What does it mean to be a feminist in the Caribbean in 2012? On the heels of her participation in the gathering of young Caribbean feminists, dubbed Catch A Fyah, Zahra Airall addressed this fundamental question and the way forward for the movement.
“There are a lot of misperceptions around feminism,” she said. Equating feminism with lesbianism is one, she indicated, “hating men is another one, being an angry b*tch is a popular one.” For her feminism is about none of this, rather “it’s about gender equality”.
Part of the purpose of Catch A Fyah, as Airall explained it, is to reclaim and rebrand the idea of what it is to be a feminist. So, they’ve come together as a coalition and are now networked to support each other in the work of getting rid of the stigmas and stereotypes while continuing to confront the battle ground issues. These battleground issues include sexual and reproductive health rights, domestic and sexual violence, and LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) rights.
One of the network’s first actions, post-gathering, has been an open letter in support of Trinidad Senator Verna St Rose Greaves. They lauded her for her leadership on controversial issues related to sexual and reproductive health and LGBT rights. “We recognize the tremendous courage it takes to speak publicly on issues that are controversial and that people would rather ignore,” the letter stated.
Certainly, in Antigua, Airall feels there is a fair amount of ignoring of LGBT issues and looking the other way on female and child sexual abuse issues, and the group commented specifically on the latter in its letter.
“We condemn the lack of adequate response to all forms of child abuse and in particular the sexual abuse of Caribbean girls and boys,” it stated. “We lend our collective voices to breaking the silence on the this issue and we pledge to work in our communities, nationally and regionally to ensure that Caribbean children’s right to life free of abuse is made reality.”
The meeting was convened by Code Red for Gender Justice and Shelina Nageer of Red Thread, Guyana, with financial support from the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era [DAWN].
“It was a really good energy … everybody there was very passionate,” Airall said of the coming together in Barbados of over 20 young feminists from several islands. The countries represented were Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, Grenada, Belize, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Antigua & Barbuda. From Antigua, in addition to Airall, there was Asha Challenger of Gender Affairs and London-based Amina Doherty of FRIDA, an international fund supporting youth-led grassroots development projects.
They are part of what has been described, in the earlier mentioned post-conference statement issued by Haynes, as “a generation of young Caribbean people who are committed to social and economic justice.” During the gathering they had the opportunity to learn more about each others’ work including strategies that have worked and what lessons can be gleaned as well from those that haven’t, Airall explained.
Airall’s strategies here in Antigua & Barbuda have, of course, included her work with Women of Antigua, which recently announced that it was taking a break after five years of staging The Vagina Monologues and When a Woman Moans.
“The movement has evolved due to social changes but the core of it remains the same,” Airall said; “it’s about gender equality.” The movement though has had its image issues, as noted earlier. Airall referenced specifically an older feminist whom she said expressed how excited she was to see the passion of the younger feminists but also took the opportunity at the Catch A Fyah gathering to share past mistakes in terms of how the movement marketed itself and its message.
One of the initial actions – after the brainstorming of ideas and team building activities during the gathering – will be a region wide ‘What is a Feminist’ video campaign. They want to give women more of a voice from the community level to the national policymaking level, while attracting more young people to the cause.
As a young woman herself who once shied away from claiming the title ‘feminist’, given the “debris surrounding the term,” Airall understands that with the wave of social conditioning prescribing certain attitudes and behavior for both men and women, this won’t be easy — re-educating people never is. But she leans heavily on listening to each other and communicating ideas as she’s done not only as an arts activist but as a teacher and mother. “I don’t think we have enough conversations with young people,” she said, as we discussed the issue.
The women of Catch A Fyah will keep the conversation going among themselves and with the wider community as they push forward on the named issues. “We have been staying in touch, actively so,” Airall said, adding that they will continue to keep each other informed about activities, draw on the resources across the network in executing those activities, work to create a directory of feminists and feminist groups in the Caribbean, and reclaim the word feminism. Participate by visiting them online at HYPERLINK “”