what kind of manhood is proudly invested in injustice?

Such movement-building aims to end notions of manhood based in the beliefs of men’s natural headship of families, religious communities, the economy, the public sphere and the state. It reaches out to male allies willing to end sexism and homophobia, both of which teach that manhood is and should be nothing like womanhood, leading men to seek refuge in a macho, heterosexual ideal, despite the stigma, shame, and fears of harm it creates among men who don’t measure up, regardless of their sexuality.

Recognising men’s feelings of emasculation because of shifting relations between females and males, such movement building engages men in a conversation with women and amongst themselves about the long struggle against sexism in which men need to get involved.

In this conversation, the misleading ‘men’s rights’ myth that men are now marginalized, meaning oppressed by women and excluded from power, is questioned. Girls are not wrongly be blamed for boys’ choices regarding school work, women for earning qualifications to compete with men in the legal job market, mothers and wives for men’s resort to crime and violence, or feminists for “too much equality”. Students know that ending women’s subordination would end the pressure men face to avoid appearing too feminine or too ‘gay’, enabling men to be valued for simply being human beings.

What are men’s issues? What are our most creative, interactive and analytically sound strategies for tackling them without reproducing a battle of the sexes? And, what will a Caribbean men’s movement look like after a thousand students have learned how to explain why pro-feminist movement-building is necessary? In the decade ahead, watch and see.

Post 128.

You are a teenager. Your dad tells you he wants to look at your body. He touches your genitals. After, he says he’s sorry. He doesn’t want you to tell anyone. You do tell, your mother, your aunts and the police. He says you are lying. Your mother believes you. Who will others believe?

You’ve now lost a dad and must mourn a man still walking around town, one who was supposed to protect you but who now casts you as the threat. You have no idea what rules actually matter anymore, given that the ones you thought most mattered have now been violated. Why not self-harm? Why obey anyone when adults have failed to obey the rules that they should?

Maybe you act out because it’s a way to let others know you are going to do whatever you want because, regardless of the support you have, this hell is and will be your own. Maybe you act out because you are angry, maybe to forget, maybe to test those around you to see if they really are on your side, maybe to push back at the boundaries of their love.

Maybe when you know what it means to be vulnerable, you reach in many directions for safety, even directions not right for you. Hurt, betrayal and loss are confusing. You live them emotionally, understanding your rationales and reactions only long after.

You don’t know it yet, but you will deal with this for decades. It may affect your future relationships with others, even with yourself. It may crush your ability to trust. It may lead you to take risks. It may leave you less able to negotiate control over your body and sexuality than you need to be. It may lead you to search out future abusers in one form or another. You don’t wake up one morning and find the whole experience was a dream.  You wake up on mornings carrying the experience, sometimes awake, sometimes sleeping, inside of you.

You also don’t yet know how many other girls this happens to. The women who come to hear about your abuse, who remember their own, also begin to discover how many of them were affected. They revisit their pain. If only there were less silence and less shame. If only women didn’t carry feelings of blame or hadn’t decided to forget, the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse and incest could fill every newspaper page.

These women and their stories can reduce girls’ vulnerability. Maybe, hopefully, women survivors will find a way to heal and protect where others have failed. Maybe, men who have also survived sexual abuse will also come together, not just to support each other, not just to run perpetrators, but to dismantle the kind of masculine power that makes men more likely to be sexually and physically violent to those they love.

National statistics suggest that child sexual abuse happens everyday. This teenager is real. She isn’t me, but that doesn’t matter. She is ours. So are all the others.

There is action to be taken everywhere. Like my sistren, Nadella Oya, you can make a statement on the walls of communities, you can teach children about their rights. NGOs across the country need volunteers and ideas. There is the regional Break the Silence Campaign, started by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, whose blue teddy symbol is becoming more visible. Find out what you can do.

We need to end hushed family conversations, cycles of violence and tolerance of perpetrators. Tomorrow should not add another story.

Feature speech at Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women Young Woman of the Year 2012 Award Ceremony held at Crown Plaza, Trinidad.

Good evening Everyone and especially the Young Women nominated for the Young Woman of the Year 2012 Award. You are such an inspiration!

Thank you Hazel Brown for asking me to be here with you all today.

The biographies of these young women show immense individual ambition, self-confidence, initiative and creativity, as well as clear commitment to community, country and the environment. These are all the qualities that every parent, and especially every mother, would be proud to see in their daughters.

To these qualities and commitments, I want to add the idea of solidarity – and particularly solidarity with other young women across differences of class, ethnicity, geography, religion and sexual orientation. What kinds of solidarities do I mean? Why do they remain important?

Young women are doing well, you are doing well, but many young women still need us to lift as we climb.

Violence in our homes remains prevalent. In my classes with only about 80 students, the majority have either experienced violence against women or know someone who has. Violence stops so many girls and young women from imagining and reaching their potential and it remains a reality that a new generation must unapologetically confront on your own terms and in your own ways, but confront it you must. We know that violence and control get reproduced in within teen relationships, making it hard for girls to have boyfriends and also full decision-making about their movements, friends and freedom, and making it hard to negotiate condom and contraception use. If there is one thing that young women can do, its provide non-judgmental peer spaces for young women to be able to share their experiences of family and sexual violence from family, seek strength and sisterhood, and make choices that are healthy and right for them rather than for others, whether those others are parents or religious leaders or partners.

Part of this violence is the issue of child sexual abuse and incest, which like domestic violence, continues to predominantly affect girls in our society, reproducing silences that run throughout families and communities, silences that will not protect us, silences that leave us no less afraid. The Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the UWI, where I work, has embarked on a national campaign to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and incest, using the symbol of the blue teddy, and I want to encourage young women in the different kinds of work that you do – in dance, sports, arts and community organizing, to use your creativity and networks to help break the silence about sexual violence in our homes, as an act of solidarity with other young women who have grown used to a reality of shame and repression rather than transformation and freedom from anger, betrayal and fear.

In my classes, the majority of students – though thankfully not all – also know someone who has had an abortion. This is the reality within which young women are coming of age, and as a new generation, you need to continue the struggle for safe rather than unsafe options for termination of pregnancies as well as for wide, national access to contraception, education and counseling. Trinidad and Tobago has a high teenage birthrate, and I imagine, also a high teenage rate of abortion. I myself know a handful of young women in their twenties who have terminated pregnancies and each time I have wished that they had access to safe, legal medical options, to patient rights, to responsible doctors. Is your politics one that seeks to secure these options or not? While the decision is yours, the implications reach out to other young women who you may never meet, or perhaps may one day come to know and care about.

There are two other issues that I want to touch on before I move on. The first relates to proposed changes to the Marriage Acts of Trinidad and Tobago, and efforts to increase the age of marriage from 12 and 14 to, at minimum, 16 or even 18 years old. Young women have not been at the forefront of the national debate on this issue and it affects you. There are issues of religion, respectability and so on that shape how the marriage of young girls is understood, but most important are the views of young women and questions of the power inequalities in such relationships, girls’ ability to make such long-term choices at such a young age, and the impact that early marriage makes on girls’ ability to experience adolescence as a time when they come to decide who they are and want to be for themselves.

Finally, I must speak tonight about the recently passed but not yet proclaimed Children’s Act of Trinidad and Tobago. This extremely progressive and much needed Act decriminalizes sexual activity amongst minors, as it should – for there are other responses and solutions rather than the heavy hand of the law, but it also explicitly criminalises sexual activity against minors, children under 18 years old, when those activities take place between minors of the same sex. This denial of equal rights to young people – and young women – must not be allowed. It is absolutely discriminatory, it divides youth against each other, it leaves some children protected and makes others punished, it prevents open discussion about healthy, safe and authentic sexual desires and choices, and it reproduces a nation where some young women experience the privileges of full citizenship and others, from as young as twelve years old, do not. Young women, we need your voices to join with those who cannot safely and openly speak for or be themselves. That is what solidarity is about.

Solidarity is based on the vision that you hold for the world and I know you are all young women of vision. Is your vision that all young women grow up in families without physical or sexual violence, is your vision that they grow up in communities that don’t respond with silencing and shame, is it that young women grow up in a world where despite sex being everywhere, they nonetheless cannot speak openly about it to parents, teachers, religious leaders and other adults without following a script that says they must be chaste…because where does that leave them if they are not? Is your vision that no medical practice – especially those only performed on girls and women, will ever take place in unsafe conditions? Is your vision for a generation not divided by race, politics, class, religion or sexual orientation, but able to find those few precious spaces of common ground – despite our differences, on the basis of our equal human rights, our commitment to making sure that all in our society have the protections and freedoms that still only some benefit from? What is your vision for the young women least able to speak about their realities, those most judged, those most left to fend for themselves without the powerful, visible solidarity of their young sisters?

There are many groups of young women to speak about. I chose these groups today because we need to break silences about them, and we need amazing young women like you to be unafraid of doing so on behalf of your generation. Every generation of young women must challenge the generation of women and men before them to secure expanded forms of justice, peace, equity, freedom and solidarity, because our silences will not protect us in the ways that our solidarities will. So, while you young women are involved in such a diverse array of fields – agriculture, music, dance, jewelry, entrepreneurship, arts, sports, conservation, charity and community-building, I also want to push you to think about how your own work can transform the lives of those young women we speak about least and hear from least.

That’s why I speak about young women struggling through child sexual abuse and incest who need to no longer protect their families, young women who have terminated pregnancies and whose stories we need to hear rather than condemn, those lesbian young women who we pretend, in all our righteousness and even hypocrisy, do not exist, when all of them like you are simply young people who need to be given the chance to make the life for themselves that feels right and is based on self-confidence, self-love and the warm embrace of family and community belonging. A generation before me could sit uncomfortably in their chairs, but these young women will be no less afraid and I certainly am not afraid to speak with – and when necessary for – them…and in so doing for me, my vision, my nation and the world in which I want to live.

Solidarity is grounded in being unafraid, knowing that speaking with and for your sisters may not make you popular but it will make your politics thorough and true. And you are the generation of young women in the history of this post-slavery, post-indentureship and post-colonial society most able to do so. You all are educated, you are powerful, you are creative, you are driven and you are brave. You best know how to bring your bredren in to support your work because the work to right the world for young women is not women’s work, it is the work of a generation with the power, smarts and opportunities to make change. It’s not your job to get young men involved, it’s your job to demand they represent, standing next to and in solidarity with you. Nothing is stopping them and, don’t let anyone fool you, boys and men still have power they need to share and power they can contribute to the struggle to end violence, to recognise girls’ right to make decisions regarding their bodies and to end homophobia.

You best know how to reach out to those younger than you and you are already doing so. You are linked in with rural, religious, cultural, musical, agricultural, environmental, entrepreneurial communities that the Network of NGOs wouldn’t know where to begin to find. Those spaces that are yours are the same ones where these issues are lived and where the needs and rights of young women can be taken on.

Your time is not in the future, frankly it is now. It is for these reasons that we recognise and acknowledge the work of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women, and in the spirit of the work of still to be done, recognize and celebrate you. Congratulations to all of you amazing young women and good luck with the work that you do.

Thank you.
Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
November 23, 2012.