It started just two years ago in Curaçao. Thirty-five women from 14 countries gathered to learn, share and build advocacy skills, under the inspiring theme: “Strengthening the invisible woman and empowering her to leadership.”
In 2014 in Paramaribo, Suriname, the focus remained on leadership. Now, a delegation of eight Jamaican women from the advocacy group WE-Change, headed by Latoya Nugent, will travel to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad next month for the 3rd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference. Six of the Jamaican women are fully sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Havana, The Foundation Rights Now in Sweden, and J-FLAG.
The conference is hosted by United and Strong Inc., an organization headed by Kenita Placide that conceptualized the conference and has been instrumental in its organization. Placide sees the conference as an opportunity to amplify the voices of LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) activists, thus strengthening the LGBT rights movement on the whole. Under the theme “Actioning Women’s Leadership“, this year’s meeting will build on the concept of an LBT women’s movement, and through strategic planning bring together the work of activists around the region.
Building networks is important; it strengthens activism at both the group and individual levels. Cultural awareness and the sharing of experiences is also a key element at such meetings. For example, legal restrictions vary from country to country, impacting society and the behavior of citizens – as well as varying levels of discrimination against the LGBT community. Caribbean LBT women can greatly benefit from this cross-cultural dialogue, finding some differences but much common ground. There are also many practical skills and useful tools to be acquired, to return home with and to share.
Commenting on the first meeting, the delegation leader Latoya Nugent of J-FLAG noted that, although she did go with high expectations, she was inspired: “I had many highlights on several levels – the professional, the intellectual, the social, the personal and the developmental.” That first conference, she wrote,“opened my eyes to a Caribbean world of powerful, resilient, inspirational, innovative women.” The 2015 Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference will bring facilitators from diverse backgrounds to guide participants in an exploration of Gender and sexuality; LBT women’s rights; Violence and security; Sexual and reproductive health and rights; Communication skills including mainstream and social media; Grassroots and community mobilizing; and Proposal writing and fundraising.
There is, I think, no argument that advocacy is an essential activity. Minority populations, including women, in the Caribbean must speak up. They should also get involved in the activities that the rest of society engages in: volunteer opportunities such as beach clean-ups, feeding the homeless, etc. This will not only afford such groups greater visibility, but will give their members confidence. Yes, we will do this! We are Jamaicans, too!
I wish the delegation all the best as they head for Trinidad. I wish all participants every success as they work towards their goals!