We are the 51%

There is great buzz about St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ first ever Women’s Congress to take place in March.  SVG made international headlines last year for its high levels of intimate partner violence, violence against women and femicides–the highest in the OECS.  The launch of the Women’s Congress was much needed good news.

The Women’s Congress is convened under the theme “Women Rising, Crisis and Response-Women as Agents of Change.”  The theme suggests that women are coming together to find solutions to the problems they face as women but also to the issues faced by their communities and country. And why shouldn’t they? After all they make up the majority of the population!  The Women’s Congress also expressly set out to be inclusive, naming rural women, people with disabilities, indigenous women and Rastafari women and young people among their key constituents and change-agents.

The Women’s Congress planners held a recent press conference where they were forced to defend their focus on women before a room full of journalists who were all male. They were asked to explain why rather than focus on broad gender issues, they were focusing on worn-out women’s issues. For about the last 20 years or so in the Caribbean “gender” has been used to invalidate a focus on women.  It is pointless to clarify how feminists use the term since this is not a semantic battle at all.  It is a simple belief held by many that women ought to know their place.  And that place is definitely not organising congresses to discuss women’s issues.  It is not parliament either where women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a mere 3 of 22 representatives.

The organisers defended  themselves by saying that there could be a men’s congress if men demanded it, that they recognise that they have to work with men in order to achieve gender equality, that there is a project in the works to create a resource centre for men and boys.

The OAS representative at the launch stated that:

the Caribbean lacks a critical mass of women political leaders committed to promoting gender equality in areas such as women’s economic empowerment and security, ending gender-based violence, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, equal pay for work of equal value and shared family responsibilities.

Beyond women as political leaders, she failed to mention women as a political constituency.  The fact that we’re not one.  States respond to men. Often in very, very problematic ways, but respond they do with a range  of institutions and policies.  But they do not respond to women as women. (They respond to women as mothers, again in problematic ways.)  If the Women’s Congress can move towards the creating women as a political constituency they will have achieved tremendous success.

The other point to be  addressed is the assumption that addressing women’s issues means negative outcomes for men. The Women in the Caribbean Project was the longest ever regional research project on Caribbean women.  It took place from 1979-1983.  One of the objectives of the project was to influence policy in ways that would improve women’s lives.  One of the guidelines the researchers set for themselves was that any policy recommendation should benefit both women and men.  Recognising the human rights of women and the specific gendered harms which many women face does not mean that men’s issues are ignored or men’s human rights are denied.

Men as partners for gender equality cannot be invoked to invalidate a focus on women.  That is not only absurd but goes contrary to any feminist notion of gender equality.

Wishing the women of St. Vincent and the Grenadines a successful Women’s Congress!

Mothers and Mothering in a Global Context

Mothers and Mothering in a Global Context

Senator Verna St. Rose Greaves, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development of Trinidad and Tobago will deliver the keynote address entitled “Untangled Thoughts on Caribbean Mothers and Mothering.

This international conference is hosted by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit. It takes place on February 24 and 25 in Barbados.

Email gender@cavehill.uwi.edu for details.

A Week of CODE RED Reads: Housecleaning PMs, Rape as mounting, Caribbean LGBT Activism, Climate Justice and Abortions for Successful Living

Just a look at what we’ve been reading and talking about this week. Remember to email us at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com to find out how you can involved with us offline.  We are looking for some Barbados-based volunteers to work on exciting projects.

LGBT Rights Activism
VIDEO: Caribbean LGBT activist voices among the strongest in the region right now. T&T-based CAISO and St. Lucian United & Strong among other organisations participating in international dialogue and human rights training taking place in St. Lucia.

VIDEO: “I am a Belizean.” Belize leads the Caribbean on pro-LGBT rights activism. This public service announcement aims to promote tolerance in a society where homophobia is widely practiced. We Are One! In dignity and rights.

Human Rights in Guyana
Guyanese in Barbados to protest against human rights abuses in their homeland.

Misopolis Abortion Rights Campaign
Some of our facebook fans believe that the “Misopolis: Abortions for successful living campaign” misses the mark. It spoofs a Diesel ad campaign in order “to expose the violations of women’s rights that take place in the garment industry”? The hoax was devised by Women on Waves and Women on Web, both non-profit organizations concerned with women’s human rights and specifically with access to safe medical abortion.

One person wrote:

Not a fan of this one at all. Feel it misses the mark and treats the issue a little too glibly. Eye catching for sure though.

One CODE RED member responded:

Back in 2008 ECKO had a “hot girls make great clothes” campaign which featured models pretending to do the sewing, stiching, dyeing, packing etc it takes to manufacture jeans. Each model-as-garment-factory-worker had a persona and customers were encouraged to leave messages for her. And leave messages they did—obscene, sexist, objectifying and CRASS. When I first saw the Misopolis campaign it felt like a spoof of the ECKO campaign. Their website says its a hoax of a diesel campaign. I too feel that the campaign misses the mark. What was ridiculous about the ECKO campaign was that it continued to hide the real faces of factory labor. I think the Women on Waves spoof does the same thing. Garment factory labour remains invisible. I agree with you that the way they deal with abortion also seems too superficial. And too much presented as some form of consumer choice rather than as a woman’s right. Considering how strong the anti-abortion push is globally I worry that such glib treatment will actually undermine what Women in Waves and Women on Web stand for—women’s human rights and access to safe medical abortion.

Gender Insensitive Caribbean Media
Caribbean reporting on violence against women still leave a lot to be desired:
The Demerara Waves report includes statements such as “mounting her”, “feigning pleasure” and graphic details of the alleged assault. The report also states that the complainant said that she would have killed the rapist had she gotten the chance. It also raises the question of why she failed to report the rape immediately. The accused is the Commissioner of Police in Guyana and he has not been charged. Many of the persons commenting on the story say they think the rape accusation is false.  CODE RED reached out to Demerara Waves via twitter but has  not yet received a response.

Climate Justice
Caribbean people are at the forefront of the movement calling for climate change action and climate justice: “What was it that made the critical difference? It was the voice of the Caribbean, and particularly [Grenadian Foreign Minister] Karl Hood’s intervention. But Karl Hood’s intervention was kind of on the shoulders of a really sustained effort on the part of some Caribbean leaders, like former President Jagdeo of Guyana, of people and institutions like the Climate Change Coordinating Centre in Belize – for example, and all of that effort came to a kind of crescendo that night.”

Gender and Politics
The fact that Jamaica now has its first elected female Prime Minister continues to provoke sexist and quite frankly, bizarre comments.  JLP described PM Portia Simpson Miller’s decision to appoint three women to the Cabinet as ‘jobs for the girls’. Three woman cabinet members dismissed as illegitimate, unnecessarily costly excess baggage just because they are women, no, girls! Jamaican scholar Carolyn Cooper breaks down the sexism and old boys’ network logic behind these comments.

Following quickly on the heels of the JLP, Jamaica’s Foreign Minister says “You won’t get away with a woman presiding over a dirty country.”  He argued that visitors to the island may be willing to put up with a dirty JA if the PM is male but with a woman at the helm, the country better be clean, if nothing else. Right, because women, even women PMs are naturally more suited to cleaning. And even if they are not naturally suited to it, it’s their job.

Just a quick look at what we’ve been talking about. Have your say in the comments below and join us online and off!