Amy Ashwood-Garvey – Caribbean Catalyst for Change

Who was she?

Hailing from Port Antonio, Jamaica, she was an activist and Pan-Africanist

Best known as…

The first wife of Jamaica’s most prominent Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey.

Why she was a Caribbean Catalyst for Change:

She ensured the female voice was represented in the black power struggle by opening a women’s section of the United Negro Improvement Association in 1914. She included discussions about gender into the fight for the rights of the African descended people.

She was instrumental in the opening of the London-Afro Women’s Centre and was a founding member of the Nigerian Progress Union and International African Service Bureau, among many other organisations across Africa.

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Caribbean Catalysts for Change.

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, WomenSpeak will be embarking on the 5-days series – Caribbean Catalysts for Change. 

The idea for the series came from one of our avid community supporters, Ms. Leigh-Ann Worrell. Over the next five days Leigh-Ann will share with you some of the women who she has identified as making significant contributions to the Caribbean in general as well as their contributions to issues affecting women and girls.

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A look back at 2011

We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year and we couldn’t have done it without your support and contributions. A sincere thank you to everyone who visited the blog, shared their stories, commented on posts, retweeted, reblogged, shared and used your voice to raise awareness about discrimination against women. You are fantastic! Full speed ahead in 2012!

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Valuing Women in the Media

Media consumes so much of our lives in modern society, that what is represented in media – Film, Newspapers, Television, Internet – greatly influences how we interpret the world around us. But representations of women and the issues that most impact women’s lives are often dealt with in a limited and cursory manner and is grossly disproportional to the actual impact and contribution that women make to society. In the case of violence against women, what does actually make it to the airwaves are only the most gruesome and sensationalised stories which are treated more as a consumer product intended for titillation and shock value rather than an actual interrogation of the very serious issues of rape, intimate partner violence and political violence.

Here, Georgia Love speaks with Hilary Nicholson – a founding member of Women’s Media Watch-Jamaica (WMW) about representations of women in the media and creating gender-aware media in the Caribbean.  Hilary who has been Training Coordinator at WMW since 1998, was also one of the early members of Sistren Theatre CollectiveAs an actress and storyteller Hilary has used her unique style and energy to pioneer and build participatory learning techniques that utilize theatre-in-education for gender-awareness training in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

What motivated you to be part of the group of women that started WMW?

I was part of Sistren Theatre Collective at the time and we were working with a larger group of women to look at research findings that would help us understand what was happening to women in society. We had to form smaller sub groups to look at the research, and the group I was in had a very good discussion where we identified a gap in analysis around women and media. Our subgroup decided to meet again and it was the brainstorming and exciting discussions that I had with women like Fae Ellington, Elaine Wint, Jennifer Brownell and a couple of others that prompted me. Out of that group and those very good discussions we gradually became Women’s Media Watch.  So the women and media interest was there, because I had been working in film with Sistren and also did a couple films with the “Chris Blackwell outfit”. In a way the stars aligned with my film interest, my interest in women and the fact that I really liked what was happening and felt very comfortable with that group of women.

How much of WMW’s work is focused on reducing violence against women?

The Women’s Media Watch – Jamaica is an organisation which is committed to reducing gender-based violence by promoting gender equity and gender-aware media and communications. WMW’s work includes training and professional development seminars, media literacy, conflict resolution workshops, research, public education and advocacy.

I think the workshops, events and analysis that we share with women build self esteem and give a sense of empowerment which of course is a major step towards women being able to avoid gender based violence.

Identify two kinds of harm you think media causes women?

Sexual objectification is an obvious and prevalent one that results in a narrow understanding of what women are capable of and a devaluing of their overall contributions to society. Sexual objectification leaves women vulnerable to violence. Think about it, if someone is objectified, their humanity and autonomy don’t matter, anyone is free to exert power over them and any violation against them can be justified. That happens a lot in entertainment media. The other side is with news media, and the Global Media Monitoring Project provides data that shows us that women are seriously underrepresented in news and when they do show up it’s not in ways that illustrate the complexity of their lives. So yes, for example Portia Simpson-Miller, as the leader of a national political party, will get a certain kind and level of coverage but everyday women’s lives and experiences often end up being ghettoized in traditional news coverage. That ghettoization also extends to gender based violence that still doesn’t receive the thorough gender-aware journalistic treatment that it should.

Describe an eye opening/powerful/memorable experience where you’ve seen media effectively used to advance women’s rights

Over the last 30 years I’ve come across radio/news programmes done by women’s groups in Africa that I’ve found amazing! Programmes produced by women, listened to widely and I’ve thought “we haven’t done anything like that in the Caribbean!” But there is still a lot that we’ve done, like some earlier commemoration events for victims of violence for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that incorporated dramatic elements that were covered by the media. Also, WMW’s “Real Men Don’t Abuse Women” sticker is small but has been very impactful and it makes people stop and think. It’s an alternative media product that has travelled widely around the Caribbean and way beyond.

Generally, with all the advances in media and communications technologies do you personally feel more empowered in your work or does it feel like more to learn, more to do, more to struggle against?

My feelings of empowerment don’t come from the technology. I’ve still got sooo much to learn! Rather, my feelings of empowerment come more from the wisdom of old age (LOL). I feel far more knowledgeable about the whole area of women and media, and I can see the reasons behind things more quickly, and can talk about them at the spur of the moment. But in terms of the new media landscape I feel very challenged and want to make more time to learn. I recognize that new media offers huge opportunities and I want to learn how to make better use of those opportunities.

What would you love to see more of in Caribbean media to help the push for gender equality?

We need to see far more gender analysis of all issues, the big topics, not just topics that are obviously gendered. Whether it is what IMF and IMF conditionalities mean, campaign financing, issues of employment and unemployment, the feminization of poverty and the feminization of HIV/AIDS. All these things need to be addressed more by “gender experts” and seen and heard more in media.

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Shattering the Illusions

Souyenne Dathorne is a 28 year old St. Lucian, and survivor of sibling sexual abuse. She is the founder of Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean an online forum for women to speak out about their abuse,  and co-founder of Prosaf – it’s sister website which is dedicated to dealing with sexual abuse and its effects on survivors as well as their families. Here she talks to Velika Lawrence, her co-founder at Prosaf about her desire to help other Caribbean women who are suffering in silence. 

What is the main motivation behind Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean

Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean was created primarily to urge women to speak out about their experiences with Sexual Abuse. One of the main goals was to draw attention to the silent epidemic plaguing our Caribbean women; so many are taken advantage of sexually and nothing is done. I wanted women to feel freer to speak out, I wanted them to feel less alone in what had been done to them, and to know we are with them on their journey to recovery. So many victims/survivors don’t believe they have a voice. So many believe they are the only ones who have been through some form of sexual assault. I wanted them to know via our pages that this wasn’t the case.

What led you to pursue this project?

I think my desire to stop feeling like a victim was what pushed me to pursue this project. For many years I had told myself that I was past my experience of sexual abuse. I forced myself into believing that the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of my older brother was no longer a factor in my life. When I returned home (after studying in the US) and he did (as well), everything came back. It was at that point that I knew I had to deal with what had happened. It was at that point that I decided to start the facebook page to share my story and encourage others to do the same.

My greatest challenge was getting past people’s responses, or lack thereof. It was coming to terms with the fact that some would embrace him as the victim, and me as the villain. It was getting past the fact that not everyone would support my decision to speak out, or my encouragement of others to do the same. I have always been a persistent woman; knowing that once I’d decided to do something that I would do it, one way or the other. I knew that speaking out was one step on the road to recovery. It was telling him, and all the others like him, that I would no longer keep his secret, that what had been done to me was wrong.

 As a survivor, how has this project changed your life thus far?

The major change (I have experienced) in undertaking this project has been having to face and address what had happened to me, how it has affected me, and the issues that have arisen as a result. It was accepting the shattering of all the illusions that I had created to get me through the past. I am still learning to accept that things were not what I thought, that people were not who I thought, and that the opinions, actions and reactions that I expected from those closest to me, did not play out.

The dawning of this project also meant that there were other women who shared their stories with me. It was hard to hear them suffer knowing that their options for help were so severely limited. That, more than anything has hurt. There is a desire to want to help, and knowing that the help is so limited was frustrating; knowing their support system didn’t provide support was angering. I have learnt how few resources we have available, how little people view this as a serious problem, how many are willing to turn a blind eye based on who the abuser is. Delving into the topic of sexual assault in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean has been an eye-opener. I think this project has made me more passionate than I already was about ensuring things change, not only in St.Lucia, but in the wider Caribbean.

Who encourages you to maintain the mindset of a survivor & what does that mean to you?

There are primarily two individuals who have been a source of constant support and comfort through my decision to speak up and out and advocate for other survivors. My boy-friend Christopher Hackshaw, and in many ways someone I consider a second mother, Laura Lau.

I am glad that at the times when I feel crazy, overwhelmed and saddened that they are there to hold and comfort me. As a survivor of sexual abuse I struggle daily with trust, self-esteem, self-worth, sadness and the list continues. It has meant more than they will ever know to have them in my life; knowing they understand what I go through on a daily basis, understanding the pain and hurt that I deal with.

What are your short-term goals for addressing Sexual Abuse through Surviving Sexual Assault in the Caribbean site?

I would like to create a support center for women in St.Lucia where they can feel comfortable speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault. I would like to provide a place for them to learn about the resources they have available to them and educate women on the signs of sexual abuse so they can protect & help those younger than them.

I want to empower women so they know they have a right to say no. So they know that if they are assaulted that they have a right to seek help.  I want to create a network within the Caribbean that provides support for survivors of sexual abuse.

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The Feminisation of HIV

The Feminisation of HIV refers to the increasing prevalence of HIV among women worldwide and the ways in which gender discrimination – both social and institutional- contribute to women’s increased vulnerability to HIV infection.

In the Caribbean, women make up 53% of the population living with HIV. And young women between the ages of 15-24 have three to six times higher incidence of HIV than young men the same age range.

High rates of violence against women; poverty and economic dependence on men; early sexual initiation, multiple partners and cultural attitudes regarding relationships and sexual behaviour; and inadequate access to reproductive health services, all contribute to the increasing incidence of HIV among Caribbean women.

Another feature of the feminsation of HIV in the Caribbean is the predominance of women’s role in ‘care’ responsibilities for family members and others in the community who have HIV and AIDS.

This short documentary titled “Invisible: Children living with HIV” by Elspeth Duncan, shows the social, financial and psychological challenges that HIV presents not just for HIV infected mothers but for their children as well.

How can understanding the nature and impact of gender inequality in the Caribbean help us address the feminsation of HIV in our region?

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Hope Support Group


imageViolence in the community often has devastating effects on men and women. Proliferation of guns, turf conflicts, gang activity and violent crime often lead to death of loved ones, particularly fathers, brothers and sons. Apart from the grief experienced by family members, women are often left with the additional burden of providing for the emotional, financial and physical needs of their families. 

The Hope Support Group (HSG) was formed in November 2006 in response to all the grief and pain being experienced by the women whose husbands, sons and brothers were being murdered within the urban communities of Trinidad and Tobago. The group is involved in planning and implementing programs and activities for the resolving of grief and the transforming of grief into positive action through facilitating mutual support, spiritual, educational, recreational and social activities and events.

Through networking with other Community groups and NGO’s many of the women have received training and are actively taking the message of healing into schools and communities.

As Hope Support Group prepares to celebrate it’s sixth anniversary, it now has a total of seven groups located in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Point Fortin, La Horquetta, Maloney, Couva, and Tobago. The groups have grown to include support for persons suffering tragic loss of health and support to persons whose relatives have committed suicide. HSG has also facilitated the start of groups for children who have suffered tragic loss; they meet in Morvant and Maloney twice monthly.

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We have a right to be happy

Nalita Gajadhar works as a Programme Officer at the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Barbados. She is President of the Business and Professional Women’s Club which has been running a crisis hotline and shelter for women and children affected by domestic violence since 1986.  It is the only shelter in Barbados.

CODE RED finally caught up with the Barbadian feminist activist, and with just five minutes to spare before returning to facilitate a Gender Sensitivity Training workshop, she shared her passion for saving and changing lives.

How long have you been working against domestic violence?

About 30 years.

What keeps you going over 30 years? Where does the energy come from?

Because it really does save lives.  It’s about saving lives. It’s about helping people to understand a little more about the issues relating to violence.  It’s about clearing up the myths and the misconceptions. I had seen from a child the impact of domestic violence on family and society. Before there was a shelter or a notion of what a shelter was I grew up in a house where my mother made our home a shelter. Many a night you shared a bed with people in the community who ran from violence. My mother always opened the door to let the woman and the children in and she would stand at the door and face down the man who was racing after the woman.  So it was just something that I have lived. I guess I just continued to do it.  But I don’t do it the same way my mother did.  I do it through the [women’s] groups I have joined and the kind of advocacy that I do.

What are the challenges you face? How have they changed over the last 30 years?

I think at the beginning people were a little bit more compassionate even though they accepted violence as part of the norm.  Once you got them engaged they realised that they needed to do something about it.  It was a task to engage them because violence was seen as the norm. Today it is recognised more as a human right but in terms of getting people to commit the resources it is difficult.  To try to change things we need resources. We have the shelter, we have the advocacy programme but what we need is transitional housing. We need opportunities for people to be able to move away from that place of abuse and not have to deal so much with the economic challenge that sometimes keeps them in that place where they sometimes die. I don’t want people to believe that violence is only limited to people in a certain socio-economic bracket. It is not. But having the ability to move away from it, sometimes when you don’t have that you stay, and sometimes you die.

Looking towards the future, what is your dream for Caribbean women?

What is it that makes you happy? We should not always be fighting to do what our grandparents said to do, what our mothers said to do, what society says we should do. We need to find relationships where there is really love, where there is caring and where you find happiness.  Not sometimes, but all the time.  Even when the person is not with you, you are happy because you have the freedom to just be and to be happy.  If we could just believe that we have a right to be happy. I think that that would be exciting if I could just get Caribbean women to understand that.

Thanks for chatting with us, Nalita.  May a new generation of Caribbean feminists inherit your commitment, passion and energy!

To reach the Business and Professional Women’s Crisis Hotline, to get information on counselling , the shelter and other resources in Barbados for women experiencing intimate partner violence and domestic violence, please call 246-435-8222

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Gary Acosta – Broken One

Gary Acosta is a 24 year old spoken word poet from the republic of Trinidad & Tobago. Artistic expression and performance has always been a passion of this young Caribbean wordsmith. On November 20th, 2011, Gary along with his longtime musical collaborator Til Shiloh released their music video “Broken One” to help raise awareness about domestic violence and it’s devastating impact on women, children and families. The WomenSpeak Project spoke to Gary about his journey with “Broken One”.

What motivated you to embark on the Broken One project?

Til Shiloh mentioned to me that he had been working on a song called Broken One close to 3 years but just never could put the words to the music. When he told me the idea of the song it struck close to home for it was not only one week before when a close friend of my family was brutally murdered by her husband.

Due to the fact that the case is currently before the courts it will be remiss of me to go into the details of the crime as I would not want to prejudice any decision, however, hearing her stories of domestic abuse was horrifying. Additionally, it was a wake-up call to me personally because I would have never guessed she was suffering through this. I decided then and there that I had to do my part in my own way in spreading awareness of Domestic Violence

How did the process of writing the song and making the video impact you?

Writing this song and producing this video was an emotional roller coaster. I submerged myself in all these stories that I would have read on the newspaper, internet and as well from one-on-one encounters with survivors. My idea behind the writing was to tell the story of my family friend as if she was experiencing it herself without being too literal and glorify the actual abuse.

The video was a tedious process from creating a screenplay – which Steven M. Taylor (Director) and Stephanie Matadeen (2nd Asst. Director) has to take a lot of credit for – to casting of the roles to actually shooting and editing.

While on set and having to recount these experiences internally is somewhat like putting myself into these women and men’s positions. At times to be honest I became extremely depressed and was unable to properly function during the day. That in itself gave me more motivation because if I could feel like this just thinking how they felt then what’s to say how it is in reality.

What has been the response to the video? What were your expectations and have they played out thus far?

The response to the video by the general public has been amazing, Within one day of releasing the video there were hundreds of people (literally) sharing it with their friends on facebook. Additionally we had excellent support through Rhonda Alfonso and Priya Ganness-Nanton working behind the scenes to get the message further.

Before the release, as early as August 2011 we approached various Government Ministries, Corporate entities and organizations that deal with issues such as Domestic Violence. To be frank we didn’t get any support from them which is why we are so thankful for the WomenSpeak Project for supporting us!

My expectations or my wishes for Broken One is that it can be used not only in Trinidad & Tobago but as well internationally as a tool to assist in the counseling of men, women and children who are either current victims or survivors of domestic abuse. Additionally, I hope that it can also be used as a tool to spread the awareness of the issue to a wider public.

The theme for the 2011 commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is “Youth leadership in Preventing and Eliminating Violence Against Women. In what ways do you think young people, and young men in particular can demonstrate such leadership?

A simple act such as speaking out is showing the courage and leadership to take up the fight in the elimination of violence against women. There are several youth organizations which can lend in this cause, and as well can allow young men to show their leadership in the fight.

We are sometimes brought up thinking that some are born leaders and some are born followers but to me it is not so. A simple thing as speaking out about domestic violence is pioneering. Being forthright and letting their friends, family etc know that they are definitely against the violence against women is a form of leadership that is rare in society. To me that is most important, first and foremost.

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