Twenty-five-year-old feminist and human rights activist Ronelle King is Barbados’ newest and final Queen’s Young Leader.
King is the brain behind the viral social media movement #lifeinleggings, which led to a grassroots organization, Life In Leggings: Caribbean Alliance Against Gender-based Violence Through Education, Empowerment & Community Outreach.
Earlier today King was announced as the 2018 winner of the prestigious award which recognizes incredible young people from around the Commonwealth for the work they do in their communities.
This is the final year of the Queen Young Leaders programme, and thousands of applications were submitted from Commonwealth countries ranging from Canada to Australia to the Oceanic state of Kiribati.
The Queen’s Young Leaders team had the difficult task of choosing the final 60 award winners and runners-up, with King among them.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY prior to the global announcement King said she was “ecstatic” about the news.
“I was and still remain overjoyed that I’m among this group of people who are doing so much for their respective countries. I’m interested in learning more about them and their work as well as making lasting friendships and partnerships,” she said.
King said she applied for the coveted award because she wanted to expand her mind in order to keep advocating for women and girls.
She was also driven by three of her friends who were successful awardees and who, she said, emerged even more confident in their abilities from the yearlong programme.
“As a youth leader with an expanding platform, I believe that I would be doing the women and girls that I’m trying to help a disservice if I didn’t continuously educate myself or seek mentorship on the ways I could be a better activist, director and first responder,” she said.
The entrepreneur revealed that Life in Leggings was based on her own personal experience in seeking access to justice.
It began with a hashtag created as a safe space for women who had experienced sexual harassment and violence, she said.
“I wanted to send a clear and strong message that women deserve to exist in their respective countries free of physical and sexual violence
“#Lifeinleggings was purposely coined to also dispel the myth that only certain types of women are harassed and are deserving of their assault/abuse because of the way they are dressed,” King stated, insisting this could not be further from the truth.
“Respectability politics has never protected us, rather it has a history of silencing us,” she added.
The human rights activist said the hashtag empowered women to speak out on their social media platforms about their experiences, and its success provided documentation of forms of violence against women in the Caribbean.
And though the hashtag started in Barbados it quickly spread across the region, with people from The Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago joining Barbados in a march to take back the streets.
King said it was always her intention to challenge the rape culture in the region.
“The Caribbean has a history of abuse that has been normalized throughout the decades. I felt it was time that we take measures to actually address it and in attempting to do so, we needed to make everyone truly aware of it,” she stated, adding that several national discussions were held about people’s roles in eradicating gender-based violence across the region.
However, she said she was most proud of a partnership with an international law firm “to create an avenue where underage girls who’ve been abused and subsequently re-victimized by the system can receive pro-bono legal consultancy and representation in their attempt to seek justice”.
And this is just the beginning for the feminist, who plans to establish a rape crisis centre, as well as a shelter for abused women and girls “and innovative mechanisms for reporting and collecting data” on gender-based violence.
“I might not even achieve it in my lifetime but I’m trying to lay the groundwork that would essentially lead to its completion,” she said.
King will join winners from across the Commonwealth for a one-week residential programme in the United Kingdom during which she will receive her award from the Queen.