The Women’s Movement in Jamaica, in the Caribbean, and I suspect worldwide, is going through some interesting times. This is a world of “fake news” and social media, hashtags and hardening positions. The concepts of love, peace, unity and solidarity are fighting for survival in the TrumpWorld. I get the feeling people aren’t listening to each other, much. I am speaking in general terms, but of course women are a part of civil society. Or are we rising above this sad cynicism?
There is a prefix dys (from the Greek) that is perhaps appropriate. We are living in a dystopian world: a world of disappointment and dashed expectations (especially for young people, who always expect more than they get). There are several dysfunctional governments – or countries; a growing list. Here in Jamaica, we talk about dysfunctional families, parents etc. Dyspepsia means indigestion – but it also means being “miserable,” as Jamaicans would say – unkind. Dyspeptic might be a good word to describe President… Well, never mind.
Perhaps this is a 21st century malaise, but I sense people aren’t getting on too well. Be that as it may, International Women’s Day – Wednesday, March 8 – presses on with its usual fanfare. It’s hard to know what there is to celebrate. Perhaps it will be more of an affirmation, a “Well, this is where we’ve reached.” Such “special days” always include some kind of assessment – soul-searching, even; perhaps that is always the most important aspect of the day.
The theme of the UN’s International Women’s Day 2017 is Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030. Indeed, for Jamaica women’s economic empowerment is a critical issue. The women’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly low; the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, according to the World Bank, reports that women’s unemployment is almost twice that of men – 18.6 versus 9.6 percent. The hopeful hashtag is #BeBoldForChange.
Here in Jamaica there are various activities on Wednesday and beyond. I haven’t seen much going on outside Kingston, but I am sure there must be a few events. You might want to make a note:
Firstly (shameless plug here) I will speak briefly at an event at Excelsior Community College in Kingston, starting at 4:30 p.m. It’s a seminar, but I hope it will be fun. It’s organised by a community-based organization, the Voices for Jamaica Foundation, which has a youth membership and largely focuses on at-risk and marginalised communities. We seek to inspire.
Secondly, there is the “official” International Women’s Day event, which will begin with a march, starting at Emancipation Park in Kingston, to be followed by a free concert (including an allegedly reformed woman beater) in the Park under the theme Unite to End Gender-based Violence. This is being organised by the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports’ Bureau of Gender Affairs, which is not using the official UN theme. We are very much preoccupied by gender-based violence, and I guess we (officially) don’t want to talk about women’s employment (or lack of it), the lack of equity and sexual harassment in the workplace and so on. Another time, perhaps.
Thirdly, the Denham Town Community Development Committee is holding its own march, starting at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday from Denham Town Community Centre. I hope people from outside the community will go along and support.
On Thursday there are also events: the University of Technology (UTech) will host a meeting on – yes, you’ve guessed it, the sexual abuse of women, with historian Professor Verene Shepherd and UTech’s awesome Professor Rosalea Hamilton.
That evening, an event organised by WE-Change. It’s #HerLegacy Part 2, sponsored by UN Women, and singer Tanya Stephens will be the guest speaker.
UN Women is also among the supporters of the Tambourine Army’s Survivor Empowerment March (more purple), on March 11, which will end with a rally in Half Way Tree – a place I always prefer to avoid in mid-afternoon on a Saturday! It will coincide with similar marches in Barbados, the Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. The TA will be bussing people in from the rural areas.
So, here is a Facebook comment from my sister and longtime women’s rights campaigner Joan Grant Cummings (not sure she would like the word “veteran”!) Please note – it’s Part 1. There will be more from Joan! Bold highlights are mine…
WHEN AND WHERE DID I ENTER ‘THE STRUGGLE” – WHY WE HAVE TO ADOPT AN INTER- AND MULTI-GENERATIONAL AS WELL AS A MULTI-ISSUE FOCUS AND MULTI-GENDER INVOLVEMENT TO DEFEAT OPPRESSION – PART I
It’s been over 30 years I think, since I’ve consciously decided to tune in to the women’s movement locally and globally. I remember seeing Lucille Mair on TV – it was a grainy black n white UN picture. It was about her becoming the first woman to hold the title of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. This was about 1982. I remember she was in charge of overseeing the committee on the Palestinian Cause. It gave me goosebumps.
I remember hearing about Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique and wondering where the hell had she and her “sisters” been when Black/African-African descendant women, Women of Colour in general , immigrant and refugee women and white women living in poverty, in the U.S. particularly, were working their asses off to the bone!! Perhaps my first memory of challenging some white women’s notions of women’s equality – little did I know how this would become a key part of the bane of my existence for almost two decades. It gave me nightmares! Yet it was through this women’s movement that I rediscovered my childhood sense of humour!!
I used it to put anyone who was “damn facety” – politicians, feminists and others – neatly in their place. Granty and Idell would have been proud of me if I felt bold enough to share these ‘events’. Well there was the matter I boast about to this very day – it’s not every day you get to pretend you don’t even remember the name of a first world leader. I felt that “invisibility” was an equal opportunity operation. He just knew that the head of the women’s movement for de whole a de country was Black.
Well when de TV people dem ask me what me think, me jus’ sey:
“What’s his name again? Oh,” I said in French : “He’s the little guy from Shenanigans isn’t he?” It was clear I knew a lot about him; he was bi-lingual and came from a French town named Shawinigan.
Besides being politicized from a Pan-African-Caribbean perspective at home, going to High School was a joy! We had young Angela-Davis-like “‘fro’d” teachers who shared their various experiences with us of being “Black and Female” in different parts of France as they studied French; the impact of the patriarchy on female science students; the abusive anti-woman “ragging process” at the University of West Indies (UWI), issues of sexual identity, male-female power relationships etc.
It was within my home and from these teacher-mentors that I learned the concept of “different yet equal.” Later as I travelled, went away to University, I sometimes felt strange being in a group where I was the only one who couldn’t and wouldn’t laugh at the sexist, racist or heterosexist joke – I just never got them. I learned that Identity & Self-definition were issues people got killed for “I’m Black & I’m Proud”, Walter and Pat Rodney, Winnie and Nelson Mandela; Zimbabwe:Samora Machel; Steve Biko; Patrice Lumumba; AngelaDavis; Assata Shakur; Malcolm; Martin; Marcus; South African children getting killed for refusing to speak in Afrikaans- were issues that bobbed and weaved and finally settled in my conscious and subconscious head spaces.
It didn’t help that about three freedom fighters were killed on my birthday. It was as if the God/Goddess of the Universe was “speaking” to me about my role in this world. Even hurricanes were thrown at me to pay attention – Wild Gilbert. I never quite figured out if I were to act like Gilbert or if I would be devastated if I turned away from what I was now convinced was my destiny – the struggle for equality rights – women, girls, boys, men. Yet women and girls would be the lynchpin.
I worried that I would never have a “sense of humour” in my adult years; and vowed that if I was mad enough to even think of getting married – he had better have a sense of humour!! Money, height and looks didn’t matter – Mother Dear had already got our heads straight about money – you make your own! Your children’s lives, especially your girl children’s – may depend on it!
Don’t believe the hype — Cinderella-Rapunzel-Pea Princess — women must be financially independent!
And so we were. Mother Dear’s Rule #1; Find something you love or not , whatever, get qualified and excel at it – bus-driver, household helper [the term in those days], teacher, business woman, professional [lawyer, doctor…], don’t waste your brain & your time- make your own livelihood; if you have friends- wonderful., if not you have sisters, be friends with them. Most important : BE FRIENDS WITH YOURSELF! and so it started….
So when we talk about changing society, let’s not pretend that using certain language, and inducting men and women, boys and girls in certain programs will just give us the “product” or “outcomes” we want. Been there!! Done that!!
Transformational/Revolutionary Struggle-Change is lifelong change: unlearning, re-learning. learning, practicing, living, sharing, teaching, giving, loving…. it never stops!
You cannot short-circuit the “programming” with sensationalism, wars of violence, brow-beating, cussing, hating….. you just end up sick, tyad, discouraged, dispirited, derailed, dismissed, disregarded, crazy-mad, sad, bad……
Yes. And here’s the Tambourine Army’s press release. The TA describes itself on Facebook as:
A radical social justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and safeguarding the rights of women and girls.
For Immediate Release Kingston, Jamaica March 6, 2017
Survivor Empowerment March Against Sexual Violence
When: Saturday, March 11, 2017 Time: 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Route: 127 Molynes Road to Half Way Tree
Tambourine Warriors March in Support of Survivors
On March 11, 2017 the Tambourine Army will host Jamaica’s first Survivor Empowerment March. The march will begin at 127 Molynes Road, Kingston in the vicinity of the Covenant Moravian Church, and will continue along Molynes Road, onto South Odeon Avenue, and will end with a rally at the Clock in Half Way Tree.
Along the route there will be four stops that will allow women who are survivors of violence to speak their stories of survival and triumph. The women will be supported in their stories by a spirit-centered drumming group and empowering and uplifting music from Tanya Stephens, Keisha Firmm and Etana. At the rally in Half Way Tree, the Tambourine Army will present their 20-point Action Plan for Change to end sexual violence and violence against women and girls.
The march is survivor-centered and challenges pervasive societal norms of victim shaming, silencing and blaming, and asks that as a nation we make it easy for women and girls who have been victims of violence to name their perpetrator, navigate an almost impenetrable legal system, and demand their own fair share of justice.
Marches will also be taking place in five other Caribbean states: the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. The march is in solidarity with the Caribbean-wide #LifeInLeggings movement and supported by Fi Wi Jamaica, I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation, Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB), Irie FM, UN Women, PRIDE JA Magazine, Island Grill, Eve for Life, CVM Television, Jamaica Teas, Equality for All Foundation Jamaica, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, 360 Artists and WE-Change.
We recognise the special vulnerability of girls, women with special needs, LBT and older women and we are encouraging them to participate. Special arrangements will be made to facilitate their participation. Men who support the movement to end violence against women and girls are also invited to participate.
We are adhering to all statutory requirements for the march, and the route was vetted and approved by the police.
Arrangements have been made to ensure that survivors and allies from rural Jamaica are included in the march, and buses have been made available for all parishes. Persons wishing to participate can register or call 864-1611 or 772-6937.
For more information contact: Nadeen Spence (832-7773); Taitu Heron (416-8444); Latoya Nugent (849-1403).