Alicia Haynes is a proud human rights advocate and feminist who is passionate about not only the rights of women and girls but of all vulnerable groups and minorities which encompass the sphere of feminism.
But she is adamant that people need to get the term ‘feminism’ right. She explained that feminism is about acknowledging that some people and groups have been marginalized and oppressed by the systems put in place by society.
“We stereotype a feminist as this man-hating woman that wants to take superior positions, etc. But men have taken over the conversation for so long, I don’t see why it’s an issue for women to voice the issues that concern them,” Haynes told TODAY’s Woman.
Her passion for advocacy and gender studies was ignited during her undergraduate years at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, where she studied Literatures in English and discovered a plethora of electives in gender that she could take. She was then encouraged by a professor to pursue a Master’s Degree in Sexual Dissidence in the United Kingdom (UK).
“During my Master’s, I was able to get a gauge on how I could analyze interactions on social media platforms and interpret them in terms of how cultural values are portrayed — masculinity, femininity, how people take on these types of gender identities that are not only sometimes reminiscent of cultural values that we uphold, but also the absences of those types of identities,” she explained.
“Sometimes the identity people have online is not always the identity they take on in public spheres. There are still these types of heteronormative values that are projected, especially in the Caribbean society, such as ideas on how women should behave, men as dominant and women as secondary, and if women don’t abide by certain rules, they are seen as too sexual. Social media is a wealth of information, a wealth of analysis, and I am interested in it because a lot of research in the Caribbean hasn’t been done in the cybercultures.”
While in the UK, Haynes also worked with an organization called Not Buying It, which was charged with dismantling degrading gender norms in British newspapers. She recalled that some newspapers published sexual ads with females who appeared to be women but were actually underaged girls.
The secondary school teacher, who is now back at UWI pursuing an M.Phil/Ph.D in Gender and Development Studies, shared that she was always aware of injustices in society and how people who do not necessarily fit the heterosexual norms were treated.
“Sexual dissidence stands for sexuality that doesn’t really fit within the norm. So, even if we are thinking about women that identify as heterosexual, when these women don’t fit the ideal, as in wanting to be in a nuclear family and these types of practices in Caribbean society . . . . If you think of Caribbean society, most of our family units are headed by women. But we still value this idea of men being the breadwinners, and that creates so many problems in and of itself. So we displace women even though they are filling these dominant positions in their households,” she contended.
“We displace them because we hold to these ideals that have been handed down by colonialism. If we could actually see people, regardless of their gender and sexuality, as just people I think we would be able to solve so many of our injustices in society and not have this need to control who people are and what they reflect, depending on the situation.”
Haynes told TODAY’s Woman that she is raising her daughter to be a feminist, too, and she models the types of behaviours and values that she would like to see her daughter emulate.
“I am very, very intentional about the types of ideas that I present to her. I teach her a lot about boundaries, consent, and exploring through play. I have conversations with her. For example, in Barbados, we have this culture where we expect that children should hug adults whenever the adults want to hug or kiss them, etc. I am very conscious of parenting her and making sure that I do the process of unlearning myself, because sometimes we don’t recognize how much gender is ingrained in us, in terms of these ideologies. So, sometimes you also have to confront yourself and confront the assumptions that I may hold as a person and be cautious that I don’t pass on those biases to her,” she asserted.
Haynes also uses her advocacy platform to reach the girls at the school in which she teaches. Using her experience of being pregnant when she started her Master’s programme in the UK, she encourages and inspires her students not to let societal norms pressure them into falling behind. Citing teenage pregnancy as an area that is heavily stigmatized, she insisted that girls can still take advantage of educational opportunities.
Due to COVID-19, Haynes is unable to attend in-person seminars, but she is grateful, nonetheless, to have an online platform so that the education can continue. However, she acknowledged that not everyone may be privileged enough to have Internet connectivity to access these online platforms.
She shared that she works closely with fellow feminist and project coordinator, Leigh-Ann Worrell at the Nita Barrow Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI to host “safe spaces” to discuss gender-related issues online.
Haynes feels strongly about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. She pointed to instances where women may be financially dependent on men who are not working due to the current economic situation.
“Where a woman may be looking for that relief when he is out at work . . . and now they are situated in a household together for this extended period of time, then [there are] frustrations in terms of not knowing when you are going to get the next meal on the table.
“We have to be conscious, in terms of policy as well, to be inclusive of the issues that women are experiencing. Because if we think about how jobs are set up in Barbados, a lot of women, even though they are working in more of the low-income jobs, when things like this pandemic occur they are the first ones to be disadvantaged. And, again, if you think about the dynamics of the Barbadian households, when they are single parents, obviously they are the ones without work. It leaves them vulnerable socially and economically, and more prone to violence,” she explained.
Haynes encouraged all people to be advocates, stressing that advocacy does not only take the form of feminism.
“Even though people may be different in their perspectives and in the way they choose to live their lives, as a collective, once we respect people for the fact that they are human and complex, it would really make a significant change in society,” she said.
This article appears in the 2021 edition of TODAY’s Woman. Read the full publication here.