We’re Not New to This: Caribbean Feminism

For many, “da feminist ting deh” occupies a space on the long list of imported goods and services that wash our pristine shores every day or another aspect of American culture that we mindlessly took on. It’s something unnatural. Not original. A thing “undermining women” and a “threat to civilization”. 

WRONG. 

We explore this in this week’s episode 4 of our feminism literacy project. 

Caribbean women have been practicing Feminism through bodily autonomy, creating spaces for themselves to critique their living and labour conditions and lobbying for greater economic opportunities for centuries. When they weren’t manifesting Feminist praxis, they were theorizing about their life experiences and those of their foremothers, analysing them through Caribbean lenses and locating these analyses in the Caribbean reality. This documentation has lead to the creation of Caribbean Feminism as a valid scholarship and mode of analysis and legitimised the narratives of Caribbean womanhood. Before 1974, the lives of women were effectively erased from the annals of Jamaican history. Dem neva exist. Their work on slave plantations, their lives, experiences and, importantly, their contribution to revolution and liberation were undocumented and excised. But one woman, Lucille Mathurin Mair, wrote her dissertation (now the book “A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica, 1655-1844), which was in and of itself a revolutionary undertaking. Mair’s seminal study characterized Jamaican women as audacious and gave the world its first insight into their daily lives. From her research and writings, we discovered that Jamaican women were natural insurrectionists and developed their own particular styles of resistance. It served as a springboard for wider research into the lives of enslaved Caribbean women which further introduced us to terms like gynecological resistance (*cough*abortions*cough). 

 

Mair inspired a host of Caribbean women scholars in several fields (Economics, Sociology, History, Development, you name it), to critically look at the lives of women and the systems that need to be changed in order for them to more than thrive but to survive. Women like Judith Wedderburn who, as co-founder of the Association of Development Agencies and economist, was able to deconstruct Jamaica’s debt to the International Monetary Fund to demonstrate the disproportionate impact it had on women and their livelihoods. Remember Tambourine Army? The militant group of women and survivors who took to the streets to protest against violence towards women and the sexual abuse of girls? This movement was a result of the Feminist ancestral energy within us and groundwork that had been laid centuries before us.

So, Feminism in the Caribbean is neither new nor foreign. It has existed in practice for centuries and in theory for decades. WE-Change is a proud product and beneficiary of the Caribbean Feminism. And WE a go keep mek noise and keep mek trouble.

Join us next week as we take a dive into “Intersectional Feminism”. What is it and why we need it? 

Resources:

  1. The Relevance of Black Feminist Scholariship: a Caribbean Perspective https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B748GowCTH2meGtsXzBvZlAxc1E/view?usp=sharing 
  2. Class, Colour and Contraception: The Politics of Birth Control, 1938-1967 https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VuUNyZM3uc-TDSY8td-vllGAQU9F0TkJ/view?usp=sharing 
  3. Homegrown Feminism in the Caribbean https://www.telesurenglish.net/opinion/Homegrown-Feminism-in-the-Caribbean-20160920-0004.html 
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Written by WE-Change

WE-Change is a community-based organisation committed to increasing the participation of women in social justice advocacy in Jamaica and the Caribbean. WE-Change was launched on May 15, 2015 out of a need to address and respond to the 'invisibilisation' of lesbians, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women in the LGBT rights movement in Jamaica. The organisation is women-led, women-focused and intersectional in its approach to advocacy, and guided by the outcomes of the Beijing 1995 Platform for Action.

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