Celebrating the history—and future—of feminist movements in the Caribbean

October 27, 2021

As we honour Women’s History Month, we are taking time to celebrate the history and power of feminist movements in the Caribbean. This month and every month of the year, we shine a spotlight on the radical thinking, collective vision, and deep wisdom these movements are bringing to their work and to the world. 

We caught up with two amazing leaders Peggy Antrobus, former MATCH Fund Board member, and Amina Doherty, Director of the Equality Fund’s Women’s Voice and Leadership — Caribbean project, to share more.

 

As we celebrate women’s history month, what is inspiring you about the history of feminist movements in the Caribbean?

Peggy: Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to remember the Caribbean women who contributed to building our societies. Over the years, these have included labour leaders like Elma Francois and Clotill Walcott; political activists like Amy Garvey; housewives like Poolbassie, nicknamed “Naidu” (who in the 1930s exposed the sexual abuse of girls by white plantation officials); teachers, lawyers, and other professionals who created new knowledge while opening doors for more women in these fields; diplomats like Lucille Mathurin Mair and Nita Barrow making their mark at the international level; and most recently Andaiye, teacher, activist and an inspiration for us all.  

We remember these—and so many nameless others—who contributed to the struggle for social justice, focusing on women’s rights, and making a difference in their communities. 

 

What wisdom, perspectives, and lessons do these movements hold for the world?

Peggy: These movements teach us that the struggle for justice is continuing—a relay race rather than a sprint, and that each generation must make it their own with new leadership.  They tell us that socioeconomic, cultural, political and ecological issues are interconnected and that, even as you work on a single issue, you must see its connection to other issues and work at building alliances and coalitions.  

This requires an analysis of power and an understanding of how the various forces work together to reinforce each other. It requires strategies for challenging and overcoming power structures. These movements tell us that there are personal risks for those who challenge the status quo, but there are also rewards: the solidarity and satisfaction that come with engagement in change processes. They remind us that building trust is critical, and that self-care is essential.

 

What three words would you use to describe Caribbean feminisms? 

Amina: Caribbean feminists and feminisms come from a rich, radical, and deeply transgressive tradition. 

I think of the contributions of stalwarts of our movement such as Guyanese grassroots activist Andaiye; Grendian feminist scholar Eudine Barriteau; Peggy Antrobus; and many of my own generation such as Jamaican feminists Ayesha Constable and Jhannel Tomlinson who are mobilizing around climate justice working alongside feminists in Antigua and Barbuda such as Nneka Nicholas and Sarah-Anne Gresham. These are incredible young leaders who are igniting these discussions over digital space. I think of incredibly brave and resilient LGBTIQ leaders creating space through organizations like WE-Change, TransWave and ECADE and the brilliance of feminist educators such as Angelique V. Nixon in the Bahamas, and Tonya Haynes in Barbados, all of whom are deeply involved in knowledge production and centering the lives of everyday people. And with all of these examples, I am reminded of the Jamaican saying ‘we likkle, but we tallawah!’ Caribbean feminists are political and deeply invested in transforming our small region with big dreams and even bigger actions. 

 

How can funders support Caribbean feminist movements? What does it look like for a funder to show up with solidarity?

Amina: For far too long, Caribbean feminist movements have been sorely underfunded. This has had significant implications on the ways that Caribbean feminist movements have been able to organize and sustain their work.  Through the WVL-Caribbean project, the Equality Fund and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice are committed to providing to our partners with multi-year core support grants. This enables our grantee partners to both carry out the important work they are doing and do basic things like pay staff, have space to carry out activities, and ‘keep the lights on’.

Philanthropic solidarity with partners means engaging in a thoughtful approach guided by our shared Feminist Funding Principles and practices. It means trusting partners, and being there for the long haul with the recognition that social change work is not linear and it takes time. 

 

What excites you the most about the future of this work?

Peggy: I am excited about a new generation of social justice activists who may not use the word feminist, but who act from feminist principles and toward feminist goals. I know that the enormous and existential challenges of today will undoubtedly call forth new leadership capable of addressing them, drawing on the experiences of the past, and with the resources needed.

Amina: I am excited about the ways that relationships are deepening around the region— and specifically the ways that movement building is happening in more intersectional ways. 

* * *

Learn more about the Equality Fund’s work with women’s and LGBTIQ rights organizations and movements in the Caribbean.

 

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