Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean – April 2023  Update

brightly coloured illustration of people
Gesiye Souza-Okpofabri

Dear Readers,

The April 2023 edition of the WVL-Caribbean Newsletter is dedicated to our grantee partners, who are unequivocally the backbone of the WVL-Caribbean project. We have shared some of their stories over the course of the project but the stories already shared merely scratch the surface of the work and impact of these phenomenal organisations. 

Throughout recent political, economical and environmental instabilities at the national, regional and international levels, our grantee partners continue to advocate for, uplift, educate and support their communities. We’ve also seen our grantee partners lean into the concept of wellness, self-care and rest. 

The importance of this cannot be understated since many of our grantee partners work tirelessly with few resources and are often stretched thin across multiple areas of priorities. We applaud the relentless efforts of these organisations and their advocacy work but we also wholeheartedly celebrate when they take time to rest, because rest is radical.

We continue to be inspired by the WVL-Caribbean grantee partners and are honoured to support their work, their teams and their visions at the organisational and community levels. In this edition and as always, we salute you! We also encourage you to

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

Amplifying Caribbean Women’s Voices

Gender Responsive Budgeting in Suriname

Over the last six months, the team at Stichting Projekta has continued to advance legislation and work with women parliamentarians on creating gender-responsive budgeting. Stichting Projekta provided female parliamentarians with guidance on how they could examine the national budget through a gendered lens. One example of this is the team’s successful gender budget analysis of Suriname’s Ministry of Health budget and the distributional effects and impacts of resource allocation on women and men. They noted that “women and men need different things, have specific vulnerabilities, even in terms of the way that some health care issues present themselves (e.g. heart attack symptoms are different in women and men)”. 

To further facilitate robust, gender-responsive budgeting discussions in parliament, the team at Stichting Projekta plan to create accessible guiding briefs for those parliamentarians who wish to raise such issues.  A few examples of the types of questions/suggestions one should consider when conducting gender-responsive budgeting include: 

“Is there a study (that could inform our decisions) to understand the differences between needs, preferences, accessibility, etc. – between men and women in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle?”

“Is it known what barriers women and mothers experience with regard to availability and accessibility of Sexual Reproductive Health?”

How much of the budget has been allocated to the development and implementation of gender-sensitive teaching materials?”

To learn more about the work advanced by Stichting Projekta, visit their Facebook page.

Equality Fund partner Stichting Projekta
The Stichting Projekta team along with other women’s rights organizations reviewing draft legislation

Second Annual Co-Creation Retreat At Helen’s Daughters

In March 2023, Helen’s Daughters came together for their second annual co-creation retreat. The purpose of this retreat was to plan for the year ahead as a collective while taking into consideration the voices of the ‘farmHers’ regarding their own personal goals, desires and aspirations. According to the Founder and Executive Director of Helen’s Daughters, Keithlin Caroo, “many development agencies fall short in impact because they spend lots of money hiring “experts” without involving the persons who benefit from these interventions.” 

Some successes of the last co-creation retreat included: 

  • Launching of Helen’s Daughters’ first annual report
  • Doubling their membership numbers
  • The Helen’s Daughters apprentices holding their first official tour through their apprenticeship farm Project Chocolat from Hotel Chocolat

Keithlin emphasised the importance of a co-design and participatory approach, noting that such processes “give our members a sense of ownership and deepens bonds with everyone involved.”

To remain up to date with the work at Helen’s Daughters, subscribe to their social media platforms.

Equality Fund Helen’s Daughters
Photo by Helen’s Daughters: A FarmHer presenting what she wants to see in the upcoming HD work plan during the Co-Creation Retreat

Ruffling Feathers with Girls of a Feather

 Black background with people sitting on the ground side by side
Photo from Girls of a Feather: Cast members of the Ruffling Feather Web Series – Girls of a Feather

Through the WVL-Caribbean responsive grants, grantee partner Girls of a Feather launched a new web series earlier this year. It is an exciting and thought-provoking five-part docu-series which focuses on Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Saint Lucia. According to Christa Stange, one of the hosts of the series, the aim of this docu-series is to “entertain and inspire while addressing common gender-related issues and misconceptions in the country and creating an inclusive space to share the experiences of girls in Saint Lucia”.

You can watch the first two episodes of the series via GOAF social media platforms – Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

WVL-Caribbean Shout-Outs! 

Throughout the course of the WVL-Caribbean project, this newsletter has transformed into a dynamic space to share grantee partner stories and provide insight into the fantastic work done by them. For this edition, we wanted to provide grantee partners with a space to highlight stand-out individuals in their respective organisations. Learn more about the phenomenal individuals at Girls of a FeatherSweet Water Foundation, and Stichting Projekta:

Girls of a Feather

Two members of Girls of. Feather stand side by side. One is giving the peace sign
Photo by Girls of a Feather: GOAF Programme Coordinator Desyl Dianne Frances and Executive Director – Chelsea Foster

A special shout-out goes to GOAF’s Programmes Coordinator, Desyl Dianne Francis. Dianne has been with the organisation since May 2021 as a Youth Ambassador and is now our Junior Programmes Coordinator, managing the Youth for Gender Equality Network and other mentorship activities. She’s been a great source of encouragement and her positive attitude truly helps keep the organisation afloat during challenging times. She’s passionate about working specifically on sexual and reproductive rights for girls and is always willing to continue learning and growing. 

Sweet Water Foundation

Malaika Brooks-Smith from the shoulders up.
Photo by Sweet Water Foundation:: Malaika Brooks-Smith -Professional yoga therapist and pregnancy, labour and postpartum doula.

Malaika has developed a healing program for child victims of sexual abuse for Sweet Water Foundation’s Under 5 project. The program has been developing over the last year, keeping the psychological healing needs of young children in mind. It comprises both somatic and cognitive elements and once Sweet Water Foundation has trained additional therapists, piloted the program, and rolled it out across the Caribbean, their plan is to supervise and sustain the practice into the long term, and document the progress of the children with whom they work throughout their lifespan. This longitudinal research effort will be the first of its kind in the Caribbean, to work with children at the onset of their traumatic experiences and stay with them throughout their youth, adolescence and into young adulthood, refining and augmenting our healing protocols as we go. 

Stichting Projekta 

A special shout-out is extended to Stichting Projekta’s two colleagues Donita and Soenita who make up Stichting Projekta’s financial department. Hiding behind piles of papers, they form the backbone of the organisation. 

Donita has been working at Stichting Projekta since 1997 as the organisation’s Financial Controller. She patiently explains the accounting rules to and helps find solutions “when our plans are big, but our money is small”.  Soenita is the team’s institutional memory. She has been at Stichting Projekta since its inception in 1993.  She is known for her eye for detail and accuracy, but most of all her dedication and loyalty.

Together they ensure that Stichting Projekta adheres to compliance standards, which helps to build their reputation as a trustworthy organization among partners and donors alike. In the midst of precarious financial economic situations and constantly changing financial and banking policies in Suriname, Donita and Soenita will try to find ways to limit the adverse impact on Stichting Projekta’s work. In these times of uncertainty, they guide the team’s programs and activities, through economic and monetary upheaval. They believe that a financial administration should never be in the spotlight, but should do its work quietly and unassumingly.

 Two people working at desks in an office
Photo by Stichting Projekta: Donita and Soenita hard at work 

Regional and International News 

Surinamese residents take to the streets


Photo credit: Loop News Caribbean

Rising tensions in Suriname came to a boil in February in the form of anti-government demonstrations. On February 17th, 2023, demonstrators took to the streets in protest against the increased costs of living and specifically, the recent termination of state subsidies for fuel and electricity on the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund. Protesters also demanded the resignation of the sitting President, H.E Chandrikapersad Santokhi. Peaceful demonstrations soon devolved into riots and the storming of the National Assembly building. 

Both CARICOM and the UN have issued statements condemning the violence and calling for peaceful dialogue to address the challenges facing the country. Upholding their mandate to amplify women’s voices in policy-making and creating spaces for dialogue, WVL-Caribbean grantee partner Stichting Projekta has also been advocating for constructive and effective dialogue with the sitting government to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions.

WVL-Caribbean Donor Connect!

Visit to Belize 

On January 23rd, 2023, representatives from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), visited Belize to meet and engage with three of our WVL-Caribbean grantee partners: Promoting Empowerment Through Awareness for Lesbian & Bisexual Women (PETAL); Toledo Maya Women’s Council (TMWC), and Productive Organization for Women in Action (POWA). During this visit, the GAC team gained perspectives on how the WVL-Caribbean project has impacted them and the groups they engage with, and how they define the sustainability of their organisations. In the case of POWA, WVL-Caribbean has helped the organisation strengthen its core base, ability to network, and documentation strategies. According to TMWC,  the benefits of the capacity strengthening support they receive from WVL-Caribbean is manifested at the organisational level. They view the sustainability of their organisation as always being able to support the communities, to have women believe in and honour relationships, build trust with each other and their ability to keep girls and mothers’ energy ‘up’, to keep the engagement going.


GAC Representative Deborah Duperly-Pinks (third from left) visiting Silver Creek, one of eight communities the TMWC serves

Visit to Suriname

On January 25th, 2023, representatives from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) conducted a partner forum in Paramaribo, Suriname, which brought together a colourful group of organisations who currently benefit from a partnership with Global Affairs Canada, such as the Ministry of Justice and Police, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Gender Affairs Bureau, and WVL-Caribbean grantee partners Suriname Coalition of Sex Workers (SUCOS) and Stitching Stichting Projekta (Stichting Projekta).

During Stichting Projekta’s presentation, the team stressed the importance of the core funding that the WVL-Caribbean project provides and how much freedom and agility it lends to organisations such as theirs. A special mention was made of the wellness grant which Stichting Projekta used to start vegetable gardens. The crowd was particularly thrilled when presented with a picture of the first cabbage grown by a staff member.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Magic

This is the first time that we have a grant focused on self-care and wellness. No one ever asks if I am okay. We need time to recover, to renew, to just be ourselves. Mental health is not necessarily seen as a need, but it is.

Toleda Maya Women’s Council, Belize

For many of us, the past three years were challenging as we dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced us to pause, re-evaluate and adapt to an ever-changing environment. WVL-Caribbean grantee partners demonstrated resilience and determination as they navigated how to continue with program implementation, service delivery to communities in need, and advocacy for legislative and policy reform to advance the rights of women, girls, and non-binary persons. We acknowledge the tremendous emotional and physical labour that our grantee partner’s have borne, the risks inherent in their work, as well as how historical and present-day trauma affects their abilities to press on. However, we also recognise that this intense survival mode is simply unsustainable. 

In May 2022, WVL-Caribbean made the decision to provide all 26 grantee partners with an opportunity to access a special type of responsive grant, focused on centering care, wellness, and healing justice. The wellness grants were an effort to centre grantee partners’ wellbeing, a strategy to combat fatigue and burnout, a tool of resistance, and an acknowledgement that not all caregivers know how to receive care, and may require support in order to commence that journey. This decision was based on the understanding that as co-implementing feminist funds, the Equality Fund and Astraea should invest in and prioritise our grantee partners’ care and well-being. This aligned with our organisational value of “Radical Love” and our feminist approach to strengthening the capacity of our grantee partners to manage and sustain themselves. 

Emotional and social wellness were areas in which the grantee partners most identified need for support, followed by those corresponding to intellectual, occupational, and spiritual health. Environmental, financial and physical health were also areas identified within the broader concept of wellness. Additionally, grantee partners were  invited to attend an information session, led by a WVL-Caribbean Advisor, Dr. Robyn Charlery White, to generate ideas and strategies to fully utilize and benefit from their wellness grants. One-on-one office hours were  provided for those who desired assistance in formulating their wellness plans. However, grantee partners would ultimately decide on how the grant would best serve their needs.

In piloting this approach, it provided an opportunity for us to learn from our grantee partners and understand if and how the wellness grant was useful in supporting collective care and strengthening organizational capacity. In January 2023, check-in calls were held with grantee partners to determine how the wellness grants were used, who benefitted, and how (if any) it contributed to organisational resilience. Here is a summary of what we learned:

LEARNINGS

  • Wellness grants were an added value for individual and collective care

Grantee partners implemented a variety of supportive measures including psychotherapy, art therapy, coaching, access to health facilities, and nutrition. Grantee partners felt that the burnout they experienced was acknowledged. The grant provided some level of relief, reduced feelings of overwhelm, and increased motivation to continue their work in advocacy and service delivery. 

  • Wellness grants improved organisational resilience

Half of the cohort used the wellness grant for team building, coupled with strategic planning. It was an opportunity to surface issues such as staff capacity, workload, work-life balance, and succession planning, as well as to improve working relationships and boost team morale.

  • Wellness grants were a catalyst for reflection on care and well-being

The wellness grant acted as a catalyst for many of the grantee partners to reflect among their teams on the importance of individual and collective care, especially given the type of work they do. Several grantee partners reported that they were now incorporating measures to support wellness in their annual work plans.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Donors should acknowledge grantee partners’ experiences and their emotional and physical labour. A failure to recognize the human cost of this work jeopardizes sustainability, and the well-being of the individuals who carry out this work. It will have adverse repercussions, including high staff turnover, organizational instability, loss of feminist leaders driving the movement, and most of all – the risk of losing ground in advancing rights.
  • Adopt a feminist approach to wellness. As women’s funds, our commitment to healing justice is rooted in the intrinsic value of radical love, and is vital to the sustainability of the feminist movement. We encourage other donors and implementing partners to support similar approaches. Our specific recommendation for future WVL programming is for collective care to be embodied within its offerings towards capacity strengthening and sustainability.
  • Adapt funding models to respond to the care and well-being of grantee partners. Specifically, offer core support for wellness and collective care. Support grantee partners in allocating a portion of their multi-year grant for this purpose. To enable this, there is the need for continued support for core, flexible funding and programming around the needs of women’s rights and LGBTIQ organisations.

For more information on the WVL-Caribbean wellness grants, including reflections from our grantee partners, please continue to monitor the Equality Fund and Astraea’s social media for the launch of the learning report in late April 2023.

Resources

Jamaica Gender Assessment Report

On International Women’s Day, the World Bank, in partnership with and funded by the Government of Canada, launched the Jamaica Gender Assessment Report. The assessment reviewed the barriers faced by women and men in Jamaica in the aspects of endowments such as health and education, economic opportunity, and agency. The report recommended three key areas of action, including: (i) investing in building the human capital of women and young men;(ii) expanding, supporting, and promoting the productive role of women; and (iii) increasing women’s capacity to make decisions and act on them. The full report can be accessed here.

Black and Green text reads Jamaica Gender Assessment

Expansion of Sweet Water Foundation’s Regional Helpline

Sweet Water Foundation logo.

WVL-Caribbean grantee partner Sweet Water Foundation is offering free, confidential, anonymous, online counselling services aimed at preventing child abuse. Adults and children are equally encouraged to call. See commercials across all social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube (Spanish and English)

Show up with us, Support our Movement

We show up for each other. It’s the essence of feminist philanthropy, and we bring it to life in countless ways. We volunteer and speak out. We give money, advice, and encouragement.

In a world of grief and cynicism, we dare to love each other and ourselves. And then we act from that love. Across communities and cultures, dreams and disappointments, progress and pushback, feminist philanthropy sustains and connects us.

We invite you to join our movement today. Gifts of any size are an incredible act of solidarity, actively contributing to the advancement of gender and LGBTQ+ justice in the Caribbean and beyond. 

Watch the video below to hear WVL grantee partners, along with Equality Fund’s partners from other regions, speak on the power of feminist philanthropy…

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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