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
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.
There’s not one big country called “The Islands”
And no, I’m not from there.
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.
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 Action 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
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
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!
Special thanks to social entrepreneur Georgia Love for the fabulous green tee i’m rocking! Get yours at Becon: a socially conscious lifestyle brand based in Kingston, Jamaica.