Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean Special Edition

Illustration: Sonaksha Iyengar

Cultivating a Space of Learning, Connection, and Healing

Dear Readers, 

We’ve got so much exciting news to share that we are sending this special edition! Thanks again for being such a powerful part of our community. We are so inspired by our shared momentum.

September brought a magical and meaningful milestone for our community when the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (Astraea) and Equality Fund team executed the Caribbean CommsLabs. The CommsLabs provided a participatory space for  Caribbean-based activists (including all 26 WVL–Caribbean grantee partners!) to share and learn secure, sustainable, and holistic media and communications strategies; strengthen digital security; and amplify their impact through the use of technology in repressive contexts.  Grantee partners spent the week in one of the two hubs created for the purpose of this event (Jamaica and Barbados) and were also linked through a ‘virtual’ hub. Grantee partners engaged in movement strengthening through authentic partnership building, innovative and ancestral practices, as well as strategy development and skills-building. 

Considering this was also the first convening of all the grantee partners since the start of the WVL–Caribbean project, it was imperative that the week together went beyond the traditional framework of workshops and conferences. Healing justice is one of the core values and organising principles of CommsLabs and it was woven into the core design and programming. In the words of Keithlin Caroo, founder of Helen’s Daughters in Saint Lucia:

CommsLabs was different because at the end of the day it wasn’t just business only, it was a sisterhood of women and like-minded individuals working in similar spaces, all of whom are agents of change. This week provided a good reset but also provided a great space to meet peers. This was really important since we don’t typically have a space to actually meet peers in the Caribbean, feminist space to learn from each other, to network and to reset with one another.

Across the gatherings, it became abundantly clear that in order for our grassroots activists to continue their work as changemakers, they also required a space to pause, reset and feel uplifted by their community. Learning and growing together goes hand in hand with moments of pause and reflection. We were elated to see our grantee partners truly engage not only during the formal conference space but as they let loose through song and dance in a true manifestation of the spirit and joy elicited during the convening. 

The world is hard as is, and the work that our grantee partners do every day is even more difficult. So it was our honour to provide this much-needed space—one that was intentionally cultivated and led by an immensely talented group of MC’s. As healing justice practitioners from around the region, the MC’s in both Jamaica and Barbados brought their wisdom, experience, and local ancestral practices to ground the convening through collective care. 

We’d like to express our deep gratitude to our facilitators and MC’s across both hubs in Barbados and Jamaica: Stephanie Leitch, Nadine Lewis-Agard, Firhaana Bulbulia Angelique Nixon, Taij Moteelall, Priya Dadlani, Nadeen Spence, Loreto Bravo Munoz (Maka), Alessandra Hereman, Susan Doorson, Robyn C. White, Afia Walking Tree, Shantae Porteous and Shawntol Goodall. 

We continue to be inspired by Caribbean CommsLabs and know that the learnings and alliances built during this time together will fuel our collective work far into the future. 

In solidarity – Tamara, Kristina, Andrea, Meghan, Karima, Raviva, and Neish

Reflections from CommsLabs in Barbados

An Interactive Space With a Strong Emphasis on Healing

Firhanna Bulbulia, a Barbadian gender activist and founder of the Barbados Association of Muslim Ladies (BAML), was one of our extraordinary trainers at our Barbados hub. It was clear from the participants’ enthusiasm that the wisdom and practical advice she shared truly resonated. This is what Firhanna had to say about her time at Caribbean CommsLabs:

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience being a trainer and working with the coordination team at the Caribbean CommsLabs- Barbados Hub!  I facilitated three sessions under the Media and Communications Track focusing on Advocacy to Policy Change, Storytelling, and Online/Offline Movement Building. Through practical activities, participants learnt about navigating the complexities of securing policy change, reclaiming and telling their own stories of their work and impact, and expanding movements through the use of technology and face-to-face engagement.

A key takeaway from the CommsLabs for me is that cultivating a space of learning and connection means we must acknowledge and encourage the sharing of unique experiences participants bring to the space to allow for rich and diverse exchanges. Moreover, healing and the promotion of wellness is a critical component when working with activists, as we seldom prioritise ourselves! 

An Opportunity to Connect With and Learn from Feminist Advocates

For many of our participants at Caribbean CommsLabs, the week of gathering was a much-needed opportunity to pause and reflect. Akola Thompson, founder and managing director of WVL-Caribbean grantee partner “Tamukke Feminist Rising”, shares her experience in her own words:

The recently concluded CommsLab is a stellar example of a transformative conference that is grounded in feminist principles. The opportunity it provided to connect with and learn from feminist advocates from across the region was instrumental in framing strategies for our collective development and path forward. I was particularly happy to be able to connect with my Indigenous sisters from Guyana, as we are often cut off from them given our geography. This space provided the opportunity for us to strategize ways to work together, and to connect on a communal level in a relaxed environment.

Akola also added that the

inclusion of the healing and wellness space was such an important step, as it recognized that the work we are often involved in can be difficult or draining. It centred on wellbeing and community care, and it was that type of intentionality in coordinating and execution of CommsLab that has set it apart. I came back home feeling refreshed and excited about the connections made and the work that would now be possible as a result of it.

Reflections from CommsLabs in Jamaica

Opportunity to Network and Generate New Ideas

As a first-time in-person conference attendee, Shifanie Harilall, Safe Space Manager for WVL-Caribbean grantee partner GuyBow, shares her experience of the importance of comfort and solidarity in creating an atmosphere of learning and enrichment:  

This was my first in-person conference, my first opportunity to network with other activists, and it was my first time flying. The Caribbean CommsLabs is one I will always remember. I felt comfortable, safe, and appreciated. I could dress how I wanted, wear my hair how I liked, use my preferred pronouns, and express and speak in my own words. In my opinion, the environment was positive and felt like I was around family.

All the activities I attended were very informative (Healing Justice; Holistic Feminist Protection; Transformative Storytelling; Accessible Graphic Design; Politics of Tech, Climate Change and  Mitigation, online hub, etc.). The facilitators and their presentations were excellent. I have learned a lot and came back to GuyBow excitingly with new ideas and skills to share and different approaches that we can use to move forward. I am extremely grateful for this awesome opportunity.

The Dynamism of CommsLabs Trainers

An absolute highlight of the Caribbean CommsLabs was the exceptional pool of trainers who brought their whole selves to the space as activists, artists and healers. While most of the trainers resided in the region, for Priya Dadlani of Media Sutra Inc, it was a return home. She shares her reflection which you can read in full, along with that of co-trainer Taij Moteelall here.

A group of about 45 gender justice organizers from all across the Caribbean came together to share, learn from one another, and build towards a world where all women, queer, and trans people of the Global South feel empowered and safe to live their full lives. As someone who is Indo-Guyanese returning to the Caribbean from Diaspora, it was a bit daunting to figure out my place in this space given my fractured connection to my homeland due to ancestral trauma, colonialism, and political turmoil. However, it became quickly clear to me that there is an urgent need for greater solidarity, understanding, checking of privileges, and direct action to take place between those of us in the Diaspora and our siblings still living in our home countries.

Priya further shares

I left the CommsLab not only feeling politically charged up to organise new spaces and actions to end gender-based violence in my community, but I also left with new friendships, connections, and a deepened sense of love and appreciation for my people, country, and ancestors who have paved the way for our defiant resilience.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Magic:

“How we bring activists together is as important as what they come together for”

The Caribbean CommsLabs was intentionally grounded in the work, vision, needs, and expertise of activists from the LBTQI and women’s rights movements in the Caribbean.  Though the Caribbean CommsLabs culminated in an extraordinary event; it was organized through a participatory and iterative process of engaging gender justice activists from across the region for many months. 

The participatory methodology of Commslabs aims to put our feminist values into practice by working to ensure that spaces for activists are driven by them, accessible, holistic, and rooted in collective care practices. The Caribbean CommsLabs were intentionally led by and grounded in the experience of activists through the guidance of a local host, formation of an activist advisory board, co-designed sessions with regional activists, and trainers referred and selected from across the region.

At each step of the process, it was critical for us to reflect, learn, and adapt to ensure that the process was grounded in the region and local expertise and responded to their priorities. We learned so much along the way! We experimented with new ways of organizing in both virtual and in-person spaces, brought on artists to make information more accessible, and listened to needs expressed by activists by providing flexible grants in advance of the event for investments in technical resources or room to dream about projects that could come out of learnings from the event.

Co-Design Sessions

The activist advisory board, local host, and coordination team brought around 20 activists from the region together for a series of virtual Co-Design sessions. The Co-Design sessions were an important opportunity to gather real-time input and feedback. Activists collectively developed an analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing activists in their current work and their hopes and visions for how the CommsLabs can contribute to strengthening their ongoing work and partnerships. 

The Co-Design sessions built ownership of the design process and centred the needs and priorities of women’s rights and LBTIQ organizations in the region. It built on the knowledge and expertise of activists, who are actively involved in and leading strategic advocacy and policy spaces across the region. These activists were among the CommsLabs trainers, establishing a peer-to-peer learning model that resonated strongly with participants.

Flexible Funding

During the Co-Design sessions, we heard a need and desire for additional resources to carry on work from the CommsLabs and address gaps in organizational infrastructure. In the lead-up to the Caribbean CommsLabs, we distributed small grants to provide proactive support for all 26 grantee partners of the WVL-Caribbean to consider what projects they might wish to allocate resources as outputs of the CommsLabs gathering in September. It allowed activists an opportunity to come into the CommsLabs space with an open mind to think beyond the event, and also the possibility of making investments for technological resources or tools related to any of the core themes of the convening in advance of the CommsLabs event. They helped to meet grantee partners’ resource and technology needs, while also helping to facilitate partnership-building around shared advocacy agendas among women’s rights and LBQTI organizations in the Caribbean.

Hybrid Model

Two years into a global pandemic, we knew that getting together in person would no longer be the same. The Activist Advisory Team and Co-Design session participants were eager to connect and share across the region in ways that may not have previously been available while building on the technological advancements that emerged as the world went virtual. We heard in the Co-Design sessions that activists have a ‘real thirst’ to gather in person but also have ongoing concerns about exposure to COVID. With that in mind, we determined that we would have two physical locations (hubs) for activists to gather and one virtual hub to connect the in-person locations. 

This hybrid model created an inclusive and accessible approach to resource sharing and connection building. Participants were introduced to a Caribbean CommsLabs website to connect during the event and beyond. The website includes participant profiles, the week’s agenda of activities, and topic-based chat groups where participants could connect with one another in real-time.

Centering Care

Healing justice is a core element of the CommsLabs methodology. For the first time, we brought on healing justice practitioners not only as trainers but as MCs leading the week, which ensured that it was infused throughout the program and week. The MCs from both hubs worked together prior to the convening and during to create continuity across the in-person spaces, starting and ending each day with grounding practices, establishing alters and reflection spaces, and curating the healing justice spaces that each participant was able to access throughout the convening. This included grounding practices and rituals such as journeys to the sea to honour ancestors and loved ones. 

The Caribbean CommsLabs was also intentional in engaging with Caribbean feminisms, rooting the sessions in the principles of radical love, joy, collective care, anti-oppression, and decolonization. The diversity of ideas, cultures, and faiths of the region were underscored, incorporating everything from Black Feminist Thought, to Indigenous cultural expression, to African song and dance. 

As we continue to reflect on this experience, the Caribbean CommsLabs highlights that it is critical to invest in the process. It is essential to ensure that a space designed for activists is designed by them. As the WVL-Caribbean project plans for in-person and virtual engagements in the future, the methodology that informed the Caribbean CommsLabs will be the standard by which we build upon to create an event that is transformative for our grantee partners and the region as a whole. 

There are more lessons to unpack and learnings to share from the Caribbean CommsLabs.  Please stay tuned for the upcoming learning report, where we will delve deeper into the data and learnings from the evaluation of the Caribbean CommsLabs.

Regional and International News

If Not Now, When? – A Feasibility Study for a Caribbean Fund for Women’s and LGBTQI+ Rights

In addition to facilitating a week of healing and networking for our grantee partners, WVL–Caribbean officially launched the results of the Feasibility Study for a Caribbean Fund for Women’s and LGBTQI+ Rights! This report analyzes the feasibility of establishing a Caribbean fund for gender justice. It expands on traditional notions of feasibility that are often rooted in patriarchal and capitalist notions of worthiness unequally applied across different geographic, gendered, and racialized contexts. This report is a major milestone of the WVL–Caribbean project, which is set to conclude in March 2024. As co-implementing partners, the Equality Fund and Astraea have made significant efforts to ensure the sustainability of the project beyond the established time frame, including through the exploration of next steps toward the establishment of a regional fund that would secure resources for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights organizations. Read our press release here!

The Constitutional Rights of LGBTQI+ Communities Affirmed in St. Kitts and Nevis

Following a similar ruling in Antigua and Barbuda in June 2022, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional rights of the LGBTQI+ community in St. Kitts and Nevis by declaring void sections 56 and 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act, otherwise known as the buggery laws. The ruling held that the referenced sections within the Act criminalises the consensual private sexual acts between adults, thereby contravening the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and protection of personal privacy. 

According to Kenita Placide, Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), “[Of] the seven Caribbean and 34 Commonwealth countries that criminalised same sex intimacy, this is the second to strike down these discriminatory laws in 2022. Our strategy has been multilayered; working with activists on the ground, our colleagues, friends, allies and family. This win is part of the transformative journey to full recognition of LGBTQ persons across the OECS. It is a definitive yes to change, yes to privacy, yes to freedom of expression, and we are happy to be part of this historic moment.” Read ECADE’s entire response here.


Congratulations to The Neish McLean Scholarship Awardees

Congratulations are in order for Alessandra Hereman, Jay T. John, and Leviticus Adeyemi, who have each received a Neish McLean Scholarship to pursue educational opportunities in the Caribbean! This scholarship is made possible by WVL–Caribbean’s very own Neish McLean, a queer, trans-masculine Jamaican who believes in the power of collective and community care. Neish had a simple wish for their birthday: to support the educational advancement of trans and gender non-conforming people in the Caribbean. To that end, he launched a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year with the goal of raising $2500 USD. After less than two weeks, Neish was able to secure enough funds to support three awardees to pursue their dreams and continue their educational journey for the current academic year. The WVL–Caribbean team is immensely proud of Neish and his relentless efforts to uplift and support the transgender community. To continue their efforts and in celebration of Trans Awareness Month, the Neish McLean scholarship fund is accepting donations for its second cycle. All donations are welcome. To support this amazing initiative, please click here to access the GoFundMe link.

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