Diary of a mothering worker.

Post 209.

At last week Wednesday’s forum, ‘Reflecting on Gender and Politics in the 2015 Election Campaign’, young people filled the room, many of them lesbian and gay, who I hope felt that the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI created a safe space for public deliberation, for once not defined by their marginality.

The event was inspired by ‘the marginals’ in national talk about the election. How could we instead think about politics beyond polls and ‘the numbers’, to see multiple kinds of ‘margins’ in our landscape, especially in the deeply connected experiences of women and the LBGTI community? How could we encourage public reflection that no other site in the country would, precisely because feminist academia is founded on solidarity with these groups’ continuing struggles for equal citizenship? How could we build on civil society efforts to bring us together across political party divides?

There was the history of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women to build on. Twenty years of producing a Women’s Manifesto and trying to get campaigning parties to commit to its goals. Twenty years of funding women candidates in the hopes that they would see the women who helped to get them into power as an important constituency. More years of encouraging a women’s cross-party caucus, where women politicians could gather as allies, rather than adversaries.

There was also the history of organisations like Caiso, Friends for Life, Women’s Caucus, Silver Lining Foundation and I am One to support. More than a decade of advocacy to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2010, Caiso produced a manifesto, ‘6 in 6’, which outlined six policy and leadership steps they hoped that the new government would take in its first half year in office. Five years later, with those all unfulfilled, whether in terms of police treatment of LGBTI crime victims, the creation of safe schools or the community’s greater vulnerability to homelessness, they were still challenging their marginality. Now as part of a new network of groups called Allies for Justice and Diversity, a rights-we-deserve-not-what-rights-we-are-allowed manifesto was again created in 2015.

In a country where ‘the marginals’ decide the victor, it made sense for a post-election forum to bring together marginal groups to document their overlapping analyses and strategies, as they both contested how ideals of masculinity and femininity shape the lived realities of political life. Sexism cannot be ended without also ending homophobia, and advancing emancipation requires us to fearlessly document, understand and defy an unjust status quo. Where else then, would we discuss the homophobic bullying and stereotyping experienced by gay male candidates, from the population, their own political parties, and our headline-hungry media? Where else would we share how campaigning is experienced by women as they negotiate the significance of their family roles, femininity, and sexual respectability for their acceptability as representatives and leaders? Where else would the nation’s first transgender electoral candidate affirm her right to all the rights of citizenship, including public office?

As an act of university solidarity, and to strengthen the alliance between women’s and LGBTI rights advocates, Nafeesa Mohammed, Khadijah Ameen, Sabrina Mowlah-Baksh, Luke Sinnette, Colin Robinson and Jowelle de Souza were all on one panel. Watching representatives of the PNM and UNC sit with these citizens, knowing their parties had unjustly abandoned them in their National Gender Policy drafts and in the Equal Opportunity Act, I hoped that the young people there could see that legitimacy and space is created incrementally, relentlessly, despite setbacks and disappointments. There was more than fifty years of activist history of holding the baton in that room, from Hazel Brown in her 70s to Afro-Trinidadian, lesbian, working class young women in their 20s. A generation coming after me should know that a path continues to be cut for them to run.

On election night, Dr. Keith Rowley, said that he is the Prime Minister of all of us, and “that we are all in this together”. We lead him by our example. Those young people came because they aspire for an equal place. Acknowledgment of that is what ‘all in this together’ means for politics in our nation.

Post 158.

Last Thursday, I watched Hazel Brown encourage women in local government to fearlessly and strategically represent the rights and needs of women and girls. Nearly twenty years had passed since I attended almost exactly the same meeting, participating for the first time in Caribbean feminist efforts to make party politics less male dominated and male defined.

Caught in a two-decade time loop, I was humbled by the commitment it takes to advance equality, given that it is an achievement simply to not lose ground, to make incremental inroads, and to embolden mere handfuls of individuals at a time.

In 1995, at 21 years old, I was introduced to the idea of a Women’s Manifesto, called Ten Points for Power. Jacquie Burgess, Gemma Tang Nain, Rhoda Reddock, Thelma Henderson, Elizabeth Nicholas, Merle Hodge, Cathy Shepherd, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and other women were there, aiming to convince political parties to add these commitments to women and girls to their own election manifestos, and to champion them on their platform.

Here still was Hazel, optimistic, steadfast and subversive. If she wasn’t giving up, how could I? Beyond thinking that change is possible, she was making it possible. Another meeting, another decade, whatever it takes. I saw such determination spark in the women around the room.

These councillors from around the country had one idea they all agreed on, that it is a man’s world. Just getting into power doesn’t mean that its inequalities have been transformed, nor does it mean that women are any less fearful of seeming to step beyond party line, or appear too feminist or, for that matter, too confident.

Women in local government want help being brave about representing everyone better, but also want to be able to make a difference for women. They want assistance strategizing for collaboration across political party lines, across regional corporation boundaries, and across state agencies. They want funds, training, networks and support that their own parties do not provide, and it seemed that only the women’s movement has been, above all, on their side.

Hazel wanted them to expertly bring women’s experiences of that ‘man’s world’ to the Regional Corporation table, to recognize that women’s challenges were shared across party and could not be solved through division, and to penetrate local government so that individual women wouldn’t have to take on an ungendered agenda, one aimed at less than ending violence and promoting democracy through community connection and service delivery. All the women councillors, these natural rebels, had to do was make an attempt they had not done before.

Since 1995, women’s organizations have advocated for more women on state and corporate boards. When male prime ministers said they couldn’t find suitable women, the women’s movement compiled a list. When four corporations had no women councillors, the 50/50 campaign resulted in at least one in every corporation, and then went after Mayor and Deputy Mayor positions. The Put a Woman in the House campaign acknowledged that women should be as present in the House of Parliament as they are in housework, rather than under-represented in one and crowded in the other.

‘What women’s movement?’, some cynically ask me. For twenty years, I’ve watched women’s efforts, far from enough or perfect, but making invaluable steps, however small. If it seems like there is no mass movement or that feminism has failed to secure sweeping change, recognize that inequality is so overwhelming, institutionalized and endlessly implicated that part of the struggle is always against the complete negation of any presence and gains. As another twenty-year loop appears about to repeat, I’ve learned that commitment means decades of refusing defeat.