Words From our WVL-Caribbean Grantee Partners

brightly coloured illustration of people
Gesiye Souza-Okpofabri

As part of our final WVL-Caribbean Newsletter, we asked our WVL Grantee partners to share some updates and work with us. Please find their contributions below.

Helen’s Daughters: Growing Minds, Cultivating Futures By: Helen’s Daughters

Helen’s Daughters (HD) is planting seeds to maintain a sustained interest in agriculture. 

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, HD knows that it must regularly and actively engage young minds, introduce them to the value of agriculture, and demystify any predispositions toward the industry. 

During a familiarisation visit to St. Kitts and Nevis in August, Helen’s Daughters officially adopted the Elizabeth Pemberton Primary School in Nevis. The partnership included commissioning a shade house on the school’s property that will promote ideal growing conditions for the school’s garden. The shade house was formally handed over to the school on November 28th, 2023. Now, the school’s already excited students are able to fully immerse themselves in the wonderful world of agriculture! 

Nevis is a small island with just over 11,000 residents. By making agriculture accessible to the young minds at the Elizabeth Pemberton Primary School, HD is also influencing their families and the wider community to take an interest in eating what they grow. After all, who better to influence a family than the kids?

HD continued to appeal to the sensibilities of young children during their first school tour in Saint Lucia. As part of International Rural Women’s Day celebrations in October 2023, the organisation partnered with Trinidadian NGO WhyFarm, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, MASSY Stores St. Lucia and the UN Office for South-South Cooperation and visited four (4) rural schools across Saint Lucia. Hundreds of students were introduced to WhyFarm’s agriculture-themed comic book “AgriMan” and taught about food security and the importance of agriculture through lively and interactive sessions featuring music and dance.

As more young minds find a calling in new and emerging fields, it is always crucial to remind them how they can use technology within the agriculture sector. The school tours were refreshing, and listening to the feedback from the little ones showed that HD is doing something right! 

The organisation plans to continue to engage young minds across the Caribbean and support their interests in agriculture. HD is encouraged by the number of young people visiting the FarmHers Markets’, and is grateful to its members who regularly include their children in all of the organisation’s activities.

Here’s to growing minds and cultivating futures.

Celebrating 10 Years of Support for LGBT-Formed Families in Belize By: Our Circle

Our Circle is an independent non-profit organisation that has been in existence since 2013. Our Circle’s mission statement is “to advance legal and lived equality for LGBT-formed family units, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change.” 

Their vision is to create a Belize where LGBT individuals have the same rights as heterosexual couples. They work towards this goal by providing support to LGBT-formed families through direct service programs such as advocacy and education; building stronger partnerships with other public sector agencies and community-based organisations; and developing new strategies for reaching out to specific populations like youth or seniors, etc.

Our Circle began in Belize City when 3 same-sex couples decided that they wanted more for themselves and their families than being bugged down by health issues  affecting the LGBT community.  At that time, all LGBT interventions were linked to HIV/AIDS and/or Gender Based Violence.  

Paul, Roshawan and Derricia wanted to create a safe environment created for same-sex couples by same-sex couples to be able to give back to the community and show that they were contributing members of the Belizean society.  With that, the concept of Our Circle was created.  

In 2016, with the support of the United Advocacy Belize Movement (UniBAM), an LGBT Dialogue was held during which LGBT persons from different parts of the country agreed that it would be beneficial to come together to provide support to each other around common goals and interests in order to portray visibility and ensure inclusion of LGBT persons in social, legal and political advances. 

Thus, Our Circle was born out of this upcoming togetherness! 

The history of Our Circle provides us with a sense of how far we have come as a nation towards full equality for LGBT individuals. From starting out on small grassroots projects, as Our Circle did back in 2016, to coming together under one roof (and name) such as Our Circle has done these past 10 years. It shows how much can be accomplished when people who care about this cause join forces.

Today, Our Circle still strives to provide LGBT-formed families with all of these benefits through direct service programs such as advocacy & education; strengthening the network of LGBT organisations; building stronger partnerships with other public sector agencies and community-based organisations; and developing new strategies for reaching out to specific populations like youth or seniors, etc. Furthermore, they seek to achieve this goal by continuing their work in four key focus areas: parenting equality, family law reform, policies that ensure fairness in schools and communities across Belize, and economic security initiatives—all meant to improve outcomes for LGBT individuals so they can receive full equality, respect, and dignity.

But as we can see, their work at Our Circle is not done! There are still many who do not understand or recognise how integral families like these can be to a child’s development and well-being during such formative years of life (and beyond). Children need love from parents regardless of gender/ sexuality; they deserve no less than this basic human right. The more support that organisations like Our Circle provide on an individual basis by providing direct services programs, advocacy & education efforts, and other initiatives—the closer Belize will come to achieving full equality for all its citizens including LGBT individuals with their families, regardless of upbringing.

Going forward, Our Circle hopes to continue its work in these same areas with a renewed sense of energy and vigour. They are excited for what they see on the horizon as more people become aware that families like theirs deserve respect just like everyone else. The future is indeed bright for all parents who care about providing an equal opportunity in life regardless of gender or sexuality—and this organisation will be here every step along the way to support them in any way possible.\

As we can see from this brief history lesson, there has been quite a bit of progress over time in terms of LGBT-formed family equality issues throughout our country during recent decades (especially when compared to past eras). However, it also shows us how much more work needs to be done for Belize as a whole to recognise and value all families, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Key Provisions Of The Saint Lucia Domestic Violence Act By: Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia

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 Inc., marks a significant milestone in the country’s commitment to addressing and preventing domestic violence. This legislation represents a crucial step towards fostering a safer and more inclusive society by extending protection to individuals of all genders, acknowledging that domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity. The act serves to rectify historical gaps in legal frameworks, ensuring that the law is comprehensive and responsive to the diverse experiences of those affected by domestic violence. 

One potential benefit of this new and inclusive domestic violence act is the enhanced protection and support it provides to victims, regardless of their gender. By explicitly recognizing and addressing the various forms of abuse that may occur within diverse relationships, the legislation helps break down stereotypes and biases that may have hindered effective legal action in the past. Additionally, the act is likely to contribute to a cultural shift by fostering greater awareness and understanding of domestic violence as a pervasive issue affecting individuals across the gender spectrum. 

Furthermore, the legislation can be seen as a preventive measure, as it not only addresses the aftermath of domestic violence but also emphasizes education and awareness programs to promote healthy relationships and prevent abuse. By promoting a proactive approach to combating domestic violence, the act has the potential to reduce the incidence of abuse over time. Overall, the passage of this inclusive domestic violence act in Saint Lucia reflects a commitment to human rights, equality, and the well-being of all individuals, fostering a society where everyone can live free from the fear of domestic violence. 

The provision in the Domestic Violence Act shifts the responsibility of deciding whether to pursue criminal charges from the victim to the police after a thorough investigation is a significant enhancement in the legal framework for addressing domestic violence. This shift helps alleviate a substantial burden on victims, who often face numerous challenges, including fear, emotional distress, and concerns about retaliation, when deciding whether to initiate legal proceedings against their abusers. By placing this decision in the hands of law enforcement professionals, who are trained to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, the Act acknowledges the complexities involved in such cases and aims to ensure a more objective and informed decision-making process. 

This change in approach is likely to better serve victims of domestic violence by empowering them with a more supportive and nuanced system. It acknowledges that victims may be in vulnerable situations and may not always be in the position to make decisions that could have long-term legal consequences. Law enforcement’s involvement ensures a more standardized and fair evaluation of the evidence, potentially increasing the likelihood of holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. This aspect of the Domestic Violence Act not only eases the emotional burden on victims but also contributes to a more just and effective legal response to domestic violence cases, fostering an environment where victims feel supported, and perpetrators are held accountable through a thorough and impartial process. 

The inclusion of financial and punitive penalties in the Domestic Violence Act, such as fines ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 and up to 5 years of imprisonment for perpetrators who physically harm victims, serves as a robust deterrent against acts of domestic violence. These penalties send a clear message that society takes such offenses seriously and is committed to holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. The prospect of significant fines and imprisonment not only acts as a punitive measure but also serves as a preventive mechanism, dissuading potential abusers and creating a stronger legal deterrent against engaging in violent behavior within domestic relationships. 

Moreover, the provision for financial and punitive penalties provides tangible support for victims by establishing a legal framework that actively punishes those who commit acts of physical harm. This helps validate the experiences of victims, fostering a sense of justice and reinforcing the idea that domestic violence is an intolerable crime. The threat of legal consequences may empower victims to come forward and report abuse, knowing that the law stands firmly on their side. Overall, the inclusion of these penalties not only enhances the legal consequences for perpetrators but also contributes to a societal shift by promoting a culture of zero tolerance for domestic violence, thereby creating a safer environment for victims. 

The provision in the Domestic Violence Act that extends protection to individuals in visiting relationships or those who have children together is a critical component in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and children who may be particularly vulnerable in such circumstances. In visiting relationships, where individuals may not cohabit on a permanent basis, victims may face unique challenges in accessing protection due to the transient nature of their connection with the perpetrator. By explicitly offering protection in these situations, the act ensures that victims in visiting relationships have the same legal recourse and safeguards as those in more traditional domestic arrangements. 

Moreover, the provision addressing individuals who share children together is of paramount importance in protecting the rights of women and children in cases of domestic violence. Recognizing the interconnectedness of family dynamics, the act acknowledges that harm to one parent directly impacts the well-being of the child. By providing protection in these situations, the act aims to break the cycle of violence that can permeate through generations. This provision ensures that children are shielded from the harmful effects of witnessing or experiencing domestic violence and underscores the legal responsibility to create a safe environment for families. 

In summary, the inclusion of protections for individuals in visiting relationships and those with shared children enhances the scope and effectiveness of the Domestic Violence Act, providing critical safeguards for women and children who may be especially vulnerable in diverse family structures. This provision contributes to a more comprehensive and inclusive legal framework, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding the rights and well-being of all individuals, regardless of the specific nature of their domestic arrangements. 

Decriminalisation in the Caribbean–The ongoing inevitability of queer liberation By:Stephanie Leitch, Advisor to the WVL–Caribbean project 

As my last official act as Advisor to the Women’s Voice and Leadership Project, I am happy to share some of the other work I get up to and by that, I mean my day job. As Senior Officer at ILGA World, that is the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, I am responsible for the co-management of the ‘Global LGBT Decriminalisation by 2030’ project, which is being implemented by ILGA World and ILGA North America and the Caribbean (ILGA NAC) in the English-speaking Caribbean.  

Within the past decade, there have been massive strides in the decriminalisation of SOGIESC, with successful constitutional challenges in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago taking the lead, and followed more recently by Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados. And while the trajectory of all these countries is not the same, it seems like only a matter of time until the rest of the Caribbean follows suit. The landmark ‘Mc Ewan’ judgement (2018) or so-called cross-dressing case heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice, set an important precedent for the region, not only around how anti-discrimination and human rights cases are interpreted but also signaled an important movement toward self-determination and away from the imbedded inequalities of our colonial legacy, catalysed in colonial law.  

Based on this environment, ILGA’s project is not focused on law or policymaking, given that the regions’ leaders have already demonstrated their expertise in this area, given the overwhelming success of strategic litigation in the region.  The main purpose of the project is to provide support to civil society that are currently pursuing decriminalisation activities, by providing resources to build their capacity; support their campaigns; increase their engagement with international advocacy spaces like the UN; and to facilitate regional convenings for strategy development and meaningful collaboration between CSOs across the region.  

This pilot also seeks to expand the definition of decriminalisation beyond legal status and will incorporate the development of a post-decrim agenda that takes the socio-cultural context into account, otherwise known as changing hearts and minds. Oftentimes, we think of changing  the law as the pinnacle of change but for many of us doing this work, we know it is only the beginning. 

And so to all our loyal readers, I would like to extend an invitation to any LGBTQI+, women’s rights and feminist organisations operating in the English-speaking Caribbean, to consider reaching out to the ILGA World and NAC teams to learn more about this project and how you can get involved. And if this does not apply to you, tell a friend! 

Until next time, signing off as a proud member of the inaugural Caribbean WVL, Equality Fund advisor team.

Empowering Change: WROC 40 Years of Activism By: WROC

The historical journey of The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) embodies the essence of the radical emancipatory efforts coming out of Jamaica that were centered around women’s rights. WROC is a beacon of advocacy and empowerment, tracing its roots to Jamaica’s vibrant activism, established in the 1980s, WROC emerged during a pivotal era, igniting change and amplifying women’s voices across Jamaica. At its inception, WROC dedicated itself to tackling social and economic injustices faced by women, fostering a space for education, skill-building, and support systems that transcended barriers.

Through grassroots initiatives and unwavering dedication, WROC became a driving force in challenging systemic inequalities, advocating for women’s rights, and creating pathways for community development. WROC distinguishes itself as among the rare organizations deeply embedded within the communities it serves, embodying the essence of black women and girl’s activism by bolstering their capacities within those communities. Economic self-reliance, through skills training and education, became a natural pathway in fighting various levels of oppression and empowering capabilities. 

Moreso, WROC’s activism embodies the essence of intersectionality, weaving together the threads of black feminism and the broader women’s movement in Jamaica. In a society layered with complexities of race, gender, and class, WROC’s approach recognizes the interconnected nature of these identities. By embracing an intersectional lens, WROC has shaped its advocacy to address the unique struggles faced by Jamaican women, acknowledging that the fight for gender equality must also confront racial disparities and economic barriers. 

WROC’s grassroots approach has empowered countless women and girls and contributed significantly to the broader discourse on social justice, inspiring a ripple effect within Jamaica’s activism landscape. The Women’s Voice and Leadership-Caribbean-Equality Fund support has allowed us to extend our advocacy, through feminist training, and capacity building which would support further activism through a gendered and feminist lens. Although WROC’s history and legacy have been remarkable, the future holds equal promise and impact, with the support from WVL proving to be consistently encouraging and promising for the organization’s ongoing endeavours.

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