A Risky Location: What it means to be an Indian feminist in our region

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own emerging stories.

This post was submitted as part of our #dearCaribbean Blog Carnival.  It was originally published on Diary of a Mothering Worker and is posted here with the author’s permission.

To read all the Blog Carnival entries or learn how you can participate click here.

Caribbean Feminists Exist & Some of Them Do Not Yet Know That They Are Feminists

To the Caribbean, With Love

Caribbean Feminists Exist & Some of Them Do Not Yet Know That They Are Feminists

When ah leggo mih cock yuh betta tie up yuh hen

Caribbean women located at home and those abroad in the Diaspora have heard and readily understand the implications behind such warnings issued by generations of Caribbean parents to their daughters. Within this warning there is the familiarity of male privilege and a culture steeped in patriarchy, and thus dismisses the actions and behavior of men, as something that is innate and expected, while placing the burden of social order and the fault of rape and sexual harassment and molestation on women. See, it is the hen (women) who must be responsible for how they may dress, dance, speak, and walk, because they may temp and arouse the Cocks (men), and will have to rightfully deal with the consequences of doing so. Thus, good Caribbean parents raise their daughters and sons within this context, and sons grow to believe that any unattended women in their paths are available to them, and at the least should be receptive to their advances. The acceptance of these misogynistic, outdated, and openly sexist gender roles form the basis for Caribbean Rape Culture, and helps to understand the epidemic of rape and intimate partner abuse in the region and throughout the Caribbean Diaspora. Central to this culture is the notion that women are the temptresses, and that their colonized bodies are not their own. They are not free to adorn and clothe their bodies as they choose, without being told that they are inviting sexual violence, or deserving of domestic violence, if their partners find their actions disrespectful. They are not free to travel without fear of objectification, molestation, and violence.

Caribbean women throughout the Diaspora understand that there are socio-cultural double standards involved in the assignment of gender roles. However, only a small, but increasing number of Caribbean women have openly challenged, denounce, and work to combat these double standards and inequities, and a growing number of them now self-identify as feminists or Womanists. The term, feminist, although it still remains taboo, is actually being embraced by more Caribbean women. Within the Caribbean Diaspora, feminist is still viewed as an inflammatory, divisive, and foreign bad word. Yet, a number of Caribbean women have looked beyond the many misconceptions of the term, and in looking at its most simplistic definition,which is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, realize that they are indeed a feminist. While some Caribbean feminists find it more feasible to carry out their work without openly wearing the label or using the word feminists; as described by the Barbadian blogger at The Mongoose Chronicles “If advancing the ideology without using the F word is going to improve women’s access to economic goods, then I’m prepared to use other words.”

Finally, there are Caribbean women (and men) who share the belief of gender equality, and thus have not yet realized that they are indeed a feminist. For those of you, who may be part of this group, I offer the following to prove that you may actually be a feminist:
If you believe that women deserve equal pay as men, especially when considering the many households that are headed by single mothers
If you believe that girls have a right to education, particularly post-secondary education, which is an opportunity that our mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors did not have just a few years ago
If you believe that women must be allowed to have a voice and representation in the political process
If you expect a man to help out, and actually pick up and push a broom across the floor at home, the same way he would use his legs to “do di sweep” in the middle of a dancehall jam
If you believe that you should be able to go to a fete, dance and enjoy yourself without molestation, and certainly without a random stranger believing that it is perfectly acceptable for him to rub his erect genitalia along your backside.
If the familiar and annoying pppsstt sound makes you vex as you attempt to walk along the government streets
If you are angered by the fact that men believe that  you are obligated to entertain their sexual advances, and even worst approach them when they yell out such comments as, “yea…di one in di red”.
If you believe in family planning and would appreciate being viewed as livestock, who are meant to be constantly breed
If you are proud of your liberated womanly body, which you happily adorn in the most colorful and festive carnival costumes
If you have a problem with pedophilia — the open courting of young girls by grown men   within the Caribbean culture
If you do not believe that traveling to a certain place, being seen casually drinking, or wearing a certain type of clothing can justify raping you.
If you are not willing to tolerate any form of intimate partner violence or abuse, despite the legacy of our foremothers who lived lives without many options, and thus felt compelled to endure the abuse.

This guest post by Cherise Charleswell is part of the Caribbean Blog Carnival which we’re hosting this month. Check out other blog carnival entries on the e-Mas page and learn how you can participate here.
Cherise Charleswell, MPH is a Bio-cultural anthropologist, self-proclaimed Womanist, author/writer, poet, public health researcher/practitioner, founder, host & producer of Wombanist Views radio, as well a contributing producer for Feminist Magazine 90.7FM KPFK broadcasting live in Los Angeles, and globally online. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues department of the Hampton Institute, and is currently working on the book projects: “Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping Into Our Shoes Anthology” and “The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora”.

Young Caribbean Feminists Win Global Grant for Anti-Violence Project

ImageAs the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network celebrates its first year it will be taking a strong anti-violence message to the blocks, board rooms and blackberries across the region with its innovative Eye2Eye project.

The Eye2Eye project will see the production of a regional campaign and activist toolkit to be used across communities and social and mainstream media in the region. Central to the campaign are infographics aimed at visualizing data and stories about gender-based violence.

Zahra Jacobs, the project’s 27-year old Administrator from St. Kitts and Nevis, stated, “The aim of this project is to support the multiple and varied anti-violence efforts across the region by making accurate data about gender-based violence in the Caribbean available to both activists and the general public. It’s time for a shift in the way we talk about violence against women and girls in the region. Gender-based violence is complex and multi-faceted. We want to show violence in its complexity and also demonstrate why gender equality is important for women and men, boys and girls.”

The Eye2Eye project beat out hundreds of others from across the world to receive a grant from the FRIDA Young Feminist Fund. FRIDA funds feminist activism by young women and transgender persons across the globe. The 2013 grantees hail from Trinidad & Tobago, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia, Romania, Burundi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Vietnam. Eye2Eye is the only multi-country project to receive funding.

The project will be launched on November 25 in all countries where the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network has membership and will be rolled out in the upcoming months. “The project is designed as one in which everyone can participate. CatchAFyah members will work with local activists to lead community projects and discussions informed by evidence and stories from the Caribbean. It is a project that can be scaled up and we welcome collaboration with women’s and men’s organisations, international organisations, community groups and churches,” Jacobs noted.

CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network comprises of over 25 feminist and LGBT rights advocates and organisations from the Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti.

We’re Excited About Online Caribbean Feminist Media

Check out these two new Caribbean online feminist media resources:

Air me Now

Air Me Now is a brand new live to air show that debuted on YouTube on June 27, 2013. It is a show for Caribbean women, by Caribbean women, produced by Skeptically Speaking. Moderated by Alison Irvine of Jamaica, the panel of women includes Joy Holloway-D’avilar of Barbados, Lisa M. Shoman of Belize, and Sharon Smith and Angeline Jackson, both of Jamaica.

Bimonthly, you can expect lively discussions on such topics like feminism, sexuality, reproductive rights, human rights, politics, domestic violence, and any and all issues that affect Caribbean women.

The 10th Caribbean Institute in Gender & Development Tumblr

Visit the tumblr of the Caribbean Institute in Gender & Development for a visual introduction to Caribbean feminism and to learn more about the programme.


Missed the #catchafyah #streetharassment tweet up?

Missed the #catchafyah #streetharassment tweet up?

No worries! Check out the link for the highlights. 

What stood out for me was the recognition that street harassment is often the gateway for other forms of violence against women & girls, that it has become normalised as a rite of passage for girls & that we can intervene in the very places where this takes place with street theatre which reflects all the issues discussed!