CARIBBEAN SCHOLAR and feminist Professor Eudine Barriteau has commended the next generation of feminists in the region, saying that she “really admires them.”
The Grenadian-born activist made the comments ahead of her lecture at St Anne’s College entitled Coming into our own? Women and Power in the Caribbean, where she highlighted the 21st century women Caribbean leaders and shared her thoughts on the future of gender politics in the region.
Speaking to The Voice, Professor Barriteau praised the vibrancy among young Caribbean feminists, and the importance of using her voice to highlight the work that’s being done.
“There’s a sudden resurgence and vibrancy among young feminists and they’re very organised and they’re doing this different to a generation ago,” said the pro vice chancellor and principal of the University of the West Indies.
“They are looking at issues of sexuality sovereignty, combating gender-based violence and they’ve taken a very frontal, confrontational approach to it.
“I really admire them and I’m proud of the courage and strength that they’re showing and I think their activism does well for the women’s movement in the region.”
The lecture, which was attended by Her Excellency Ms Karen-Mae Coralie Hill, High Commissioner Antigua and Barbuda, Eldred E. Bethel High Commissioner of Bahamas, Seth Ramocan, High Commissioner of Jamaica, Frederick Hamley Case, High Commissioner of Guyana and many more, was the third to take place in honour of Dr. Devaki Jain – a celebrated international feminist with a record of empowering women in the global south.
“The lecture honours Devaki Jain who is a graduate of this [St Anne’s] college and an outstanding international feminist well known in the Caribbean. She has done a lot of work in Asia and Africa in terms of empowering women,” said Professor Barriteau.
“This lecture series started three years ago and I got an invitation to deliver the third lecture so I’m quite honoured to do that. Especially as I hosted Devaki 20 years ago in Barbados to deliver a lecture series.”
Professor Barriteau’s lecture largely centered around how new activism in the Caribbean is shaking the status quo. “The activism and confrontational politics of the new generation of Caribbean feminists is centre stage in the Caribbean.
“I want to examine what women groups are doing on the ground in Caribbean countries and multiple incidences of women’s activism to underscore how the politics and methodologies of engagement and issues around women have fundamentally changed.”
Some of the new generation of Caribbean feminists Professor Barriteau highlighted in the lecture included Tonya Haynes, founder of Code Red for Gender Justice, a feminist collective of Caribbean women & men with roots as a student organisation at UWI; Ronella King, founder of the Life in Leggings movement, Latoya Nugent, co-founder of Tamborine Army plus more. She also cited some of the Caribbean women in the most senior positions including the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller and Dame C. Pearlette, former Governor General of Saint Lucia.
Professor Barriteau’s interest in gender politics and the role power plays began at a very young age. “I grew up in Grenada and Barbados and a lot of what we consider relationships of gender were relations of power.
“I realised at a young age that the inequalities that affect women are power dynamics and when people are in positions of power, you either respect it or abuse it, and it’s often easier to abuse it,” she said.
“So the analysis of power to me is pivotal to a lot of the inequalities we experience. As a child, I just watched how things happened, and by the time I became a young adult I realised whether your talking about economic relations, gender relations or social relations, at the core it’s about power and the distribution of it, who benefits from it, who accesses it and so on.”
While things may have somewhat improved, female labour force in Caribbean countries still remain at a constant low alongside an ongoing battle to combat gender violence and stereotypes, in 2019, only 35.6% of Guyana’s total workforce were women – 40% in Belize, 42.5% in Trinidad & Tobago and 45.6% in Jamaica.
And while the newer feminist movements are paving the way for change, Professor Barriteau shared her concerns behind whether these movements are grasping these economical issues.
“A lot of the younger feminists are doing great work, but they seem less interested in the issues of gender development, economical development, analysis and some of the things that the older movement used to do.
“There’s a clear focus on issues of sexuality sovereignty and combating gender-based violence, and the work they are doing is paramount. They are putting their lives and well-being on the line to guard it – but I’d like to see a synthesis of that and a focus on socio-economic development because they are both equally important,” said the academic.
Bridging the gap between the women’s movement of the past and present also meant looking towards the future, as Professor Barriteau gave a thorough analysis of Caribbean Cyberfeminism, which is described as a movement which features successful online petitions and protests against predatory advertising; crowdfunding for community-based projects; girl’s empowerment; blogging for women’s empowerment and consciousness plus more.
“I believe that change has to come from the ground and that’s why I admire these women. Two things unite these feminist groups – cyberfeminist strategies and a strong emphasis on sexual soverignty,” said the Howard graduate.
“These women are highly mobile as they harness information and digital technology to operate simultaneously online and in physical locations.”
“They are skilled media campaigners, whose feminist commitment is unwavering, admirable and already ripe for the future of our region. They have shifted the paradigm of feminist organising and they demand the respect from Caribbean states and individuals for women’s bodily and existential integrity.
“They have shaken the status quo and dragged the women’s movement into the 21st century.”