Crossings

We need to make solidarity communities with the sources of our power, not our victimisation.  M. Jacqui Alexander, Barbados, 2013.

#dearCaribbean contributor, Gabrielle Hosein,  wrote that being an Indian and a feminist in the region is a “risky location” i.e a site of multiple negotiations with “Indianness”, “feminism”, Caribbean belonging and Caribbean feminisms. One member of a thriving Caribbean online feminist community appeared to question just how risky a location this could possibly be given the growing perception that Indo-Caribbean women’s voices were dominating Caribbean feminism. Dominance.  A weighty word, especially for a feminist to throw around.

One brief comment that served to question the legitimacy of Indo-Caribbean feminisms.  I am writing this to understand why some black Caribbean feminists feel threatened by and resentful of Indo-Caribbean women’s exploration of “Indianness” and their claims to both “Caribbean” and “feminism”.  I am not alone in perceiving a need to meditate on these questions. Another black feminist friend messaged me privately to express surprise at the responses to Gabrielle’s article, especially in a space where she expected that we should know better.*  These issues, of course, go beyond a facebook comment. I have also had a student ask, in response to a discussion on the CRGS Special Issue on Indo-Caribbean feminisms why I was not hosting one on black Caribbean feminisms as well. I attended a graduate seminar where a student questioned the equation of Caribbeanness with blackness and as I resisted going on the defensive I understood exactly what she meant when she challenged us to avoid thinking ourselves into tiny boxes.

African-American feminist scholar Jennifer C. Nash questions the construction of black women as the prototypical intersectional subject even as she recognises that intersectionality is a key contribution of Black Feminist Thought developed out of an analysis of black women’s lives:

In painting black women, for example, as wholly oppressed and marginalized, intersectional theory can not attend to variations within black women’s experiences that afford some black women greater privilege, autonomy, and freedom. In troubling the monolithism of ‘black womanhood’, intersectionality could be strategically disloyal to dominant conceptions of black women as ‘the mules of the world’, exploding the tendency of radical projects to elide critical differences within ostensibly marginalized subject positions.

Her analysis resonated with me as I questioned what I saw, in the conversation that unfolded,  as an invocation of  black womanhood as an always already the-most-oppressed-status deployed in this instance to dismiss the experiences of others and retreat from accountability for such a dismissal.  Black women emerge as innocent.

Both Rosanne Kanhai and Rhoda Reddock have very accessible pieces in the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies which historicize and contextualize Caribbean feminist attempts to work across difference in Trinidad. Andaiye of Red Thread talks extensively about their work across race/ethnicity in Guyana in an engaging interview with Kamala Kempadoo. As Gabrielle Hosein noted in the facebook exchange, there are parallels between the male marginalisation discourse which claims that women are illegitimately taking over spaces that rightfully belong to men and the framing of Indo-Caribbean feminism as “dominant”, hypervisible and ultimately usurping both Caribbeanness and feminism.

Beverley Bain argues that Indo-Caribbean feminisms open up spaces for black women too:

A challenge to discourses that have historically positioned Indo-Caribbean women as passive thereby juxtaposing black woman as its aggressive opposite. I think it opens up a space for us as black Caribbean feminists to begin a dialogue around slavery and indentureship and how women in these processes experienced particular forms of violence but resisted, exercised autonomy and how that was usurped under patriarchy, religion and heteronormativity.

Shona Jackson’s Creole Indigeneity demonstrates the ways in which the claims to belonging in the Caribbean of both persons of African and Indian descent are often complicit with Indigenous erasure in the region.  For me, Shona’s observations here provide an opening for black Caribbean feminists to disabuse ourselves of claims to innocence.  It is an invitation to move beyond historically sedimented racialized polarizations.  There are lessons there for all Caribbean feminists. Shona’s work indicates another area where consciousness-raising is necessary, another opportunity to think ourselves out of the tiny boxes that not only stifle us but also oppress others.

Another contributor to what became a rather heated online discussion mentioned, “the dishonest way that we have often dealt with underlying feelings.” This post is an invitation to deal with those underlying feelings in an honest manner.

An opportunity to acknowledge missed understandings.

An invitation to listen again.

As Jacqui Alexander notes, crossings are not undertaken all at once and once and for all.  There are multiple crossings we make as feminists away from and back to defensiveness, across intersecting lines of race, ethnicity, class, privilege, dis/ability, sexuality.  It is important that we commit to make those crossings as many times as we need to and that our communities are there to make those crossings with us. Time and time again.

***

Giving thanks for the sisters who were willing to engage with me even as they disagreed with what i said, how i said it and feared their own words were misunderstood. Thank for making that crossing.

* There were also others who felt the way the post was framed was neutral, represented a matter-of-fact stating that other people perceived Indo-Caribbean feminist voices to be dominant and that the way the post was framed had no bearing on the way in which the discussion unfolded.  

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”.

Best of the 2013 Caribbean Feminist Blogosphere

Travel across the islands and territories of the Caribbean and its diaspora and sample some of the best feminist blogging out there. 

What have Caribbean feminist women and men written about in 2013? Love, fashion, motherhood, being mixed-race, surviving child sexual abuse, healing from sexual assault, racist anti-Haitian citizenship policies in the Dominican Republic and so much more… Have a look!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elmer, 22 year old Belizean youth that comes from a humble yet hard working family. Today it is important for me to share my story with you.

Young Caribbean man breaks the silence on sexual abuse of boys in the region. (Belize)

So, when a man sets his girlfriend on fire, rapes his niece, or gouges out his ex-wife genitals, it is not simply because he cannot control his emotions or resolve conflict well. There are deeply embedded ideas about who owns and who is to be owned, who is in control and who is to be controlled, what makes a ‘real man’, and a woman’s rightful role to shape these encounters. To ignore this is to miss the mark.

Patrice Daniel is back again with more fyah! This time she writes about why the Caribbean is getting it wrong on violence against women. (Barbados)

“Can you live with knowing that you will never have answers about what happened? Is that something you can manage?”

Healing through words: Part one in a series on surviving sexual assault. (Diaspora)

So like my feminism, my politics of adornment are a critical part of how my race, class, gender and sexuality intersect. My feminism is about having the personal freedom to choose how I represent myself. My ability to express myself on my own terms is my attempt to return ‘the gaze,’ to push back, to style myself for myself. As I seek to own and affirmatively claim my identity, my body, my creativity… and ultimately my ‘self’, I feel incredibly powerful and beautiful and free.

Feminism, Fashion and the Politics of Adornment by Amina Doherty. (Nigeria/Antigua & Barbuda)

It’s possible to let your energy, love and time be wasted by those who are not clear what they want for you or those who are trapped in their own games. Such lost investment will only distract you from giving all to what you can most achieve in your path, your heart and your life’s work. Focus on those who most matter and know well why they do.

Forget new year’s resolutions.  What’s on your heart list, life list, fantasy list & balance list? (Trinidad & Tobago)

But it is also true that Caribbean women are not at equal risk of being made to strip, squat, bend over, finger-raped and humiliated at regional border points. We have seen little critical examination of the class and gender dimensions of this case. We might well ask whether there is an unspoken investment in gendered respectability in our rush to celebrate Shanique Myrie as a Caribbean Rosa Parks. As a not insignificant aside, consider the difference between the dominant idea of Rosa Parks we are familiar with, as the diminutive mother of the Civil Rights movement, and the Rosa Parks who was a highly active member of the NAACP and attended meetings of the Communist Party. And fewer of us have heard of Claudette Colvin, told to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks. We should pause to consider whether the fact that Colvin was an unmarried pregnant teenager has anything to do with her story not being widely told.

Alissa Trotz’s Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement delivered at the 20th anniversary conference of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. (Guyana)

In her pain, she was not allowed to belong anywhere. How could she belong when the halves of her were at war? When she was attacked by both sides? It is one thing to be condemned to a particular side because of your skin colour, but it is an entirely different thing to be a refugee in your own country because you do not truly belong to any side.

Sarah Bharrat of Guyana writes about what she calls “The Dougla Defect“, being mixed race in a racially polarised society. (Guyana)

“You said I remind you of the best parts of home. Like a lot of guys, you want to be nurtured but can’t nurture anyone because you barely know how.”

Writing about love from Creative Commess (Trinidad & Tobago)

“Growing up in Barbados, getting pregnant was the worst thing you could do. Not just as a teenager, but anytime before you had secured your place as a DoctorLawyerBankmanager. I’m serious. The Worst Thing.”

Mar the Mongoose blogs about the politics of motherhood. (Barbados)

Similar to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas also deports Haitian migrants regularly and grants very few work permits and rarely (if ever) asylum status, while depending upon the everyday labour of Haitian undocumented migrants. The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance.

Angelique Nixon, writing for Groundation Grenada, looks at human rights, migration and the future of Dominican@s of Haitian descent. (The Bahamas)

Happy New Year!

Leave us a comment with your fav feminist blogs! Let’s grow this list!

See also “Top 10 Must-read Caribbean Feminist Blog posts“, “Caribbean Digital Feminist Activism in a Post-Feminist Age“, “Social Media Strategies for Caribbean Activists“,  and “We’re excited about Online Caribbean Feminist Media.”

Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement

Before you say anything more about what the Shanique Myrie ruling means for CARICOM, why Jamaica should boycott Trinidad & Tobago products or the slaughter of Haitians in the Dominican Republic you should read this article.

It’s the text of the keynote address which Alissa Trotz delivered at the 20th anniversary symposium of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. The title is Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement.

 

Red Thread Launches Grassroots women’s self-help support service for domestic workers, welcomes Guyana’s ratification of ILO Convention #189 recognizing domestic workers as workers

Red Thread welcomes Guyana’s ratification of ILO Convention #189 recognizing domestic workers as workers and launches a grassroots women’s self-help information and support service for domestic workers and other low-waged women workers

Red Thread welcomes Guyana’s ratification of ILO Convention #189 recognizing domestic workers as workers. Guyana is the first country in the region to take this action, which the Caribbean Domestic Workers Network, of which Red Thread is a member, has been lobbying for in its six member states (Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, St Lucia and Guyana). The next step now for Guyana is implementation.

Today we are also announcing our intention to begin a self-help information and support service for domestic workers and other low-waged women workers. Conventions and laws will make no difference in real life unless those whom they are supposed to protect make them live. This is the goal of the new service we are planning, not to provide “expert” advice but to enable those of us who are domestic workers and other low-waged women workers to understand and make use of the laws in our own individual and collective defence. The model will be the same as Red Thread’s drop in/outreach centre for women and children in violent situations, which has led to the formation of a Domestic Violence and Rape Survivors Self-help Group. The two will work in collaboration with each other.

We have already received some training from an official of the TUC in the laws governing wages and conditions of work for low-waged women in Guyana, and on September 7th and 8th held the first in what will be a series of workshops where women from the Red Thread Centre and eight women from communities in Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo will learn not only about the laws but the policies and institutions dealing with labour rights, as well as the rights of domestic workers under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy/Free Movement of Persons.

The decision to launch the new service was timed for September 7th because that date was chosen by the CDWN to honour Clotil Walcott, who was the founder of the National Union of Domestic Employees of Trinidad and Tobago (NUDE) and the grassroots Caribbean woman who did the most to win recognition for domestic workers in Trinidad and Tobago and the region. We chose to set up the service in Clotil’s name and in the name of Cora Belle, another grassroots woman fighter and former domestic worker. Cora, who was a founder member of Red Thread in 1986, died one year ago on September 9th 2012. The two knew each other, because Clotil brought her experience and organizing skills to Guyana as she took them everywhere she thought they could serve the interests of domestic workers. Representing Red Thread at Clotil’s funeral service on November 20, 2007 in Trinidad, Cora spoke to the direct connection between Clotil and us when she said: “Clotil Walcott inspired us even before we met her. It was her work in Trinidad and Tobago campaigning for domestic workers to be recognized as workers that spurred us on to try to organize with domestic workers in Guyana for fairer wages and working conditions. We invited Clotil to come and meet the domestic workers we had started to meet with and she immediately agreed. When she met with the women she told them and us about her experience organizing with domestic workers in Trinidad and Tobago and advised us to organize. Although we failed in that first effort because we did not know how to overcome the fear the women felt about losing their jobs in an economy where jobs for grassroots women were even scarcer than in Trinidad and Tobago, we learned a lot from Clotil that we never forgot. We are using what we learned from her up to now in our campaigning for a living income and affordable access to goods and services for housewives, domestic workers, shop assistants, security guards, bartenders, old age pensioners, women on public assistance – Guyanese women of Indian, African and Amerindian descent who are unwaged and low-waged.”

The Cora & Clotil self-help information and support service for domestic workers and other low-waged women workers will start at the end of the month, the exact date to be announced.

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.