Let us introduce you to Kizanne James. Kizanne is a physician from Trinidad & Tobago working on reproductive health and rights.
In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, Kizanne speaks about the challenges she has faced as a woman – and especially as a black woman – working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Caribbean.
“We were taught that if you had sex or you had a boy touch you, it’s like a tomato – the more that a boy touches you the less valuable you would be. And that’s not the same narrative for boys.”
Kizanne explains that it’s being grounded in her values that helps her to handle difficult circumstances. In the face of negativity or even hateful abuse from those who disagree with her, knowing her work and advocacy empowers women and girls to make decisions about their own lives keeps her motivated.
“Regardless of what I may be feeling, or the negative voices or concerns people may have…I feel like I’m on the right side.”
This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.
The Caribbean, known for its white sandy beaches, clear waters and vibrant culture is also home to the second highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world – second to Sub-Saharan Africa. The highest rates of adolescent pregnancy within the Caribbean are found in the Dominican Republic and Guyana.
When a girl becomes pregnant she faces many challenges, such as being kicked out of school, ostracism from family and friends, lack of support from the father of the child(ren), and lack of access to continuing her education.
These challenges lead to a cycle of intergenerational poverty, unemployment and gender based violence.
Despite a societal culture that does not encourage adolescent mothers returning to school, strides have been made to ensure that they have the opportunity to continue and complete their education. Specifically, in Jamaica, multi-sectoral approaches have led to the establishment and implementation of the Policy for the Reintegration of School Aged Mothers into the Formal School System, which mandates that adolescent mothers be allowed to return to school after having their child.
To date, approximately 2,850 adolescent mothers have been reintegrated into the formal school system. Jamaica is the first Caribbean island to have such a policy, while the implementation of Guyana’s reintegration policy is currently underway.
There have also been advances in supporting adolescent mothers through programming. Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts and Nevis are a few of the Caribbean countries that have programs or organizations dedicated to advancing the health and rights of adolescent mothers.
In Jamaica, the Women’s Centre Jamaica Foundation is promoting a new approach to problems associated with teenage pregnancy, especially in the area of interrupted education. Women Across Differences in Guyana implements the Empowerment Programme to provide a safe and friendly learning environment for mothers to acquire sexual & reproductive health information and services , as well as life skills to create a better life for themselves and their children.
The Adolescent Mothers Programme (Trinidad and Tobago) and Project Viola (St. Kitts and Nevis) are programs established through collaborative efforts of ministries and community-based organizations. Both provide a wide range of support such as counseling, career development, parenting courses and skills training.
As a native of Jamaica and the founder of Pearls of Potential – an organization providing support and services to adolescent mothers in the developing world – I am proud of the work that has been done in the Caribbean in supporting adolescent mothers.
Caribbean leaders must understand the importance of educating adolescent mothers. They must also establish and strengthen resources and policies that will support the completion of their education.
It is important for governing bodies such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to create agendas that include goals in support of adolescent mothers and ensure that these goals align with the Sustainable Development Goals. The continued tangible support of international non-governmental organizations such as UNFPA, UNICEF and UNESCO is also paramount to the sustainability of current programs.
On this International Day of Girl, with the theme With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, we must make a commitment to ensure that adolescent mothers have the opportunity to continue and complete their education, which will give them a chance to gain skills for employment, provide for their child(ren) and contribute to a growing society.
We must remember that when we invest in our girls, we invest in our future.
Jamaica is a paradox of a nation; known for it’s stunning landscapes and the warmth of its people, it is simultaneously a notoriously violent and intolerant society. Though often overlooked in favor of its tourist attractions, the island’s struggles with severe inequality and widespread poverty spawn a number of social issues. One of the most pressing is that of gender inequality.
Violence against women is often cited as one of the region’s largest problems, with Jamaica used as a flagship country for interventions over the years as a result of its markedly high levels of gender-based violence. Yet the island’s shortcomings in equality have little to do with any inherent sexism rather than rooted in poverty, allowing the flourishing of gangs in the urban areas, a lack of education for the majority of the population and a stunted social system which encourages inequality.
The country’s high unemployment and poverty rates, combined with an under-equipped police force, has allowed the rise of drug trafficking and gangs. The link between gang violence and violence against women is clear, with commentator Royes explaining,
It would appear that violence against women in Jamaica is not decreasing, but rather that it has taken a more sinister and criminal form, institutionalised in gang culture which uses women and children as part of [its] reprisal system.
As women are often wives of dons and drug runners, and are also often informers, they become targets. Thirty-two percent of all homicides on the island are attributed to revenge or reprisals, and the number of women in this percentage is rising.
Another potential side effect of the island’s significant poverty is a lack of education, lack of opportunity for social mobility or economic independence and women’s subsequent dependence on a male figure. Problematic in itself, this is only aggravated by the fact that the society is deeply patriarchal, and a certain hostility towards women seems entrenched in the culture.
The island’s hallmark dancehall music is almost characterized by its misogyny and promotion of the denigration of women. In the art scene, the popular reproduction of a local artisan’s sculpture ‘Ready Freddy’ is a none-too-subtle example of the island’s focus on male power and dominance. Socially, women are expected to put up with catcalling and casual harassment, with men seeing it as simply complimentary.
The culture of sexual violence starts young, with girls as young as 13. According to a report byAmnesty International:
70 per cent of all reported sexual assaults in 2004 were recorded against girls rather than women.
According to self-report and population-based surveys, 17 per cent of 13 and 14 year olds in Kingston, Jamaica had experienced rape or attempted rape; the majority by adult casual acquaintances.
Approximately 33 per cent of girls in this age group experience either verbal enticements to have sex or unwanted physical contact. A Caribbean study found that 47 per cent of adolescent girls’ sexual initiation was “forced” or “somewhat forced”. “Forced” was the term used by many Jamaican men, women and girls spoken to by Amnesty International to refer to rape.
One study found that 20 per cent of 15 to 19 year olds had been forced to engage in sexual activity, and that this was more prevalent in rural areas. These forced experiences occurred within relationships as well as outside them.
In 2002, a women’s organization providing shelter for victims of violence reported an increase in the number of girls under the age of 12 who had been kidnapped and raped.
The island’s government is strapped for resources and often diverts attention to more pressing and visible issues, as, in a poor and patriarchal country, women are often marginalized and their plight not made a priority. Jamaica’s problem of violence against women would not be solved by a simple awareness campaign; it’s roots are inextricably entangled with the nation’s political, social and economic woes. Solving women’s issues means also solving human issues and restoring human dignity, starting with fighting poverty on all levels.
Girls’ Globe has spent the last week highlighting issues of poverty and violence against women. To learn more, read:
Earlier this year I had the chance to speak to the Hon. Marcella Liburd, Minister of Health, Cultural Affairs, Gender Affairs, Social and Community Development for Saint Kitts and Nevis and the only woman member parliament. Minister Liburd exudes energy that I find it difficult not to be captivated by. Having heard her speak from afar many times, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to speak with her one-on-one during my last trip home.
My goal in sitting down with her was to supplement my personal knowledge of the challenges facing women in my home country, with a more official opinion on the state of gender affairs and in what ways, if any we are making progress.
When asked to identify the key issues facing women in St Kitts and Nevis, without hesitation she named domestic violence and the lack of women in leadership positions. What followed were some candid insights into culture and gender relations in the twin island Federation:
On the barriers facing women in Saint Kitts and Nevis…
Covert discrimination: In the home and in the church, women are not trained to be leaders. The man is seen as the head of the home, the office etc. In certain professions, doctors for example, men are given immediate credibility while women have to work harder to continually prove themselves.
On the repercussions of serious income disparity…
Women are seen as wives and mothers [but] women take care of families; a woman in poverty means a man in poverty.
On how she is trying to remove the barriers facing women…
I don’t believe in quotas.
When job opportunities come up in areas not traditionally open to women – construction for example – they get left out because of a lack of training. It is important to provide women with training so that they can take advantage of all opportunities.
Banks don’t give women loans; the government should open up capital to be accessed by women without collateral at low interest rates. It is a risk worth taking.
There is a lack of vibrant women’s groups. They are either in the church or politically affiliated and so are limited to those spheres. They are not community groups. We are working towards establishing an umbrella women’s group in St Kitts and have been getting guidance from an established women’s group in Barbados.
When the role of men in the women’s movement came up, Minister Liburd discussed her support for including men, and her belief that you cannot achieve progress in women’s rights without men as part of the process. In the establishment of a federation-wide women’s organization, men are included at the grassroots level, with women holding all council seats at the national level.
“…the discrimination based on skin tone, which exists amongst members of the same community, creating a ranking of a person’s individual worth based on shade. Shadeism is common in communities of colour across the world, and it is also an issue that people of colour experience whilst living as part of diasporic communities outside their native lands.” – Shadeism
Shadeism, a short independent film, is the work of a collective of women living and creating art in Toronto, Canada. I first saw the film two years ago after it was sent to me by a friend following our own discussion of colourism, it’s roots and the harm it does within our own community. While both men and women are affected by the discrimination inflicted by shadeism; women and girls – all the more objectified and subjected to the pressures of impossible beauty standards – are particularly susceptible.
If you live in an area with communities of colour, the skin care section at the drugstore or beauty supply store will likely contain creams dedicated to the lightening, whitening and brightening of darker toned skin. No doubt tied to standards of beauty stemming from colonialism, and no doubt omitting information about the toxic chemicals contained in these creams. The message here is clear: the lighter your skin the more desirable and valued you are.
In Ghana advertisements for skin lightening creams were widespread, using photos of beautiful fair-skinned women to sell the product. I have heard similar stories about India, The Philippines and throughout the Caribbean. Here in Canada, a friend recently told me about a man approaching her at work to offer her skin lightening cream.
The creative voices behind Shadeism are using the film as a departure point to promote dialogue around the topic and do work with schools and community organizations around unpacking this issue.
I started this film because I wanted to help challenge a cycle of “normalization”, which has permitted shadeism (e.g. colorism) to be passed on over multiple generations, and continue hurting indigenous and women of colour. We are consistently subjected to these “value” systems of “beauty” which tell us we are not enough of something, because of our skin tone and colour. This is wrong. No system that oppresses us is for us. And so, we continue on in this journey of (un)learning, of sharing with each other, of trying to slowly heal, of building our own circles of love, of attempting to cause some ripples through conversation, which can hopefully inspire waves of change as we move forward. None but we can do right by ourselves. This is what keeps me going in our movements to dig, to dissect, and to deconstruct this system of oppression that is shadeism. Nayani Thiyagarajah, Director/Writer/Executive Producer
To learn more about the Shadeism project and support its continued growth through curriculum development and the creation of a self-care toolkit visit the website and online support campaign.
The issues associated with shadeism extend beyond diminishing self-esteem. The influence that deep-seeded colourism has on the fetishization and objectification of women and girls is a serious issue that I plan to explore in future posts.
CODE RED for Gender Justice is a Caribbean feminist activist collective, raising awareness and providing opportunities for regional collaboration on issues of gender justice.
Our activities aim to bring a plurality of critical feminist voices to everything from politics and economics to gender and sexualities in our global world. Source
Whether writing about mainstream news stories through a feminist lens or sharing inspiring stories of women and girls around the world, CODE RED carves out a space for Caribbean feminists in the dialogue and activism surrounding gender equality.
Beginning as a student organization at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados; CODE RED now has an international reach. The organization’s work includes an annual Symposium to nurture emerging feminist scholars and activists from the Caribbean, and the creation of the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network working towards gender equity and women’s rights.
Issues that receive critical analysis from the CODE RED writers include sexism and sexual violence in society, news media and pop culture. A recent article “Kick in She Back Door: Violence Against Women Takes Road March” takes on rape culture perpetuated through music and the larger picture of sex, gender, power and violence in heterosexual relationships.
As The International Day to End Violence Against Women comes to a close for this year, organizations like CODE RED For Gender remind us that Girls Globe is part of a much larger global network of organizations, each working in our own way to change the world for the better for women and girls.
To keep up to date on the work of CODE RED feminists, follow them on twitter and like their facebook page!