How language influences perceptions about violence against women.

“How these stories are shared is important because human beings are story-telling and listening creatures. We use narratives to internalise our space. Attitudes are part of what needs to be changed in the battle against domestic violence.”

I’m Not Dead.

Hello Friends,

I haven’t been here for awhile. I haven’t posted and I haven’t solicited postings. The thing about activism is this: sometimes you get tired, sometimes you feel like your efforts are insignificant, sometimes you feel like a failed feminist and you think “What can I offer anyone?”

Of course the answer is “Anything you have”. To listen. To tell your story. To share someone else’s story. To say to someone “I hear you”. To pick someone up when they fall. To wait when they say they’re not ready. To keep a lifeline open. To learn more. To ask “What can I do?”

And sometimes you need community. And sometimes community disappoints, like we all do. But we are ALL great. If even in a moment. And sometimes we just need someone to remind us that we are worthwhile, significant. That our small efforts do land somewhere.

imageLynn Sweeting, who has been publishing Caribbean women’s writing for many years at the WomanSpeak Journal (yeah, I know, great minds and all that) sent me a facebook message one day and said “Simone, I want you to submit something to the journal. Your anti-violence voice is SO IMPORTANT, I want to showcase it.”

And so I submitted a poem I didn’t think would find a home anywhere else besides a journal like Lynn’s. And maybe someone reads it and it touches something; helps them see a situation with new eyes. So, even when we feel like we have nothing to give, someone reminds us that every little bit counts.

Etiquette for Fine Young Cannibals

A woman walks into a bar and says
What’s for dinner?
The bartender says
Ma’am, we don’t sell food here
She kicks off her high heels and sits on a stool
What about that bowl of cherries? You
think I’m a fool?
The bartender says
Those aren’t cherries, they’re women we’ve raped
The woman says
You think I’m a fool? I know the difference
between food and rape
Rape is bloody, is hung up in display cases
at the front of restaurants
People walk by and pick out the one
that looks overdone
have the waiters take it to the kitchen
chop it up and serve it with a side of white rice
Ma’am, says the bartender, this is an elite establishment
we don’t deal in dead. All our rapes are 100% guilt free
tiny bite-size murders
dressed in machismo and
apathy
buried
left to ferment
in a bed of self-doubt
and silence.

Simone Leid

Trafficking in the Caribbean

Marissa Thomas is Programme Coordinator for Trinidad at the The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) and El Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) Caribbean Vulnerabilised Groups Project: a five-year regional project which responds to HIV and AIDS among Caribbean sex workers, men who have sex with men, socially excluded youth, drug users and prisoners.  A Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at UWI, St. Augustine, Marissa also volunteers with organizations such as the YMCA, Cyril Ross Nursery and CARe. She speaks to WomenSpeak about the situation of Trafficking in Persons in the Caribbean.

What is the extent of Trafficking in the Caribbean? What categories of Trafficked persons most often occur in the Caribbean?

Trafficking is a very real phenomenon in the Caribbean.  It is fueled by the feminization of poverty, gender based violence, and aspirations and hope for a better life.  Also, it is often facilitated by corrupt immigration and police officers and other intermediaries across the region. 

The counter-trafficking unit at COIN provides support, training, legal aid, medical, psychological and social services to trafficked women in the Dominican Republic.  In 2010, COIN recorded that of 21 cases of women trafficked from the Dominican Republic, 16 of those women were trafficked to Trinidad. 

There are many forms of human trafficking.  The UN definition includes (but is not limited to) coercion and force in the sex trade.  Although the prevalent form includes trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, there are other categories such as trafficking for forced labour, including domestic labour, for the caring market, begging, forced marriage, and commercial exploitation of children for industries such as tourism, trafficking in organs, and for illicit activities such as smuggling of drugs.  

Are some Caribbean islands more prone to Trafficking than others?

It is important to point out that some Caribbean countries, like the Dominican Republic, are not just receivers of trafficked women, but countries of origin, transit and reception of trafficking in persons.  In the Dominican Republic, persons who reported cases of trafficking have reported their involvement through travel mechanisms such as having their visas arranged, invitations to secure work contracts, or through arranged marriages.  Often they work as dancers, in restaurants and bars, in domestic work, or care for the elderly.  There are cases of trafficking, however, up and down the Caribbean.  COIN has worked on cases from the Dominican Republic to Antigua to Trinidad.

How can you identify someone who might be a victim of trafficking?

There are signs that indicate a person may be a victim of trafficking.  Victims are usually afraid to disclose information about their status because they may be fearful of their trafficker, or imminent harm toward their families abroad.  Another indicator is that victims involved in trafficking may not have possession of their own identity or travel documents, such as a valid ID card or passport, are never alone, and have no agency or power over any personal and daily decision-making.

Victims of trafficking are said to experience a range of physical, verbal or psychological abuse.  They are also at risk for health issues such as HIV and STIs, and may display physical signs of rape or sexual abuse.  Other physical problems may be evident in victims such as malnutrition, psychological disorders, poor personal hygiene, or other untreated medical problems.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Trafficking or about persons who are Trafficked?

It is important to understand the difference between sex work and trafficking, and
their linkages.  Sex work is a valid choice of employment, by men and women who chose to sell sexual services as an economic activity.  Many women in the region exercise their right to self-determination and enter into this work freely.  But sex work must not be confused or conflated with trafficking or smuggling in persons, which are crimes committed against people and not employment choices.   Trafficking in persons is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, or reproductive slavery and is a modern-day form of slavery.  It is about control and power and exploitation. 

What work does COIN do with regard to Trafficking in Women and Children?

COIN is an NGO with 25 years experience of working with marginalized populations.  COIN works with and for sex workers and networks of sex workers to increase their access to sexual reproductive healthcare, but COIN in the Dominican Republic also has a trafficking centre which supports people who have been victims of trafficking.  COIN focuses on the promotion and protection of the human rights of trafficked women through prevention and direct assistance to victims.  COIN opened a care centre in the Dominican Republic for returned trafficked women in 2003.  Trafficked women receive medical, psychological and legal assistance as well as training for socioeconomic reintegration.  COIN also conducts advocacy for trafficking victims at the national, regional and global level, as well as before the UN, and has conducted research on the trafficking and smuggling of people across the Caribbean. 

How has your work with COIN impacted you personally?

Working with COIN/ CVC has given me a greater capacity to impact the lives of vulnerabilized communities.  We use the term vulnerabilized because it recognizes that sex workers, men who have sex with men, youth, prisoners and drug-users are not inherently ‘vulnerable’ but instead put at increased risk for HIV and STIs due to structural conditions such as gender-inequality and homophobia, and systematic and institutionalized stigma and discrimination and other human rights abuses.  The term ‘vulnerabilized’ also recognizes the agency of communities traditionally labeled as ‘most-at-risk’ and ‘vulnerable’ and THEIR power to change the course of the HIV epidemic.

My experience at COIN/CVC has been overwhelmingly positive.  It has encouraged me to be a stronger advocate, especially toward women and girls who may be in difficult situations.  I look forward to a long-term and wonderful future with this type of work.

“Krik? Krak!: dem cyant break we back” Narratives of Challenge and Change from the Caribbean

Some remarkable Caribbean women will have the floor at the 12th AWID International Forum in Turkey this month: Some important discussions that will help us all come to a better understanding of contemporary issues that impact the lives of women in the Caribbean. Wish I could’ve been there. Best Wishes Sisters!

redforgender:

Caribbean women will take center stage during two engaging sessions which bring the region’s challenges and its change-agents into sharp focus. The Haitian Women’s Solidarity Roundtable will explore sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Jocie Philistin, a Haitian leader, will share KOFAVIV’s work addressing survivors’ needs and explain how international solidarity is possible. “Krik? Krak!: dem cyant break we back” Narratives of Challenge and Change from the Caribbean brings together a diverse group of women from across the region for a lively conversation on security and women’s economic empowerment in the Caribbean, linking these issues to sexual citizenship and regional feminist movement-building. Come connect with the Caribbean@AWID!

 

Clotil Walcott -Caribbean Catalysts for Change

Who was she?

Born in Trinidad and Tobago on September 7, 1925, Walcott was a trade unionist and political activist.

Best known as…

An ardent champion for the working class.

Starting as a member of the Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers at the age of 40, she continued her fight for the plight of the working class in her country by supporting political campaigns and candidates as well as joining the local Black power movement.

 How she was a Caribbean Catalyst for Change:

When newspapers of the time refused to publish her opinions, she took it upon herself to learn how to type and publish her own materials, selling them at political rallies. Some of her earliest writings dealt with the exploitation of women in the workplace, such as: The exploitation of Working-Class Women – v Cannings Ltd. Guilty?, A Woman’s Fight – An exploitation of the Working-Class Woman, Women’s Aim Now is to End Exploitation and Working-Class Woman Speaks Out. These pieces were then published by the Institute of Social Studies in Netherlands in a 1980’s booklet titled “Fight Back Says a Woman.”

Her work and campaigns also resulted in the passing of the Minimum Wages and Terms and Conditions for Household Assistants Order under the Minimum Wages Act as well as the Unremunerated Work Act, 1995, making Trinidad and Tobagoone of the first countries in the world to pass such legislation and the Trinidad and Tobago language being used as the model for the Beijing Declaration on Women.

Reflections on International Women’s Day

Thinking of it now, I must have given my family so much hell.

Barely 15, I stood at the front of the church my grandparents literally helped to build during a youth service and said that I thought it was unfair that wives should have to “submit” to anyone they had barely known for a couple years.

Then I said marriage was suppressive to women and vowed never to marry, because of my beliefs.

About three years later, at yet another youth service, I argued vehemently that abortion should be a woman’s choice, as the one who carried the child, an unpopular sentiment still held by the traditional congregation I grew up in. I also often queried why our small, predominantly female church was run by the slim majority of men, or why women who had children out of wedlock were in effect excommunicated as a matter of policy.

My grandmother told me to be quiet. My sister told me to trust the Lord. My mother, living in the States at that time, often heard about my questions from “the concerned”, and told me to behave.

I tried, but I couldn’t.

While I am in no way saying that the aforementioned stances underpin all feminist belief, my strong opinions did lead me into finding out what women in academia had to say about these matters. That search eventually resulted in reading the stories of women making their mark around the world. I am intrigued by women who maybe like me, asked questions and never got the right answers; those who then took matters into their own hands and decided to do something about a situation that displeased them: lobbying for legislation, forming collectives and creating campaigns to inform and inspire.

This was one of the driving reasons behind the concept of Caribbean Catalysts for Change for International Women’s Day this year. The women highlighted here have all worked, or continue to work within their respective fields to bring about positive social change within the region; either as head of state or head of an organisation. Some are better known than others, but they are equally deserving of having their achievements honoured.

I hold the position that the “her-story” of the Caribbean has been largely underrepresented, and International Women’s Day is the best time to shout positive stories for justice, equality and rising to the top from the rooftops. And while we are up there, let us not forget about the many issues that need to be brought to the public’s attention, including the representation of women in the popular culture, the laws protecting us from domestic violence, rape as well as sexual harassment in the workplace.

These issues also underscore the need for a younger crop of female activists in the Caribbean to question, challenge, probe and research contemporary Caribbean life. And here comes me, Leigh-Ann: writer at heart, feminist by choice, hoping to someday be the change I want to see.

Leigh-Ann Worrell is a 24-year-old currently studying Contemporary Development at the Beijing Normal University. She possess a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communication, with a minor in Gender and Development. She spent two years as a journalist in her home country, Barbados. Reading is one of her greatest joys.

Dame Eugenia Charles – Caribbean Catalysts for change

Who was she?

A former Prime Minister of Dominica

Best known as…

The ‘Iron Lady’ of the Caribbean.

Her political career earned her the distinction of being the world’s longest continuously-serving female Prime Minister, third longest-serving female Prime Minister and Dominica’s first-ever female lawyer.

Why she was a Caribbean Catalyst of change:

She showed exemplary courage and will to succeed in two of the fields still dominated by men: law and politics. Dame Eugenia persevered despite two coup d’etat attempts, and was a formidable force as the Chairperson of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

 

Folade Mutota – Caribbean Catalysts for Change

Who is she?

Trinidadian activist, with an interest in raising the social consciousness of women and girls, as well as bringing attention to the issue of small arms control in the twin-island Republic.

Best known as

The executive director of the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development. This organisation also serves as the secretariat for the Caribbean Coalition for Development and Reduction of Armed Violence (CDRAV).

Why she is a Caribbean Catalyst for Change:

She instituted an inter-generational women’s leadership program in Trinidad and Tobago, creating ways for girls and women to draw on collective experiences to empower all.

In addition, the CDRAV brought a gendered lens to investigating the issue of small arms control in the Caribbean, which eventually led to the Caribbean Coalition of Civil Society Organisations. This body effectively lobbied CARICOM governments to support the Resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2006.