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.”

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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


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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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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