Women’s Voice and Leadership–Caribbean – January 2024

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Gesiye Souza-Okpofabri

New Horizons for the Caribbean

Dear Readers, 

We’ve started another year with our sights set on new horizons and possibilities. Part of any good forward-facing strategy involves looking back and reflecting on the full journey that brings us to this moment. Much like the new year, a change in the calendar reminds us that what we plan for tomorrow is written today. In this edition of the Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean (WVL–Caribbean) Newsletter, we share our excitement over new horizons, as we go back and reach forward in tandem, with anticipation for the journey ahead. 

March 2024 marks the official end of the first installation of the WVL–Caribbean project, marking the conclusion of five years of implementation. We celebrate the project’s ending as an opportunity to reflect on three years of grantmaking in the region, and an additional two years building the framework for the Equality Fund and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice to make a seminal contribution to the women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights movements in the Caribbean. We celebrate this ending with anticipation of an extension, as announced by the Government of Canada in 2023, and further shared in the “Next Steps’’ section of this edition. 

With new possibilities come change and opportunity. We arrive in 2024 having cemented commitments to women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights organizations through the extension of additional years of grantmaking. Sixteen Caribbean organizations were renewed by the Equality Fund and eight organizations were renewed by the Astraea Foundation, entering long-term commitments that promise to contribute to the viability and sustainability of the organizations and the communities they serve. Not only will we continue to extend flexible funding, but we will also step into opportunities to build solidarity and networking while supporting the work of building coalitions and alliances that are centring the issues of the movements. In the “More than Grantmaking” section of this Newsletter, we share our efforts to continue to invest in strategy, organizational resilience, and impact. The “Voices of Caribbean Women” section shares the successes of grassroots organizations leading this important work. 

Not all pathways to 2024 have been straightforward and well-lit. It has been a challenging road to navigate, riddled with global health crises, compounded by economic downturns, environmental crises, and political conflict. For many, this path faded to black. As we take stock and reflect, a new year also signals the necessity to prepare for new losses and new, complex realities. The MEL Section below highlights our effort to support women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations through a pilot of extending responsive grants, training, and safe space accompaniment for all organizations of the WVL–Caribbean cohort as they worked through the COVID-19 pandemic. This piece reveals that although our vision and goals may be full of hope and promise, systems of change are guaranteed to throw us curves, and these curves are sure to bear a significant impact on our abilities to centre care and wellbeing.  As feminist funders, we can meet these moments with Radical Love as our compass.  

As a result, we enter 2024 with our feminist values at the core of our every intervention. We continue to champion the extension of funding that is responsive to the needs of the movements. We position ourselves to be accountable and will pursue opportunities to learn, grow, and share. We will also look towards the future with a spirit of deeper, broader engagement. This means we intend to take the stories of Caribbean women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations to the globe and back. In doing so, we expect to return with opportunities for cross-movement building, for the formation of intersectional connections, and for the meaningful extension of support to civil society for leading a change agenda that advances the lives of all. 

We hope you enjoy this read, and look forward to continuing to journey with you. 

In solidarity,

Neish, Tamara, Alessandra, Andrea, Kristina, Karima

The WVL–Caribbean Team

Next Steps for the WVL–Caribbean Project

As women’s funds grounded in feminist values, the Equality Fund and the Astraea Foundation are committed to providing long-term, flexible funding to women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations around the world. We partner with these organizations over the long term because we recognize that meaningful change is not linear and takes time. We provide flexible funding, including core funding. 

This manner and type of funding enable the organizations we support to self-determine their agendas, respond to changes in contexts, seize unanticipated opportunities, cover their operating costs, and invest funds where they are most needed. We know by experience that this type of funding has a transformative effect on organizations’ internal capacity, which in turn enables them to strengthen the impact of their external social change work.

The Equality Fund and the Astraea Foundation jointly provided flexible funding to women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations across the Caribbean during the past three years, thanks to the support of the Government of Canada, through WVL–Caribbean. This project revolves around two other main components in addition to multi-year funding and responsive funding–capacity strengthening and networking and alliance building. 

In 2023, the Government of Canada announced that it would renew and expand its WVL program globally. We are very encouraged by this announcement, as it signals ongoing bilateral support towards long-term and flexible funding for Global South feminist organizations meeting the needs of communities at the grassroots. This is particularly relevant for the Caribbean–a region that has been historically underfunded, where short-term and project-based funding is the most common form of funding available. In addition, the Caribbean remains one of the few regions in the world without a dedicated feminist fund. 

Through the WVL–Caribbean project, we aimed to contribute to the discourse and advance concrete steps to explore the feasibility of creating a Caribbean fund for gender justice. However, this research and most of the implementation period of WVL–Caribbean took place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the multiple impacts of the pandemic on our capacity-strengthening and networking and alliance-building initiatives was the inability to bring people together, face-to-face.

Without denying the benefits of virtual convenings, such as the possibility to bring more people together across broader geographies, the power of in-person, face-to-face convenings cannot be matched by any virtual modality. While journeying through the pandemic we learned and re-learned that in-person connection and exchange are critical to fostering strong, deep connections between individuals and organizations.  

It is in this context that the Equality Fund and the Astraea Foundation have applied to the Government of Canada for the opportunity to extend the WVL–Caribbean project for an additional year. Our desire for the next phase of work is to specifically create more spaces for women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations to come together to build solidarity, share political space, and further build the scholarship on the importance and impact of feminist funding. This is key to strong movements and organizations that work together for the achievement of transformative change for the greater good. It is also key to coalition building and policy formation, as activists meet to strategize and plan together. 

Through this extension, we will reflect on five years of implementation of the WVL–Caribbean project and seek lessons learned from the experiences of women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights organizations shifting power and leading change. Through diving deeper into our learning and impact work (often known as monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning) we will reflect on our contributions to movement-building as women’s funds ourselves, and as part of a larger feminist funding ecosystem. We will convene partners in support of their solidarity-building work, and extend funding for women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights organizations to partner nationally, regionally, and globally to advance their shared political agendas, such as tackling the climate crisis and ending violence against women. 

As a result, this extension would advance our work in the Caribbean around the two feminist pillars of movement and solidarity-building and learning and impact.

This means increased opportunities for grantee partners to build relationships, engage in mutual learning and collective action to address shared challenges and advance work at the country, regional and/or global level. It also means more opportunities for feminist networks and coalitions to connect and share movement strategies and learning to strengthen the impact of collective action. This contributes to grantee partners participating in important thematic, geographical, and issue-based conferences and convenings. It also provides the opportunity for us to help share their stories in the pursuit of more and greater funding for their work and the Caribbean region. 

Through this extension, we look forward to the continued support of the Government of Canada for women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights movement-building in 2024. Their agendas intersect with other social justice issues, and collectively, they advance the fulfillment of human rights across the Caribbean and throughout the globe. 

More than Grantmaking–A Feminist Approach to Capacity Strengthening

While grantmaking (both multi-year and responsive) was at the centre of WVL–Caribbean, it was inextricably linked to our work in capacity-strengthening, networking and alliance building, and learning and impact, or what we like to call “Grantmaking+ Accompaniment” (Grants+). Grants+ is a systemic approach that leads to success and a much more profound impact. By combining grantmaking with capacity strengthening, networking and alliance building, and monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning, these components work together in a positive feedback loop, reinforcing and potentiating each other. 

In the second half of 2023, the WVL–Caribbean project offered its last two all-cohort capacity-strengthening offerings. These offerings focused on the vision and sustainability of women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights organizations and on strategies for prioritizing their wellness and healing justice. The WVL–Caribbean cohort of grantee partners prioritized these two areas of growth as part of a series of self-assessment exercises conducted at the beginning of the project and at the disbursement of the third year of annual funding. They also benefited from capacity-strengthening offerings outside of the project, such as the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Storytelling webinar that the Equality Fund put together for all of its grantee partners under its Catalyze stream of funding.

The Visioning and Sustainability training series, led by Nadine Lewis-Agard and S. Faye Gomez-Ferdinandus, consisted of five group sessions and additional one-on-one coaching sessions with grantee partners. The main aim of this training was to build grantee partners’ capacity to create a workable and sustainable strategic vision. 

As partners worked on and shared their draft visions, this learning space provided opportunities for peer-to-peer exchange. Grantee partners made it very clear that they were eager to connect, and this training enabled collaboration among some organizations that they committed to take beyond the training, and we look forward to supporting this networking and alliance-building work.

WVL–Caribbean grantee partners also benefited from a Wellness and Healing Justice Safe Space, led by Robyn Charlery-White and HERStoire Collective. The safe space encompassed six group sessions and additional one-on-one coaching sessions, creating a safe space where grantee partners could freely share with peers, engage in self-reflection, and receive empathetic psychosocial support. Through these sessions, partners deepened and strengthened their knowledge of holistic wellness and healing justice, including the introduction of practical tools for radical resistance, healing, and holistic wellness. 

The wellness and healing justice safe space was a component of a holistic and multi-pronged approach to centre healing justice for women, girls, and gender-diverse people. It was complementary to the wellness grants, which were offered to all 26 grantee partners of WVL–Caribbean to implement strategies and activities to address various dimensions of wellness and contribute to overall organizational resilience. For more details on the WVL–Caribbean’s pilot to centre wellness and healing justice, please see the #MELMagic feature of this Newsletter!

When Climate Justice Meets Gender Justice

It is no news to anyone that the Caribbean region is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The region as a whole has been very vocal about this, with Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, being one of the most visible voices in the international arena. The science behind the high vulnerability of the region cannot be clearer, and it does not lie. The region has been and continues to be a witness of more frequent and stronger storms, floods and droughts, rising sea levels, an accelerated loss of biodiversity, particularly in the marine biome, and the multidimensional impact that all of this has in Caribbean societies.

Something that is not as clear to everyone is the correlation between climate change and gender inequality. Over time it has become evident that the two share the same root causes, as a result of a world dominated by patriarchal societies, defined by harmful power dynamics, gender norms, gender roles, and other systems of oppression such as capitalism and new forms of colonialism. What this means is that all of those who are already oppressed, vulnerable, and disadvantaged by Caribbean societies, are disproportionately affected by climate change. This includes women and girls in all of their diversity, and particularly those facing additional forms of oppression on the grounds of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and others. 

And this brings us to the work of our grantee partners in the Caribbean. They get it and their work is a clear reflection of this. Whether they are involved in awareness raising and advocacy or providing key services and promoting alternative—more sustainable—ways of making a living, they are doing so in a way that is intersectional and that recognizes that gender justice and climate justice go hand in hand. In a recent statement, which we encourage everyone to read, Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia beautifully pointed out the inextricable link between gender-based violence and climate change, sharing,

 “To truly combat the storms that assail us, we must recognize the inseparable ties between the violence inflicted on our planet and the violence faced by women and children. Only by addressing both can we hope to build a future where everyone can thrive.”

Spaces such as the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) and the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which will take place in Antigua and Barbuda, are important for many reasons. Driving attention to the importance of the intersectional work that is already happening in the ground, led by women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations, is one of those reasons. So is the need to diverge financial resources to actively support this work and the organizations behind it, in the form of multi-year, flexible funding, including core funding. We encourage you to read the recently released policy brief on climate finance jointly produced by Mama Cash and the Equality Fund.

Amplifying Caribbean Women’s Voices

Growing Minds, Cultivating Futures

Helen’s Daughters‘ mandate focuses on creating opportunities for women in agriculture, bolstering food security, combating the Caribbean food import bill and ending cycles of poverty within rural communities. To ensure these efforts are not in vain, the organization regularly and actively engages young minds, introduces them to the value of agriculture, and demystifies any predispositions toward the industry. We encourage you to learn more about the work that Helen’s Daughters is doing to engage young minds across the Caribbean and support their interests in agriculture.

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Celebrating 10 Years of Support for LGBT-Formed Families in Belize

On October 13th, 2023, Our Circle celebrated its 10th anniversary:10 years of advancing legal and lived equality for LGBT families, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change. To honor this important milestone, the organization took some time to look back and reflect on their beginnings and their impressive trajectory. To learn more about Our Circle and their exciting journey, click here.

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Saint Lucia’s Domestic Violence Act–Key Provisions

The passage of the Domestic Violence Act by the Government of Saint Lucia on March 8th, 2022, following 11 years of dedicated advocacy by Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, marked a significant milestone in the country’s commitment to addressing and preventing domestic violence. In this short article, Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia brings to light key provisions of this important legislation and how these can translate into a safer and more inclusive society.

Decriminalization in the Caribbean–The Ongoing Inevitability of Queer Liberation 

“Within the past decade, there have been massive strides in the decriminalisation of SOGIESC…it seems like only a matter of time until the rest of the Caribbean follows suit.”-Stephanie Leitch, Advisor to the WVL–Caribbean project. 

In this piece, Leitch shares some of the wonderful work that she is doing at the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World), particularly as it relates to the “Global LGBT Decriminalisation by 2030” project, which expands on the definition of decriminalization and aims to change hearts and minds. To learn more about her work and this project, click here.

Image of person wearing a red shirt with white text that reads my marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard

Forty Years Challenging Systemic Inequalities, Advocating for Women’s Rights, and Creating Pathways for Community Development.

On March 8, 2023, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) celebrated its 40th anniversary. The organization is a beacon of advocacy and empowerment, tracing its roots to Jamaica’s vibrant activism. In these past 40 years, WROC has become a driving force in challenging systemic inequalities, advocating for women’s rights, and creating pathways for community development. To learn more about WROC’s rich history and legacy, in their own words, click here.

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Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Magic– Wellness Learning Report

WVL–Caribbean piloted an approach to invest in and center healing justice for women, girls and gender-diverse people at the forefront of the women’s rights and gender equality movement in the Caribbean. The Equality Fund and the Astraea Foundation, as co-implementers of WVL–Caribbean and as women’s funds, both share a commitment to prioritizing and resourcing the well-being and collective care of activists and organizations at the heart of the feminist movement.

During, and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, our grantee partners shared their experiences of burnout and fatigue. In acknowledgement of this situation and the fact that not all caregivers know how to receive care, and may require support in order to commence that journey, WVL–Caribbean provided a wellness and healing justice safe space, coupled with wellness grants that were disbursed to all 26 grantee partners in this cohort. This enabled organizations to pause and reflect, deepen their knowledge of wellness and healing justice practices, implement a variety of supportive measures, and develop collective care strategies to enhance their organizational resilience.

The outcome of this pilot was overwhelmingly positive, with grantee partners expressing that this support assisted in reducing feelings of overwhelm and burnout, and renewed their motivation to continue their advocacy, programming and service delivery.

We are currently working on a Wellness Learning Report that shares reflections from grantee partners who received these grants, and what this support meant to their organizations. It outlines key learnings and recommendations for funders and other entities on the importance of centering collective care and healing justice. Please stay tuned to the Equality Fund website and social media platforms for the exciting release of the Wellness Learning Report!

Canada in the Caribbean–Recognizing Accomplishments in the Pursuit of Gender Equality in Jamaica

On November 2, 2023, for the very first time, the High Commission of Canada in Jamaica held a Gender Equality Awards Gala, in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments in the pursuit of gender equality in Jamaica. The High Commission received 50 nominations across 10 categories, with two categories selected internally by their team. Twelve awards were presented to individuals and organizations for their exceptional efforts in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. We applaud the efforts of all of those who were presented with awards and those who may not have received an award but are also making important contributions towards a more equal Jamaica. We also applaud the efforts of the High Commision in championing gender equality and recognizing the important work being done in this regard.

WVL-Caribbean was one of the several awardees recognized for their impactful contributions, receiving the BIG Impact award for Canada’s International Assistance Project, for its concrete and impactful results in promoting gender equality. All five WVL-Caribbean grantee partners based in Jamaica—Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities (CariFLAGS); Eve for Life; Jamaica SW Coalition; Women’s Empowerment for Change (WE-Change); and Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC)—were recognized for their outstanding commitment and impactful results in advancing gender equality.

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WVL-Caribbean grantee partner, Eve for Life, was also among the awardees, receiving the Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response award for their impactful work in addressing gender-based violence and providing support for victims. Joy Crawford, co-founder of Eve for Life, received an individual award for her long-time service, passion and dedication to the work of reducing gender-based violence. Linnette Vassell, one of WROC’s founding members, was also presented with the Lifetime Achievement award for her dedicated and sustained commitment to gender equality.

In the words of Emina Tudakovic, High Commissioner of Canada in Jamaica:

‘‘In an increasingly interconnected world, Canada is committed to collaborating with Jamaica to enhance its capacity to promote gender equality across all sectors. We take pride in acknowledging these trailblazers of gender equality and extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the remarkable awardees here today. We eagerly anticipate the continuation of our partnership with you.”

Travel Across the Caribbean and Discover Stories of Feminist Activism

This past year, we invited you to travel across the Caribbean with us as we launched our new podcast Under The Sycamore Tree. Under the Sycamore Tree is a limited series Caribbean, feminist, archival podcast that documents women and LGBTQI+ led organizations across eight Caribbean countries. The conversations are insightful, intimate, and multigenerational, with each episode focusing on topics ranging from eldership to legislative changes to queer families.

If you listened to the podcast, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Caribbean feminisms are powerful, intersectional, and rising. This podcast shares their stories with the world.

Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean is a partnership among the Equality Fund and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice to resource the leadership and transformative agendas of women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organizations in the Caribbean region. It is funded by the Government of Canada.

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