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.

 

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.

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.