Post 338.

In 2019, the issues that have long faced women continue to be part of sustained struggle. The hope in this struggle are the many women, especially young women, fearlessly pursuing gender, sexual and reproductive justice around the region.

I’m meeting some of these women for the first time, feeling hope from their potential. I’m introducing you to them because the names of Caribbean women activists often disappear along with recognition of their labour.

I was at an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) event recently, featuring companies and banks with progressive policies regarding women’s employment and leadership, sexual harassment, and work-family balance. Someone in the audience asked what led to these policies. The private sector speakers answered that society has changed, customers are choosing socially (and environmentally) progressive profits, and a younger generation is looking for jobs in companies that align with their ideals.

Society didn’t just change. Feminists labored for decades, despite being stereotyped and maligned, to mainstream the transformations that appear to have just happened over time and that, ultimately, benefit us all.

Societies don’t just change. Women, and feminist men who are allies, labour to make those changes to women’s rights, LBGTI human rights, rights to safe and legal terminations, rights of sex workers, and rights of girls and women to live free of male harassment and violence. They labour to make the changes to parenting policies, including extended paternity leave, that we take to be common sense today.

Such labour takes whole lives, is often voluntary, and can be exhausting, impoverishing and invisible. The private sector takes up this work when the social shifts have already happened, but rely on feminists’ everyday investment to take the risks and resist persistent social support for male domination, heterosexual privilege, traditional gender roles, and women’s unequal burden of care.

So, let me introduce you to Ifasina Efunyemi, a Garifuna woman, who co-founded Petal, Promoting Empowerment through Awareness for Lesbian and Bisexual Women, a Belizean organization that creates safe spaces, promotes healthy relations, and provides training that supports economic empowerment. Every year they hold a forum on International Women’s Day with different themes from gender-based violence to social security and the age of consent.

Meet Robyn Charlery White, co-founder and Director of Herstoire Collective, which promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights, works through digital advocacy, creates safe spaces for women and girls to access information and services, and teaches St. Lucian school age girls about menstrual health. You wouldn’t believe how little secondary school girls are informed about their bodies, fertility and sexuality, mostly because of parents’ silence, and the impact of such disempowerment.

Patrice Daniel, from Barbados, co-founded Walking into Walls in 2012. It’s an on-line space (which you can Like on Facebook) that documents gender-based violence against women and girls, their own narratives and stories of violence, and feminist activism to end such violence. In its own way, this crucial record of the most gutting of women and girls’ realities aims to highlight and challenge the norms that make male violence so normal in the Caribbean.

In Jamaica, Shantae Porteous works with Women’s Empowerment for Change (WE Change). Focusing on empowering lesbian, bisexual and transwomen, their work includes using culture and arts to heal from abuse. She’s also part of I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation, which has been lobbying to provide sexual and reproductive health services and information to girls thirteen to seventeen. Ironically, the age of consent is sixteen, but such services cannot be legally accessed without parental consent before eighteen. For almost ten years, the Foundation has also organised a feminist-led camp for girls that includes conversations on puberty, self-confidence and financial management. Boss mix, right?

You may think that the big issues are migration and trafficking, climate-related disasters, and poverty, but these are unequally suffered by the most vulnerable or stigmatised groups in our societies; teenage girls, persons living with HIV/AIDS, trans women, poor women, and survivors of insecurity and violence.

What do these and other young women need to continue creating hope? Funding, capacity-building, meaningful partnerships, volunteers, allies, political will and state collaboration, spaces to gather, succession planning, and opportunities to become financially sustainable.

It may not be visible, but another generation is labouring to protect and advance women’s human rights, and free women, girls, men and boys from patriarchal authority. In the spirit of regional solidarity, I’m billboarding their courage because the story shouldn’t be that societies just somehow change.

If anyone tells you the future is feminist. Now, you know their names.

 

 

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Post 328.

What if?

What if women, so tired of seeing other women and girls threatened, controlled, harassed, abused and killed, took vigilante justice into their own hands? Every man who harmed and killed their partner was now at risk of being violently injured by a gang of ordinary, angry women with pipes, poui, batons, broomsticks, bilnas and more.

Women who couldn’t stop the partners of their daughters, sisters, mothers and friends would find this gang of women and they would enact the kind of punishment which sends a message to all that women will no longer be passive in the face of such impunity. What if the gang of women began to grow as more joined and any violent man became vulnerable to being beaten by masked women secretly connected across the country in defense of those so failed by our justice system?

Any man abusing his partner or any other woman could be found out and dealt with immediately, violently and collectively. Would those men begin to feel afraid? Would violence against women decrease as such punishment acts as prevention? Would women across communities begin to feel as if they were empowered to make such violence end?

What if women began to do this, would it really be so bad? How would they be judged in the court of public opinion, amongst those who resist violence of any kind as a solution, amongst those for whom morality is defined by law, amongst those who have dreamed of just this scenario many times, amongst those inspired by these women to pick up a pot spoon or an iron pan to stop the next lash? And, when it comes to this gang’s judgment to kill perpetrators of violence against women, what decision would you support?

What if? This is the provocative question put to the audience at UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts play, Baddesse, directed by Brendon La Caille, and featuring a powerful cast of young actors.

There were many things I appreciated about the play. The cast of young women played assertive and complex characters, showing themselves as both experiencing violence and refusing passivity to it, yet conflicted by its many contradictions. Indeed, the relationships and negotiations amongst the young and badass women, of different ethnicities, were some of the play’s richest material.

Yet, the production was much more, creating several settings in which violence is discussed, enacted and resisted. We are taken into the bedroom of a politician and his wife, herself an women’s rights advocate, psychologist and battered woman. We are taken on set where the glamourous host, who represents the character of a flamboyant gay man in a way stereotypical of Caribbean theatre, addresses this issue, bringing the audience into the conversation.

We are shown commercials, created for the production, that show how violence becomes normalized as part of consumption of popular culture. We are taken into the safe house of the women’s gang, whose leader is called ‘Black Widow’, and where we get intimate insight into the difficulty of embarking on this dangerous path – out of trauma, frustration and anger, despite the fact that she is a police officer.

The play constantly draws in the audience through use of the theatre space and through direct engagement with audience members. You don’t know if to cry, sometimes despite yourself you want to laugh and mostly you watch the production heart-broken that this is where male violence has led women – to desperate self-defense when there seems to be nowhere else to turn.

In Trinidad and Tobago, 30% of women reported physical and/or sexual IPV in their lifetime and 6% in the last 12 months, 19% reported lifetime non-partner sexual violence, 11% reported economic partner violence, and 35% reported emotional violence in their lifetime with 12% reporting emotional violence in the last twelve months. The 2018 Women’s Health Survey also found that approximately 11,000 women are likely to still be in abusive relationships. Conviction rates following reports is grossly low.

Where is justice in such a society? Indeed, this is what stands out in the play’s well-researched script. Black Widow herself grew up witnessing and experiencing violence. The final scene, played using Arts in Action’s long-established ‘hot seat’ facilitation approach, features an abuser confessing to the trauma of his own father’s violence. Where so many abusers were once victims, their killing cautions even the most angry about vigilantism.

Go see the play. Strong women. Serious questions. It runs April 12-14 at Cheesman Bldg on Gordon Street, St. Augustine.