While I do not want to go too far into the back stories that have triggered today’s article, I do not think it will make sense to readers unless there is context. When the Yuggee Farrell affair broke in St Vincent a number of various players working in the advocacy and activist space convened a meeting hosted here in Barbados. In retrospect, the goals of the meeting might either have been ambitious or opaquely defined. Nevertheless, one of the major hopes was to rekindle a regional mechanism for women and girls advocacy.
I think that the regional approach to women’s issues is an important piece in the entire puzzle of what we are trying to achieve but I realise now that the foundation for it has been significantly weakened by the philosophical and hard issues in women’s and girls advocacy and the unwillingness to tackle them. Every movement needs to see after its own renewal and preservation but where a struggle is protracted there is fatigue, and a tendency to keep working instead of spending time on the connectivity and preservation issues.
This fatigue and lack of attention to the philosophical nurture has now proven costly for the regional women’s movement. I believe to make the movement strong again there has to be a few urgent actions.
The first issue is perhaps going to be the hardest one, the one most uncomfortable and thus the one that will hinder the others from getting attention because we tend to shy away from unpleasant and hard conversations as a society. We have to take stock of the actors in the women’s and girls’ space and then make accommodations. This stock taking is critical to forward movement, but it is an activity that we are not adept at in these societies.
We allow whole departments, whole movements to become dysfunctional and falter because we prefer not to be frank with individuals about their suitability for a task or call them on their biases. Where women do not share a core set of values and principles they obviously cannot work together. In order to rebuild the regional component of the movement, women must get past dismissing other women, before we can ask men to stop dismissing us.
As a spinoff of that activity, we have to define strengths. We have to accept that every woman cannot be, and should not be seen as an ally in the struggle. Participation in a struggle is a calling or choice. It does not necessarily come just by virtue of being a woman or being in high office. There are some people who believe that getting more women into positions of authority and power is the solution to fixing gender issues for all time. I have never subscribed to the view and I continue to be a sceptic that just being born female and advancing in a career will somehow bring value-added benefits to women as a collective.
For one thing, women have never and possibly will never be a seamless coherent collective. For another thing, there are some women who are content to get on with their lives and not pay attention to the issues of women and girls advocacy and equality. Even more complicated than both of those things are women who believe that they are fighting for other women and children but who have not adequately sifted through their own biases and beliefs. They then become gatekeepers in various situations and the women and children in whose names they operate never really see any tangible changes in their day-to-day lives.
At least, as a start, I believe that the expectations that we hold for opinion shapers must be changed. Women in the struggle have to stop giving leaders across the region, both male and female, free passes for bad behaviour. For women who want the endorsement of the women’s movement for political involvement, their personal life and work should speak to involvement and understanding of the issues before we think they will invest in assisting the movement.
The old guard of the feminist movement have chosen diplomacy as their engagement tactic with governments to this point but I think that tactic is old and not giving the returns it needs to give to be seen as viable. Where governments are showing commitment to gender issues and endeavouring to change systems then, at all costs, a working relationship should be maintained. However, where governments have been hostile to change and where there have been numerous infractions by those in power themselves, it makes no sense utilising diplomacy as the primary strategy.
What is the sense of writing letters to CARICOM about gender or fighting abortion legislation, while, at the same time, counting the people we are writing to as allies? If we had allies, we would be getting results via a telephone call, not being made to look inept at every turn. At the crux of gender relations are power relations. I fail to remember a point in history when power was simply given over.
Too many women in the Commonwealth Caribbean remain trapped in cycles of abuse in their intimate relations for us to feel that we have changed things for the masses. I also fear that young women have not been engaged sufficiently to provide a healthy succession plan for the work done. The convening of the second meeting of the regional women’s movement is stuttering. I almost want to chalk it up to a waste of time and yet, at some level, I remain hopeful.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)