Second “Your Story” Writing Workshop for Women

On Saturday May 13th, 2017, The WomenSpeak Project concluded it’s Your Story Writing Workshop for Women. The workshop was once again led by our excellent facilitator Monique Roffey who took participants through exercises to help them ‘mine their memories’ and give voice to the anger, frustrations and fears that were buried for many days, months, years or decades.

Women were reminded that advocacy is something each of us can do everyday, right where we are. We can stand up for women in our workplaces when they are being treated unfairly; we can stand up for ourselves and not be boxed-in by notions of what we ‘should’ be; and we can write about our experiences so that others can relate to and learn from what we have been through.

Monique discussed the difference between art and therapy and reminded participants that while writing can help us make sense of the things that have happened to us, it was not until we shaped our ‘raw’ thoughts into more coherent and focused writing that we are able to respond to issues in a more direct and reasoned manner.

We are pleased that there are now 33 new members of the WomenSpeak community whom we have welcomed through these workshops and look forward to providing more opportunities for women throughout the Caribbean to become advocates.

Comments from participants

The free writing exercise was a gem. I would never have thought of adopting this approach to the process of writing. The conscious writing exercise forced me to focus more directly in a single thought, and resulted in my remembering an experience I had not previously thought of writing about. When I got home I sat down and penned a short story of 8 pages about this experience. I also appreciated the the pieces of advice about scheduling a set time to write, as well as jotting down thoughts in one notebook (instead of all over the place as I tend to do). Indeed the workshop provided me with valuable tools to spur me on to writing. Thank you WomenSpeak, Simone Leid and Monique Roffey. Deeply appreciated.”

Your Story Women’s Writing Workshop at Bocas Lit Fest 2017

The WomenSpeak Project conducted its first writing workshop on April 30th, 2017 in partnership with Bocas Lit Fest.

Twenty women participated in the event. Some were already writers and activists but many were just women who wanted the opportunity to tell their stories and learn some of the strategies to getting what was buried in their minds and bodies onto the page.

The 3-hour workshop was led by author and teacher Monique Roffey who took the women through meditative and free writing exercises to get them to unlock their stories and put them down on the page.

This was a closed event where women were free to express themselves and talk about their lives. Additionally, Akilah Riley – a clinical social worker – was also on hand to provide some words on self-care.

Comments from participants:

Enjoyed it tremendously!”
“It is one of my most memorable moments to date.”
“It was over all very informative and touching. It was good to meet so many like minded women.”
“Very therapeutic. Was much needed for me.”
This workshop was very valuable for me. I came away with more questions than answer but for the first time, I feel they are the right questions, the ones that will result in real changes for me going forward. I particularly liked how Monique took the comments from the participants, drilled down further into those issues and translated them into actionable steps and further questions to work on.”
 —
Simone Leid – Curator of The WomenSpeak Project in conversation with Monique Roffey and Akilah Riley

 

 

Gaps in the national response to domestic violence.

In early January, 2016, I was speaking with members of Domestic Violence Survivors Reaching Out: An NGO composed of survivors and other supporters in Trinidad and Tobago. Here is a list of some of the gaps they have identified in the national response to domestic violence.

Gaps in Law
1. There is no provision for a woman’s claim to property when she has to flee a domestic violence situation.
2. There is no action taken against perpetrators when protection orders are breached or threats are made to a woman’s life. Magistrates do not implement provisions in law to deny bail to persons who breach protection orders.
3. There is no mandatory counseling for perpetrators who are sentenced.
4. There are no victim advocates provided by the state to help women through the process of seeking legal redress for abuse or claim on property.

Gaps in practice
1. Despite what procedures may exist, Police officers are often uncertain how to deal with domestic violence situations including child abuse.
2. Police officer sometimes prey on the vulnerability of women who come to police for assistance.
3. Police officers are sometimes perpetrators and other police officers refuse to take reports made against their colleagues.
4. Despite having a system where members of the public who make reports must get receipt, police officers do not always write down reports.
5. Government social service agencies close their doors at 4pm, thereby leaving women without available support after working hours. State sponsored counseling is offered for half hour every three months.

Gaps in Institutional support
1. There is no emergency care fund for women who find themselves homeless and penniless when they are put out of the home. Wait times for food cards etc can takes weeks to process.
2. There is no transitional housing to support women psychologically or develop skills, coping mechanisms to live on their own.
3. Women’s Shelters do not provide for housing of male children over the age of 13.
4. When a domestic violence incident occurs, the victims have to leave the home and not the perpetrator.
5. Children placed in ‘homes’ often become victims or perpetrators of sexual violence at these institutions. There is no comprehensive state monitoring system to address this very prevalent issue.

4 Tips for Keeping Online Followers engaged

Social media has become an important element of maintaining contact with an organisation’s constituencies. For NGOs, Community groups, social activists and other civil society actors, engaging online followers through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram means enlarging the space for participation in your cause. Here are 4 tips for keeping your followers engaged and active.

1. Make sure that your organisation’s purpose, goals and objectives are clearly stated on your social media platform. This way people who join or follow your organisation’s page are able to identify with your cause.

2. Ensure that you provide periodic feedback on what your organisation has accomplished and how this compares with the goals you have set for a given time period. This will provide accountability to your online constituencies and make them feel invested in the success of the organisation.

3. Provide opportunities for getting feedback from your followers. Ask questions about what they think about certain events or actions your organisation has taken. Do they agree with your methods? Do they feel the organisation is making an impact? Getting feedback from followers lets you know if you are addressing the needs they think are important.

4. Provide usable content. Making your followers knowledgeable about your cause enables them to become more active participants in moving the agenda forward. Using memes, posters or infographics is an excellent way to communicate important issues in a way that is easily understood and absorbed by followers.

Strategies used by Caribbean CSOs to Engage with their Online Constituencies


Between April and June 2016, The WomenSpeak Project conducted an online survey with 26 civil society organisations in the Caribbean region that are using the virtual space to engage with constituents. The following is a summary of the engagement strategies they identified.

Push strategies (Strategies aimed at promoting the organisation, building the community and encouraging constituents to become more active in the organisation and its projects.

84% use the virtual space to invite constituents to in-person meetings or socials
76% for sharing information about the organisation and its plans
69% use community building activities such as sharing stories and creative work of constituents
55% use the online space to recruit volunteers.
50% for mobilization (petitions, protests, letters)

Pull strategies (Strategies aimed at creating deeper dialogue about key issues, allowing constituents to participate in sharing their ideas and concerns so that the organisation’s strategies are, in some part, informed by its constituents.

57% interact with constituents via Facebook chats
27% for online surveys
30% twitter chats
15% virtual events such as webinars and Google hangouts

What do you think this says about the ways in which CSOs are engaging with their constituents?

Lorna Goodison

The Womenspeak Project will be hosting a writing workshop for women entitled “Your Story” at @bocaslitfest on 30th April 2017 10am to 1 pm at National Library, Port of Spain. Register at womenspeakproject@gmail.com to reserve your spot. Cost $100.00. Spread the word! It’s going to be a transformative event.

 

Disruption vs. Organisation

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On January 6th 2017 several Trinidad and Tobago NGOs gathered at the Hyatt Waterfront Plaza at Parliament headquarters for the “Side by Side We Stand” rally against crime. The event was organised and initiated by a group of concerned citizens who came together in response to a call from Sunity Maharaj – a well known journalist and political commentator- to plan an action in response to the murder of Shannon Banfield and the spiraling crime problem in the country.  Over the course of approximately 3 weeks the group met with other NGOs to stage the event carded for the January 6th, 2017 – the day of the first sitting of parliament for the year.  

I did not attend the event but managed to pass by and take a quick look. I also followed the videos and comments on Facebook and various media coverage. Several questions emerged for me as someone interested in building knowledge around civil society and governance issues.

1. Message and Branding

The impetus for the action stemmed directly from the recent murder of yet another woman – Shannon Banfield. Yet the January 6th protest/rally/solidarity event seemed to lack a specific focus. Instead many civil society groups came together to protest? crime. But there were talks of procurement bills, posters calling for banning fireworks and getting help for the mentally ill. It seems that the various civil society groups came together to show support for addressing crime but there did not seem to be a clear message or policy action as the basis for the action.

Unlike the protests in Feburary 2016 re the Asami Nagakiya murder, there was no specific action or ‘ask’ as the basis. The protesters at the Feb 2016 event wanted something specific – for the Mayor to be fired.  And the reason was clearly articulated – because his comments promoted rape culture and blaming the woman for crimes committed against her. It was not just a vengeance action but one that identified the importance of the state’s responsibility in communicating messages that unequivocally denounce violence against women as a key policy premise.

At the Jan 06 event there wasn’t a specific rallying cry behind which all civil society groups could get behind. Yes, there are million problems wrong with the policing and criminal justice system in Trinidad and Tobago, but a protest should have a specific purpose, if not for  sake of creating a really good chant. A good chant is important for so many reasons – It conveys a clear message about what you want, it unifies people, and it brands the event. Which brings me to my second question

2. Disruption vs. Organization

What exactly was the civil society event? Was it a protest? Or was it as reported in the media “a kick off” of a larger series of activities to be initiated by civil society to fight crime. If it was the latter, I think an opportunity was lost.

What brought people together in the first place was Shannon’s murder. And it is less useful  to try and figure out why this murder and not the many others was a catalyzing force than to seize the opportunity to galvanize people to action. The newspaper reports (sadly) that the plan is for civil society to come up with a DOCUMENT (insert womp womp music here).

Listen, organization is good and necessary to be able to implement well thought out plans. But there are hundreds of very good documents all over Trinidad with some of the very same recommendations that this group will also come up with. What we need is a shift in the policy space. And that doesn’t often come from nice orderly negotiation. It comes from disruption. Governments are unmoved by emotional pleas but if something gets in the way of them conducting business as usual, they will be forced to listen.

I note that the Minister of National Security was invited to attend and made a nice little speech where he told those gathered that it was the community who were best placed to fight crime, totally absolving himself and the state of responsibility. He came, had his say and proceeded to make his way out when he was confronted by a few persons who asked him directly what was he doing to stop crime. This for me was actually the most important thing that happened because it put the focus back on the state and its accountability. However, in the interest of moving things along smoothly, those shouting at the Minister were told to quiet themselves so the next speaker could come up and give a prepared speech. Don’t get me wrong, what civil society leaders have to say is very important but I question whether that was the time to do it. My understanding was that this event took place in front of parliament to ‘disrupt’ their proceedings and make them answer to the people. But that didn’t happen. Every Minister came and went cool as cucumber. Nobody asked them for anything and the Minister of National Security came, blamed the people, grinned, shook hands with folks and coast out. Meh.

3. Data and Monitoring

I think there should have been a specific policy ‘ask’. You eat a whole cow piece by piece but there needed to be at least one immediate action that civil society should have asked government to put in place. Perhaps something to do with police accountability.

I think one really good way that civil society can impact the policy space is by monitoring and data collection. Evidence based policy is most effective in addressing the root causes of societal problems. I note the introduction of the CSAFE App – a collaboration between the NGO Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT) and the Ministry of National Security. This app seeks to map crime and involve citizens in identifying where crime occurs. I wonder though, if for civil society it may not be more important to map police response to crime. One of the biggest issues citizens have with crime is that the police do not respond, do not take effective action in a timely manner to stop crime or resolve investigations. Wouldn’t it be great if we had an app where citizens could document when they reported a crime, type of crime, police station, response from police and whether or not they got justice? Wouldn’t this tell us so much more about the challenges experienced in policing? Wouldn’t it make police stations/ districts more accountable?

4. Civil Society and Partnerships

As civil society moves through the process of collaborating with state agencies and the private sector, I would like to caution that it can be so easy to get co-opted and lose sight of your purpose and the interests you serve. We can’t get very far without collaborating with the state but very often offers to sit on various boards and advisory committees find civil society representatives assuming the values and objectives of the state while losing sight of the interests of their constituents.

Similarly, branding your civil society action with that of a private sector partner could be misconstrued as partisan and elite. While the private sector should contribute to civil society actions, they should ‘add’ their own voice to the policy space rather than speaking in the voice of civil society.

Finally, hindsight is 20/20 and every action we take is an opportunity to learn and advance our cause. I applaud the action by civil society and especially find the amount of collaboration and networking to have been a formidable achievement. I think it’s a great start to a new phase in our collective consciousness as a society where the continuous work of civil society over the years will bear fruition.

LoveNotLicks

Who does violence against women affect? Everyone. We invite you, your team, network and community to join us on March 8, International Women’s Day as we discuss violence and what we can do about it in our communities, workplaces and on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Town Hall starts at 7:00 pm at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, but we encourage you to join us at 5:00 pm in Woodford Square (opposite City Hall), where we will be gathering for a vigil to honour the women whose lives were taken last year, as a result of violence.

Some of the issues we will be looking during the town hall are:

  • What is violence against women?
  • What is gender based violence?
  • What local and international laws do we have that protect women and children against violence?
  • What are some of the gaps in policy and who do we need to talk to to improve them?
  • How do we build grassroots organisations that can protect vulnerable community members?

The Town Hall starts at 7:00 pm at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, but we encourage you to join us at 5:00 pm in Woodford Square (opposite City Hall), where we will be gathering for a vigil to honour the women whose lives were taken last year, as a result of violence.

Who are we?

Women. Men. Teachers. Psychologists. Actors. Journalists. Fashion Designers. Farmers. Photographers. Home-makers. Students. Mothers. Office workers. Concerned citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

We all have a part to play in creating a safer society for women and children.

For more information – please contact the coordinators of the “Say Something” group – Angelique V. Nixon Jacqueline Morris Khadija Sinanan Tillah Willah Stephanie Leitch Amanda T. McIntyre

Email – advocacy@saysomething.space

For Press and Media, contact Stephanie Leitch or Jacqueline Morris or email us at media@saysomething.space

Website www.saysomething.space