AN OPEN LETTER TO: Senator the Honourable Verna St. Rose Greaves

AN OPEN LETTER TO: Senator the Honourable Verna St. Rose Greaves

Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development Level 21, Tower D, International Waterfront Complex 1 Wrightson Road Port of Spain Trinidad & Tobago
Dear Senator St. Rose Greaves,

We are the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network and we are a collective of young, passionate Caribbean activists and organisations. We span the Caribbean, representing such nations as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We are farmers, social workers, artists, social entrepreneurs, counsellors, researchers, teachers and students. We work for social and economic justice and empowerment, particularly gender equity and women’s rights. We stand against discrimination of any kind, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are therefore pleased at your public show of support for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and the rights of the LGBTQ community. We recognise the tremendous courage it takes to speak publicly on issues that are controversial and that people would rather ignore. In speaking openly, you have demonstrated true leadership and a commitment to the rights of marginalised groups that far outweigh any potential opposition.

In addition, we join you in condemning the lack of adequate response to all forms of child abuse and in particular the sexual abuse of Caribbean girls and boys. We lend our collective voices to breaking the silence on this issue and we pledge to work in our communities, nationally and regionally to ensure that Caribbean children’s right to life free of abuse is made reality. This is on-going work to which we commit ourselves, in partnership with progressive political leadership in the region.

As you move forward in your social justice work, know that you are not alone. We stand in solidarity with you and we laud your courage and conviction. Always remain cognizant that your words and actions tangibly impact the lives of many Caribbean citizens. Although naysayers and detractors sometimes appear the loudest and most visible, remember that we are listening and we support you. We look forward to your continued action and leadership on these very important issues.
Yours gratefully,
CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network
Tonya Haynes (Barbados)
CODE RED for gender justice!
Sherlina Nageer (Guyana)
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Red Thread
Patrice Daniel (Barbados)
Rashida Beckles (Barbados)
KizzyAnn Abraham (Grenada)
Grenada National Organization of Women
Kenita Placide (St. Lucia)
United and Strong Inc.
Zahra Jacobs (St. Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago)
Asha Challenger (Antigua & Barbuda)
Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe (Grenada)
Groundation Grenada Action Collective
Tracey-Ann Lewis (Jamaica)
Women for Women
Amina Doherty (Antigua & Barbuda)
FRIDA Young Feminist Fund
Georgia Love (Jamaica)
Satira Maharaj (Trinidad & Tobago)
Fatimah Jackson (Barbados & Canada)
Zahra Airall (Antigua & Barbuda)
Women of Antigua
Valerie Chadic (Haiti)
Sanyu Phillips (St. Vincent and the Grenadines)
Tara Wilkinson (Barbados)
CODE RED for Gender Justice!
Ifasina Efunyemi (Belize)
Productive Organization for Women in Action (POWA)
Women’s Health Advocacy Network (Barbados)
Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network

Catchin’ Fyah Within: Reflecting on the Poetics of fyHER, powHER and Love

~ By Amina Doherty 

I am inspired to share my learning with those who could not be there physically. This is my attempt to put pen to paper and share my experiences and thoughts of the first EVER Caribbean young feminist grounding held in Barbados last week. From Port Au Prince to Castries, Trinidad to Belize, St. Vincent to Jamaica to Guyana to Antigua we were there toCatch A Fyah’ .


As I sat there with these womyn I realized that there is something deeply powerful, deeply transformative, and deeply beautiful about sitting together in community with groups of womyn in order to learn, grow and “become” together. In what previously I have simply understood to be an un-nameable feminist energy, I now term siSTAR fyHER powHER!  And it was in this intimate gathering of sisters that I experienced this fyHER powHER, this deep feeling that marked the shifting sands of an emotional tide. Recognizing that in spite of our many differences we came together to this space searching, dreaming, desiring to be ‘held’ – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We came searching for a space to be honest with ourselves about who we were and what we stood for, and found that in the company of strangers we saw reflections of the best parts of who we were. We came searching for politics and solidarity in our feminist struggles and found political sisterhood drenched in love.

We learned big words like “intersectionality” “optional protocols” and “accountability”. We learned small acronyms like CPD, SRHR, MDG, Cairo+20 and more. We grappled with what these “big words” and “little words” meant for our lives, our struggles our communities. For the woman waking up at 5am to sell newspapers on the street corner and the sistren who can’t go to the police because of her “profession” and the dawta who say she cyah access condoms cuz she aint married, and the even likkler sistren figuring out this ting dem seh call “identity” cuz all she hearing is “gay” and “straight” positioned neatly next to words like “right and wrong”. And yes there were moments of sheer exhaustion…I will never forget Tracey-Ann holding her head in despair saying: “mi nuh understand what dis ah go do fi me in my life…How we ah go make dem tings mek sense?”

 But somehow we did. Somehow we sat there and talked and shared and reasoned and dialogued and debated and disagreed and agreed and got distracted and stayed focused…and somehow we worked together to “Catch A Fire” that would leave each one of us changed; each one of us different; and each one of us glowing with a revolutionary flame that no one could ever out!

What does it mean to “Catch a Fire”?
Many may be familiar with the Bob Marley song that goes by the same name. (No? Check it here).  So what was Bob trying to tell us in “Catch a Fire”? In the track, Bob melodiously and generously offers up his thoughts on themes of political injustice, poverty and what he understood to be the importance of connecting current injustices to past experiences. This idea of looking to our past as a means of understanding the struggles we are faced with today has always been really important for me. And so in my interpretation of the song, “catching fire” is literally about going back to get it. It is about past learning guiding future directions in ways that spark action; that spark change, and that fuel consciousness and self-awareness and fyah.

CatchAFyah’s Sankofa Moment: Getting the Balance Right

ImageSankofa is an Akan word that means, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” Following this definition of “Sankofa” and my understanding of what it means to “Catch Fire” we were led to what I’m calling our “Sankofa moment.” we, young feminists from across the Caribbean region were blessed to share our space with Dr Peggy Antrobus of Barbados and Andaiye of Guyana. I cannot express how much I valued the inspirational learning and wise words these elders offered. Looking around the room as Peggy and Andaiye spoke I watched each one of us hungrily digesting their words and advice. We listened with respect as they told us of all of the things they had done right and held no bars sharing where they thought they had gone wrong. I was moved for instance when Andaiye said: “We got the balance wrong – we focused so much on international advocacy we forget to pay attention to what was happening in our own back yard.” Her words certainly “grounded” us and took me back to the words of Toni Cade Bambara: “If your home ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It is so much easier to be out there than right here. The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. But it is here.” 

And I loved the way Peggy encouraged us to keep striving to get the balance right. “Each one of you” she said, “working at your various levels is important. Know that. Working together will be the only way things will change.”

I sat with all of those thoughts for a moment…and realized what they were saying. I realised that ultimately they were telling us that each one of us was “enough”.  They were telling us to come as we were – but to come open. I have been carrying their words and those reflections in my mind everyday since the gathering.  I will remember them always. #ThingsMyFeminsitGrandMommasToldMe


siSTAR fyHER, powHER and Love
And before I end I’d like to share the words and reflections of the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network. I have divided it up into three sections based on the three principles I felt were present throughout our journey together: fyHER, powHER and Love.

On fyHER!

*Consciousness-raising is more than education  – it is about transformative life processes that change our approach to life and the ways we are living. *

*Politician come and go, funding agency come and go! Mi see nuff money throw way, waste way and all the problems still there. How we ah go mek this change ourselves? *

*We must appreciate the beauty of now…of our time today. If I died tomorrow I would walk around in a pair of hot pink panties because I feel everyone should see that at least once. *

*Fear not Sistren for fear kills light OR may cause your fire to burn what it does not mean to burn. Our fire must blaze deliberately like how our great-grandmothers controlled the fire of the fire hearth to bake bread…*

It just *looks* like the world is not ready.. shine some light into the darkness and see how fast people brighten up, like moths to a flame..blaze away!

I am feeling shaken. What to do when a fyah that was once flickering (on steady low heat) has begun to spread to all parts of your being (all in your toes yuh feelin it…all in your fingers yuh feelin it…all in yuh…you feel in it!) And now this fyah is blazing and you know you have to listen because it is turned up high – but you are stuck in a world that may not be ready for all that light? All your light? 


On powHER

*We are strong with each other. *

*The work we need to do is revolutionary. We cannot continue to focus on single issues… *

 *Let’s not create an illusion. Let’s just keep it real. We work with what we have because we have things to change *

*The thing about Feminism that is so threatening is that it brings women together…it challenges the bullshitt of dominant power structures dat ah try hold we down – mi tink seh dem call it capitalism and patriarchy and ting *

*We need to think beyond money. What do we have to bring to our movements that can’t be cashed in at the bank – because when the stock market crash me nah go crash too! *

*We must bring the wholeness our ourselves to this work, we must bring our most integritous selves to our activism.*

*Whatever we do, we must do something. We are feminist ACTivists not Feminist PASSivists. Don’t let the revolution pass you by. The time to Act is Now.*


On Love

*We need to work at the heart level. At the Soul Level. At the sexual level. *

*Love = True acceptance / Depth of feeling *

*It is amazing to be able to have dialogues around healthy loving relationships with self and others.*  

*In this work we must begin uncategorically with Love as our premise. Only love can make things change.* 

*I see yoga as social justice work – absolutely. In this work self-compassion must come first. We must learn to act tenderly towards ourselves. *

*Life is not work. When you build a community grounded in love – that makes life *

*NB. Feel free to quote us. You can attribute the words to the #CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network. For more reflections check out: CODE RED for Gender Justice 

And so to all of you: Simone, Tonya, Rasheda, Robin, Patrice, Maxi, Tracey-Ann, Sanyu, Tara, Flavia, Mariam, Malaika, Kenita , Satira, Zahra One, Zahra Two, Asha, Sherlina, Fatimah, Kizzy Ann, Ifasina, and Valerie – Thank you all for “holding” me, for making me better, for helping me grow, for letting be “become”. Thank you for fanning a flickering flame into a full-blown fyah! Sistrens we can’t stop now – we have nuff work fi do! As sister Audre Lorde reminds us “Revolution is not a one time event.”

We have movements to move…but we must always remember that that we are not alone.

¡No pasarán!” “Ils ne passeront pas! “They shall not pass”

Reflections on transforming economic power

~ by Marsha Caddle

My experience at the AWID forum, particularly in terms of the forum aim to strengthen the extent to which women activists are able to integrate feminist and economic thought and action in the execution of their work, was perhaps not typical. As a feminist economist, several of the issues that were raised are the very ones I have sought to address through my work for some time. Plenary and other sessions that sought to establish the context by presenting issues of the domestic and care economy; formal vs unpaid labour; time poverty vs income poverty and other macro-level considerations of how to conduct the business of economics and economic provisioning such that it promotes gender equality served to restate old issues, but seemed at times to fall just short of the answers.

Gita Sen, in one of her first day interventions, reintroduced the standing question of how to transform the economic system so that the care economy is no longer marginal. And this is fundamental to breaking that social and economic conceptual divide with which we still struggle in the Caribbean. For this reason, the following issues discussed in breakout and caucus sessions over the three days to follow were interesting to consider:

  • Social protection and the need to balance social safety nets such as cash transfers to households and support to families with policies that support women’s economic particpation and employment-led growth for all
  • The role of the State in the redistribution of care work/responsibilities
  • Women’s contribution to the agricultural rural sectors in defining climate change adaptation
  • Gender composition of unemployment

In the context of whether we have been doing enough to transform economic power and resources for gender equality, the observation of Rebeca Grynspan during the Day 2 plenary that “the economic crisis has only given us further evidence for the arguments we have been making since the structural adjustment of the 80s and 90s” was perhaps meant as an indictment on the economic system and business as usual, but struck me as an indictment of ourselves as feminist economists. Indeed we have used the structural adjustment policies of the 80s and 90s as examples of what not to do in a crisis and how the classical visioning of the economy is flawed, but if the response to this 21st century crisis has not reflected that knowledge, then perhaps our work has not been reaching the right audiences. What is encouraging, however, is the popular acknowledgement the world over that austerity is not the sole answer to economic recession. The demand by people for decent lives amidst the effects of the financial mismanagement of a few is being heard and felt globally. This must extend to policy in Ministries of Finance and international finance institutions beyond the Arab Spring, and we must be able to provide governments with not just rhetoric, but real, workable advice to be able to do this.

The Forum stood out too as an opportunity to regroup on where feminist economics is ten years after gender-responsive budgeting gained high visibility as the new tool that would allow economists to promote gender equality, and it was useful to sit with GRB practitioners in order to compare progress and approaches.

But it was most useful in providing a new platform for Caribbean feminist organizing. The seven-member Caribbean panel presenting on Day 3, of which I was a part, was able to consider several issues of priority for Caribbean women, and begin to develop a strategy for how we go forward jointly to address them. Examples of feminist organizing for transformation shared from other geographical regions during the forum were very instructive, and we left encouraged, clear on our mandate, and with next steps for getting there. This was perhaps the best outcome for which our group could have hoped.

Lessons the Caribbean Feminist Movement Can Learn from Transformational Entrepreneurship

~ By Georgia Love

“Whether you tend a garden or not, you are the gardener of your own being, the seed of your destiny.”

The last AWID meeting I attended was in Mexico in 2006 when we were figuring out “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights”. Then, I was just finding my feet in the Caribbean women’s/feminist movement, I was incredibly energized to be among such a diverse gathering of feminist activists and extremely grateful for their critical perspectives. It was then that a few seeds were planted in my mind and heart.

Fast forward to 2012, it kind of feels perfect that I should attend the Forum on Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice. Like coming full circle, just like it happens in nature where complex ecosystems meet divine magic, is how it happened for me for this Forum. Two seeds had grown; the first was a special seed of friendship planted in Mexico in 2006, and cultivated across the seas during the last 6 years, which meant that I personally received the push and guidance I needed to get to Turkey. This Forum was different because as Caribbean women we took greater responsibility for being present in Istanbul, and while we were still relatively few in number, our collective effort enabled serious mobilization and we fought for representation by what proved to be an interesting and diverse group.

The second seed was that of having my own business. I remember glibly saying in Mexico, “I want to start a feminist clothing line”. This year I wasn’t just representing an organization, I was using our break-out session to share insights learned through my social entrepreneurship venture BeCon, a socially conscious apparel and lifestyle brand.

So instead of just talking about money, this year we talked about breaking down, reconstituting and harnessing economic power, to control resources so they actually work for women and ultimately for us all. Gita Sen set the stage at the Forum for me when she asked how we as feminists should engage with a global economy which has been rife with turmoil and inequity. She challenged us with the question “who wants a bigger share of a poisoned pie?” That’s where transformation becomes essential. Transforming economic power cannot possibly be limited to a grand network of micro lending schemes for women across the global south. It will mean fundamentally shaking s#$% up. Looking at the exploitative foundation of capitalism and radically rethinking how we relate to human and the Earth’s resources. Thinking and doing differently is so much easier said than done.

In thinking about paradigm shifts and alternatives I’ve figured out a few distinctions between the entrepreneur and a business owner. The entrepreneur fundamentally always pushes for transformational leadership, creativity, innovation and risk taking in business. She is ALWAYS at the pulse of economic transformation and is never JUST concerned with making money.  The transformational entrepreneur knows that profits don’t solve problems. So BeCon is my start to chip away at the perennial quandary of underfunded social justice organizations, using a local business whose core objective includes ongoing fundraising. This year’s Forum reminded us that more money won’t make us better feminists but rather it’s a commitment to solving complex problems, a desire to express a unique vision and demanding purpose driven fulfillment. It was vision and leadership that brought so many Caribbean women to the Forum this year, not money. Feminist economics moves beyond GDP as the primary indicator for progress to more sophisticated indicators of well-being and sustainability. Though challenging, we must balance our triple bottom line of people, planet and profits (John Elkington, 2004), and as Caribbean feminists we must be unafraid to chart a course that addresses the complexities of our regional concerns.

Transformational entrepreneurship redefines socioeconomic value and sustainability is always at the forefront of our minds. The entrepreneur leaves it better than she finds it and she leaves “some” for the next person. So as the Caribbean assesses issues of stagnation and leadership crises we also need to deal with inter-generational equity. Equity is about fairness, but also stake and responsibility in fostering leadership across a spectrum of women, rethinking power and nurturing vision. We all have an interest in advancing the movement and in much the same way the transformational entrepreneur avoids the pitfalls that got us in this economic mess, we as Caribbean feminists need to learn from the mishaps of our previous movements in order to create more sustainable models for creating change.

Some of the constraints that have kept women out of the circle of entrepreneurs include:

  • Limitations of necessity and therefore obliviousness to opportunity
  • Underestimating their own knowledge and skill
  • Uncertainty about doing what hasn’t been done
  • Tendencies towards risk aversion

Moving from the periphery of the global women’s movement will require us to also explore some of these constraints.  As Caribbean feminists we will need to be opportunity oriented in our experiments with carving space for our unique voice and vision. We already see examples of this with the Code Red led feminist grounding, Catch a Fire, to be held next week in Barbados, May 18 & 19, 2012.

I left Istanbul ready, ready for more, ready for different. I’m ready to continue encouraging people to BeCon; be connected, be consistent, and be conscious with our politics while emphasizing our identities as changemakers rather than consumers. I leave with you June Jordan’s words for a feminized revolution.

Poem for South African Women

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for

Reflections on the 2012 AWID Forum

I can say

I can write no poem big enough

to hold the essence

of a black woman

of a white woman

of a green woman

—Grace Nichols

I arrived at the 2012 AWID Forum utterly and completely exhausted after having successfully defended my PhD thesis they day before I hopped on the plane that would take me to London en route to Istanbul.Image

There’s not one big country called “The Islands”

And no, I’m not from there.

—Staceyann Chin

Caribbean Sistas@AWID

The AWID forum with its 2500 of delegates and multiple simultaneous sessions is dizzying, to say the least.  It is the largest global meeting of women outside of the UN.  I felt both privileged and honoured to be among the delegates and to have had my participation sponsored by AWID itself, thanks to the efforts of Amina Doherty, Coordinator of the FRIDA Young Feminist Fund, Jamaican Mariama Williams, a member of the International Planning Committee and Peggy Antrobus who had been instrumental in ensuring a Caribbean presence at AWID previously. At the forum I learnt that Caribbean delegates made up 1% of all attendees.  I became even more aware of the privilege of being there.

Small Feminist World. Too Small…

I saw some familiar faces and reunited with old friends from across the Global South. I became acutely aware of just how small this circle of global feminist activists is even at a conference that is the largest of its kind.  I am still personally grappling with how small this circle is, how elitist it often seems and how though in many, many ways inclusive it still remains exclusionary. I have made a personal commitment to ensuring that the spaces I am a part of are welcoming and inclusive.  This is ongoing, collective work that requires a willingness to confront one’s own privilege and comfort zones.  It requires constant reflection, asking uncomfortable political questions and the courage to face the difficult answers.

ImageKrik? Krak!

I was extremely excited about our breakout session: Krik? Krak! Dem Cyant Brek We back: Narratives of Challenge and Change from the Caribbean.  In our dynamic and lively session we touched on a range of issues: sexual citizenship, economic empowerment, safety and security, domestic workers rights, funding for feminism in the region, social media and movement building.  As soon as we got to our designated room we immediately pulled it apart to create a more intimate Caribbean-style feel in keeping with the story-telling format of our session.  During our presentation we ran images of feminist organising across the region, particularly the work of a younger generation of feminists, interspersed with Caribbean women’s poetry.

Krik? Krak! brought together a small but dynamic team of Caribbean activists: LGBT rights activist Kenita Placide of United and Strong, St. Lucia, Carla Walcott of the National Union of Domestic Employees of Trinidad and Tobago, economist Marsha Caddle of the Women’s Health Advocacy Network of Barbados, social entrepreneur Georgia Love of Jamaica, Amina Doherty of FRIDA and yours truly from CODE RED with Mariama Williams as Chair. Our audience included many of the Caribbean sisters present at the forum including Deputy Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus and recipient of the CARICOM triennial Award for Women Professor Eudine Barriteau.  Her presence there was perfectly fitting as she had introduced the MPhil/PhD programme at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit in 2007.  Students of this programme would go on to found CODE RED, demonstrating the importance of the IGDS to the development of the political consciousness of a new generation of Caribbean feminists. FRIDA grantees from Mary Seacole Hall’s I’m Glad I’m a Girl Summer Camp in Jamaica were also present.


I left our session on a high, brainstorming for next time.  I envisioned a multi-lingual Caribbean feminist village complete with panels on all the issues facing the region, a space for poetry, performances and art as well as a marketplace.

I was also reminded of the purpose of our collective presence there: to use the AWID forum to foster regional feminist mobilisation. It is very easy to go home from the AWID forum fall into our work routines and struggle to find the time and resources to work regionally.  Luckily for us a follow-up activity was already in the works.   Catch A Fire: New Generation Caribbean Feminist Grounding grew out of conversations between me and activist Sherlina Nageer of Red Thread, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and Sunshine Organic Snacks of Guyana.  We were interested in new approaches to organising and to working for real change in our communities.  Funding from Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era as part of their Cairo@20 advocacy made the meeting possible.

An long before Oman Lib bruck out

Over foreign lan

Jamaica female wasa work

Her liberated plan!

—- Louise Bennett

Feminist Fyah Across the Region!

Catch A Fire will bring some of the AWID Forum Caribbean delegates back together with a diverse group of Caribbean activists who represent a new generation of feminist activism in the region.  This group includes members traditional women’s organisations as well as LGBT, feminist and youth organisations. We come from Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, St.Lucia, Grenada, Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean diaspora.

Go to your wide futures, you said

—-Grace Nichols

Small Axe…

Like our 1% presence at the AWID Forum we’re a small group with big ambitions! Help us Catch a Fire the Caribbean and ignite our imaginations, uniting ideas and action for social change.

Thank you AWID Forum 2012 for being one of the sparks!


CODE RED for gender justice!


The state of the women’s movement in the Caribbean today

 Krick? Krack!

April, 2012

Peggy (Antrobus) looking back…

Everyone’s assessment of events is shaped by their own experience, the lens through which these are viewed.  And yet, there can be little doubt that the UN Decade for Women made a huge contribution to the emergence and strengthening of women’s organizing over the past 35 years.

As someone deeply involved in the evolution of the Caribbean women’s organizing since 1975 – InternationalWomen’s Year (IWY), a landmark year and the start of the Decade – it is impossible to separate this work from my evolution as a feminist.  When I started working on the issues, coming from a background of development, specifically community development, I had never heard the word feminist; and when I did, it had all the negative connotations ascribed by a mainstream media determined to denigrate and trivialize a politics that threatened the status quo of male privilege in gender relations.  The evolution of a feminist consciousness changed me personally, professionally and politically: it gave me an understanding of the structured power of class, race and international relations no less than gender.

The most exciting moments in my journey were undoubtedly:

  •  The IWY conference in Mexico City in 1975 and the launch of the UN Decade for Women.
  • My appointment to the post of Advisor on Women’s Affairs to the government of Jamaica, and the reframing of this position as Director or a Women’s Desk, later upgraded to a Women’s Bureau.
  • The Regional meeting on the Role of Caribbean Women in Development, jointly sponsored by the Jamaican Women’s Bureau (of which I was head) and the Social Welfare Training Centre of the Extra Mural Department, UWI (headed by my friend and colleague, Sybil Francis), held on the Mona campus in July 1977.  It was this meeting that led to
  • The establishment of the Women & Development Unit (WAND) in the Extra Mural Department, and later to the Women & Development Studies (WADS) programme on all campuses of UWI as well as the University of Guyana.
  • Attending AWID Forums.

Some of these were landmarks, ‘game changers’, among them:

  • The mid-Decade Conference held in Copenhagen in 1980, at which women began to recognize that the status of women could not be understood outside the larger political economy of their society;
  • The launching of CAFRA (the Caribbean Association of Feminist Research and Action) around the same time;
  • A Meeting hosted by the UN Asia & Pacific Centre for Women and Development (APCWD) in 1977 in Bankok on “Feminist Ideologies and Structures in the First Half of the Decade” at which I first understood the relevance of feminism to work on women and development, and to the then-urgent call for a New International Economic Order (NIEO)!
  • A Meeting in Bangalore in 1984, called by Indian feminist economist Devaki Jain, to prepare a platform document for the NGO Forum of the end-of-Decade Conference to be held in Nairobi the following year.  A meeting that would lead to an analysis of the link between systemic crises (economic/debt, social/roll-back of social services, environmental/degradation and famine, and political/militarism and the rise of conservatism and religious fundamentalism) and women’s realities in countries of the ‘economic’ South, and to the formation of the DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) network.
  • The DAWN Panels at the Nairobi Forum in 1985.  These panels gave Third World feminists a voice in the debates and advocacy on women and development, changing the terms of these debates and strengthening women’s/feminist advocacy, especially in the UN Conferences on global issues in the decade of the 1990s.
  • The feminist changing of agendas at the International Conference on Human Rights, ICHR (Vienna, 1993) and the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD (Cairo, 1994).
  • The definition of a ‘rights approach’ to women’s advancement at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing (1995).

It is noticeable that these landmark moments all occurred in the context of international meetings and conferences, highlighting the significance of these experiences in capacity-building and women’s organizing.   It is important to acknowledge the role these international connections play in the evolution and strengthening of women’s movements in the Caribbean especially when participation in international meetings is often questioned as a waste of time and scarce resources, and at the expense of work at national levels.

On the eve of the AWID Forum this is particularly important: participation in an event that has become a critical space for inspiration and movement-/solidarity-building among women’s organizing around the world can make a difference to women’s organizing in this region – again! 

Some of the challenges in recent years

Since the Conference in Beijing there has been a real loss of energy in feminist organizing in the region.  There are probably many reasons for this.  Some of these include:

  • The natural ‘exhaling’ at the end of what had been exhilarating but exhausting years of organizing;
  • Changes of leadership and programme emphasis at key programmes like WAND, and
  • CAFRA’s leadership crisis;
  • The shift from ‘women’ to ‘gender’, which, though revolutionary at the outset, was co-opted by reform agendas, and signalled the replacement of political activism by more bureaucratic approaches to issues of concern to women;
  • The spread of the male marginalization thesis (fuelled by the advances of women in higher education and/or the under-performance of males in schools and universities);
  • The assumption that women had “arrived” and that there was nothing else to fight for;
  • The spread of evangelical churches in the region and increasing fundamentalism in faith traditions such as the protestant and roman catholic churches;
  • Increasing homophobia and the stigmatizing that accompanied the spread of HIV-AIDS;
  • Loss of funding first to Eastern European countries at the end of the Cold War and increasingly as the Caribbean ‘graduated’ from the ranks of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

There have also been major changes between the context in which women’s organizing take place today and from the period of the 1960s to the end of the 1990s.

 In the 1960s and 70s, with the achievement of independence and the attempts in Guyana, Jamaica and Grenada to address structural inequalities, women’s organizing was part of the new search for equity and increasing participation in the context of nationalism and regionalism: the formation of CARIWA (the Caribbean Women’s Association), the establishment of WAND and CAFRA all speak to women’s political self-recognition in these movements.

As detailed above, from the mid 1970s through the 1990s Caribbean women were part of the larger international movement formed and nurtured by the UN Decade.  Most importantly, in the 1980 and 1990s the link with DAWN strengthened feminist advocacy around issues of the macro-economic framework and trade and gave Caribbean feminism a legitimacy among NGOs that were also challenging the introduction of the policy framework of ‘structural adjustment’ that was part of the so-called Washington Consensus.

 However, in the New Millennium, with a depletion of resources, the spread of political conservatism and religious fundamentalism (the ‘male marginalization thesis) and the retreat of the state in the context of globalization, accompanied by changes in leadership in a key regional progrramm like WAND and crisis in CAFRA, there was a real decline in women’s organizing.

In that context, the rise of a new generation of young women who had benefited from the awareness and opportunities that had opened up for women as a result of earlier struggles against discrimination, along with their use of the new internet communications technologies (ICTs) to connect through social networks like Facebook, offers exciting possibilities for a resurgence of activism.

For someone of my generation, this is a breathtaking moment!!  As you set off for the AWID Forum in the next week, I applaud you all for your energy, imagination and especially for your commitment and vision of a new generation, a new wave of feminist activism in this region.  The Caribbean needs you!!