If there is one individual who has taken this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Be Bold For Change, to heart, it is local blogger Ronelle King.
Last November, she took the audacious step of creating the hashtag #lifeinleggings to draw attention to the level of sexual violence women face on a daily basis – a topic not readily discussed in public.
“I would say it was a combination of personal experiences and frustration – my personal experience of being harassed and experiencing sexual assault. So what I did was I decided that I would create a hashtag so that Caribbean women could share their experiences of sexual assault and general sexual violence, to expose the pervasiveness of it in the Caribbean so that we could also form a sense of solidarity from the women participating,” King said.
In no time, the hashtag started trending across the Caribbean as women came forward to share their stories.
“What happened is that you had women who had never met each other, who were reaching out to the women sharing stories, saying ‘thank you for sharing’, ‘thank you for breaking your silence because this is important’ – not just important to take that stance, but important for me because it helped me realize that I wasn’t alone and it helped me break my own silence. And it also showed those who would perpetuate victim-blaming and slut-shaming that the level at which these things do happen, is not the fault of the victims,” King told Barbados TODAY.
#lifeinleggings prompted a conversation in Barbados and across the Caribbean, forcing societies to confront men’s attitudes towards women in the region.
Given the widespread support of the social movement, King has since established a charity, Life in Leggings Caribbean Alliance against Gender-based Violence, which focuses on education, empowerment and community outreach.
One of the charity’s first projects will be a Women’s Solidarity March on Saturday, which will be held simultaneously in six other Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
“Basically, the reason for the march is to create a stepping stone so that the public can be sensitized as to the ways in which women and girls are victimized to gender-based violence; the ways in which the community can come together to help prevent, protect and heal survivors of violence as well.
“Also, so that we as a nation and we as a region can stand in solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence, in memory of the girls and women we’ve lost and to . . . pave a way so that the women and girls who come after us . . . would not have to experience what we experienced,” King said.
The march has received widespread support in the participating countries, and Life in Leggings has been working with several organizations, including the regional coalition of NGOs, Bureaux of Gender Affairs, and the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, ahead of the event.
Another planned project is a workshop to educate men on various issues, including toxic masculinity and male entitlement.
“Because we know that men are the main perpetrators but we don’t really look at the things like how we socialize men; how we socialize men to be aggressive, especially the Caribbean male. So, it’s a deep analysis of things like that so they can have a better understanding of how to basically unlearn those behaviours,” she stated.
King, who describes herself as “a raving feminist”, said she also strives to be a positive role model for her six-year-old daughter.
“My daughter is my life. She is. And [for] me as a mother, it’s also trying to find the balance in raising a strong black girl who will then become a strong black woman. The things that I do set an example for her, so it’s trying to be the best role model that I can be for her,” the self-employed cosmetologist said.
“I believe it’s important that you make the society that you’re left with better for those who will come after you.”