Reflections on We-Change’s 3-Day Social & Economic Justice Programme’s Residential Training

On Saturday January 21, 2017, WE-Change, along with their partners Fi Wi Jamaica hosted the graduation ceremony for WE-Change’s #Equality360 Social and Economic Justice programme. To celebrate, we take a look back at some of our participants’ reflections on the 3-day the intensive residential training they undertook from September 16-18 last year. Congratulations, #Equality360 Cohort 1 graduates!

My experience at the WE-Change Residential Training last weekend was eye-opening to say the least. I expected to learn a lot, but I had no idea the number of questions that would have been answered for me. A few days before going I was actually having a conversation with a friend about gender identities, and many of the questions being asked, neither of us had answers to. Similarly, a week before we were also having a conversation on the details of the rape law in Jamaica and even after drawing for Google, there were answers that we still hadn’t figured out. But two days of training quickly filled in all the gaps, and answered all these questions for me, and even questions I did not even know I had. The entire experience was an amazing journey into acceptance of other persons’ varying viewpoints and personalities. I feel like I acquired a family of beautiful young women, and felt immensely close to everyone after just a few days! I hold each and every participant I met in the highest esteem. They have my greatest respect and I am truly honoured that they chose to share their stories with me. I know that I met a group of young women who are going to change Jamaica, and by extension the world, and I am so excited to see what we all execute in our advocacy plans. I want to use what I have learned to create meaningful change, and to continue to learn as much as I can along the way.

Eleanor Terrelonge

IMG_8432.JPG
Eleanor Terrelonge at the #Equality360 #AfterDark session
 When I applied to be a part of the We-Change Advocacy program, I had no idea how much I did not know about Social Justice, Economic Justice and how Feminism really works in empowering women. It was not until the first day having listened to Nadeen Spence speak; did I realize that I was a part of a group of individuals that have been forced into a box from what seems like the beginning of existence; Women. She allowed us to see that we deserve the right to a choice and that we are in control of our own future and how we’re view by society.  She also quoted some astonishing statistics that has rattled me out of my comfort zone and given me purpose. The weekend progressed and with each facilitator I was taught that there was so much more that I wasn’t aware of. Thanks to Alexia McFee, I was educated in how the law inadequately protects us as LBT women and how I need to break out of the silence and join my sisters in the fight to change these “struggles” that we are facing.

Thanks to all these speakers I’ve also seen the importance of self-love. How important it is to respect and appreciate self because that is were true empowerment starts. So thanks to this Advocacy programme and the SEJ, I can vocally live in my truth. Willingly joining the fight and adorning the struggles of society being Black, Woman, Pansexual and a Feminist.

P.S. The participants were bomb. Hella fun, articulate and passionate about the cause. I’m expecting great things from us and I think you guys should too.

Romyah Jackson

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and text
Romyah Jackson. Photo courtesy of PRiDE JA Magazine. 

Prior to the WE-change training I knew that I was passionate about the status of women in Jamaica but I didn’t have much direction and many tools to use outside of a more confrontational approach in everyday conversation. I also had a good grasp on the concept of intersectional feminism but mostly applied it to my position as a black, dark skinned, abled, heterosexual, slim, middle class, educated (I could go on) woman. The biggest takeaway from the training was the idea of advocacy revolving around inclusion. For example, I knew that I wanted to focus on the lax sexual offences laws in Jamaica and the dismal conviction statistics. I had never thought to expand my study and advocacy into how unprotected women in same sex relationships were and the virtual invisibility of transsexual women under these laws.

Before the workshop ended I had already shared the more shocking tidbits I learned with my circle of friends (women owning less than 10% of wealth, the limited definition of rape, the limited scope of DVA etc.). Since then I’ve had more conversations and started brainstorming/toying with the different and creative ways to effectively reach out to and empower the women of Jamaica while crossing boundaries of sexual orientation, class, education level etc.

Overall, I was most looking forward to meeting and hearing from a group of outspoken Jamaican women who are passionate about issues affecting women in our country. I was not disappointed.

Gayon Douglas

img_8491
Gayon Douglas at the #Equality360 #AfterDark session

There’s a fine line between knowing something and not knowing anything at all. I realized that everything I knew before barely even scratched the surface becoming an ‘Empowered Woman’. Yes, I’m young, and actually being a woman is an entirely new world for me, but this might just be the best possible start. I entered this programme knowing about general social issues affecting women, knowing that I did in fact consider intersectional feminism to be the most effective way to tackle gender based injustice. What I didn’t know, or what I was excited to learn about was the economic justice aspect of the programme and becoming ‘legally lit’. So boom, training proceeded and I learned so much more than I bargained for. Learning about the various economic injustices that women face in society became an eye opener for me. Becoming more intimate with aspects of laws affecting LBT women really made me realize how much of a change needs to be made. Many of the facts that I learned about existing in such an unsafe and unfair environment for LBT women made me cringe to say the least. If I ever chose a time to be willing to make a change, this would be it. Enough about what I learned (even though that was a huge part of it), let’s talk about the bonds that were made.

I speak only for myself when I say I have never before experienced the level of comfort around a group of women, or people in general, as I did over this weekend. The bonding went from 0-100 real quick, comfort was an understatement, but we’ll just keep that word for now. The fact that such a wide range of personalities could exist in the same space with no tension was amazing to me. This kind of environment really helped me to fight off the urge to withdraw as I usually do in social situations. I definitely see myself interacting with these women for a long time, I think by the time the programme ends we will have formed lifelong relationships. I gained from everyone around me and I’m ready to do something. I’ve already started to tell almost everyone I meet about so many of the things I learned, so it’s definitely a start. I’m ready to tell anyone who will listen about getting involved in what we have coming up, ready to speak up more. I can’t say exactly what I plan to do because it’s so much more than that (and also because I’ve never been someone with much directions and setting goals), but I can say that I’m ready to put my best into anything that’s going on, anything that I can add to or take away from, I’ll be there. Facilitators, you deserve a medal. I could tell that we might not have been the easiest set when it came to following the schedule, but you were all focused and kept us in line. The overall experience over the weekend was an amazing one for me. If the training alone can be considered one of my best life experiences, I can’t imagine what I’ll feel like at the end of the programme. I guess the most important lesson I learned at the end of the training was that a group of women can be a force to be reckoned with, and one word I could use to describe how I feel about the training is “Ready”.

Lisandria Thompson

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and text
Lisandria Thompson. Photo courtesy of PRiDE JA Magazine.

Initially, I was reluctant in applying, as I was quite conscious of the fact that, during my time in Youth Project Program, I made very little contribution.  I felt as though I had let down the facilitators and coordinator of the program. So entering into the Social Economic Justice Advocacy Program, I was a bit concerned in whether or not I would be a contributing member of the group.  Additionally, I was nervous about meeting new people as meeting new persons was never as strong point as I am an introvert by nature. However, I found that I was completely comfortable with the other members, despite my nature; it was like a sisterhood of sorts.

The facilitators were excellent in distributing the information regarding the topics that we discussed. I liked that each individual was given the opportunity to express themselves using their skills and talents, in doing this,  I was able to advocate using a medium that was within my comfort zone, this being poetry.

The sessions reinforced some of the knowledge I had as it relates to the Sexual Offenses Act and The Domestic Violence Act, and it also clarified some of the misconception that I had as it relates to Gender and Sexual Diversity and Feminism. Now understanding the scope of what Feminism is, I can truly say that I am a feminist and am more equipped with the tools (knowledge not weapons) needed to defend this statement should it ever be contested. I am also more willing to tackle and contest statements regarding “gender norms” that might arise within my family or at work.

With all this said, I am looking forward to what WE-Change and I can accomplish together as I embark on my mission to “Topple the Patriarchy”.

Samantha Walters

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and text
Samantha Walters. Photo courtesy of PRiDE JA Magazine.

Prior to the Social and Economic Justice Program, my knowledge of the injustices faced by women in general and more so LBT women could be considered as minimal. However, I knew enough to understand that women suffer daily due to a lack of awareness and laws that fail to be amended. As such, I decided to be a part of the initiative, in hope that through advocacy, I could help to make a difference.  I must say however that spending an entire weekend with beautiful, intelligent and passionate women, all with diverse personalities, my belief in building friendships and the power of sisterhood was enhanced. I realized that though we are all unique, we are connected through various aspects of our life and as such, we are similar.

The most important lesson I learnt over the weekend is that Advocacy is consistency because inequality and injustices are consistent. With this knowledge, it is now my intention to dedicate more of my time in raising awareness, using not only the thirty-day advocacy plan recommended by WE-Change but also through personal and social media interactions. I applaud the efforts of WE-Change who through their own works has truly motivated me to become more active in advocacy and resuscitate projects that I once started and didn’t have the discipline to see them through.

For the knowledge, empowerment, motivation and love, THANK YOU WE-Change! #lovenlight

Shaneka Hall

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, beard, text and outdoor
Shaneka Hall. Photo courtesy of PRiDE JA Magazine.

Prior to the weekend training, I had a very limited understanding of the concepts of women’s economic empowerment, economic justice and social justice. These are all topics I feel passionate about, especially as I am currently focusing on securing my financial independence and intelligence. After the intensive training, I definitely have a better understanding of the concepts thanks to the well-coordinated efforts of the facilitators. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that women are passive participants/consumers in our market economy rather than producers and creators of wealth because I have noticed that the language of finance tends to be a bit more difficult for women to understand. While I don’t want to start a business (for the foreseeable future), I definitely want to be wise about personal finance and this training serendipitously has put me on a path to ensuring that this becomes an important goal. I’m talking to friends right now about financial empowerment and sharing tools and information I’ve learned about budgeting and investment. Taking a step to make this change personally and as a friend group makes me feel really empowered and in charge of what the future holds for me.

Thanks to this SEJ initiative, I also gained a new appreciation for the significance of sisterhood and how safe places for LBT women are important. There really isn’t anything like being with a group of women in a safe space, especially women who are LBT/allies. #Equality360 #AfterDark ended up being far more personal and poignant than I ever anticipated as everyone shared their incredibly inspiring stories. Friendships have definitely been built and I hope they continue long after the programme has ended. I never sat with the same people every time we ate and my roommate and I got on really well. We all had a lot of fun. I hope to continue to build on the skills and knowledge learned. I am especially interested in furthering a project on financial independence and economic empowerment for women, however, we will see what happens in that arena.

It’s definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. And if this is how we have started, I’m really excited to see what happens as we go forward! 🙂

Sasha Solomon

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and text
Sasha Solomon. Photo courtesy of PRiDE JA Magazine.

Though silent and seemingly disinterested and distant, I am quite the contradiction. This is probably my biggest flaw (working on it); the weekend has done so much for me; I will make an effort to centre my thoughts and formulate my words to explain my blunt statement. Upon arriving at the seminar, I conditioned my mind to take as much from what was offered as what was given to get there. Considering I was forbidden to even be in the same place as “those people” as my passionately homophobic mother referred to individual’s after explaining that the seminar is in relation to the We Change group (that’s a whole other story). I still fought to make it as advocacy and human rights has been a passion of mine and I saw this as a promising opportunity. Indeed it was. The seminar was not just the regular seminar with a set of objectives that was just needed to be learnt and accepted. The information and how it was presented was sustainable and the fact that instructors were willing to re-educate and positively influence by taking a neutral stand in lessons to enlighten the brain washed or misguided individuals was highly appreciated and commendable.

The information was quite eye opening as personally, some things I only partially knew or understood. However, the seminar was not just learning the obvious or what could be researched, I like to think that the kind and welcoming environment provided should be how as an advocate I should allow whatever or whoever I advocate for should feel. The privilege to be myself and open (though I was far from) is how I should allow anyone I deal with to feel. The way I was taught and enlightened is exactly how I plan to teach and enlighten. The same gentle hospitality I was offered is the same I will reciprocate. Being knowledgeable of what you’re advocating for is a necessity, you ought to be. However, the personal aspect of advocacy is where many go wrong. People forget the concept of having pure intentions, patience, creating a space where one isn’t only free to be themselves but willing to learn and etc

As previously stated, advocacy has been a passion of mine. During the duration of this training, I am willing to receive as much as I’d like to offer and after, I’d like to give more than I have received. Thank you for a fulfilling weekend, thank you for awakening my passion and aspirations. Lastly, thank you for setting me right on track. With personal life and being caught up with school, having something else I’m interested in is refreshing. I plan to dedicate not only my time but my genuine passion to this advocacy program. Thank you We-Change.

Aaliyah Henry

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and text
Aaliyah Henry. Photo courtesy o PRiDE JA Magazine.

See all the photos from We-Change’s #Equality360 Social and Economic Justice Programme graduation ceremony here.

30 Days of Advocacy with #Equality360

Through partnership with Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and J-FLAG in 2015, WE-Change implemented a training programme for lesbians, bisexual women and transgender persons. The programme was very successful and a number of our constituents have indicated an interest in participating in a similar programme in 2016. The programme focused on the intersectionality of health and gender-based violence, and how beneficiaries could effectively advocate for change within their networks, communities, online, and at the policy level. It is out of this programme that TransWave was formed, which focuses on transgender health and related issues. It was also following this programme that a Respect Jamaica Ambassador and President of UWI Model United Nations hosted a very successful #KickOutGBV forum, which received an award from Respect Jamaica for most impactful project for 2015. WE-Change has since committed to undertaking a similar activity in 2016.

Further to this and following our very successful and insightful #OxfamChat via Twitter, we recognised that there was also a need for more advocacy around economic justice as part of efforts to achieve social justice for vulnerabilised women and transgender persons. We therefore decided to include a module on economic justice as part of our 2016 intensive advocacy training series.

From September 16-18, 2016, participants attended a rigorous, multifaceted 3-day social and economic justice advocacy residential training in St. Ann called #Equality360. They learned about the importance of evidence-based approaches to advocacy, women and economic justice, legislative frameworks, civic responsibility, intersectionality and feminism, and how to develop advocacy plans, among other skills. Following this training, participants were tasked with getting into groups to develop 30-day advocacy plans devoted to causes they cared about and wanted to champion.

Here is a snapshot of the activities undertaken by participants to date in the WE-Change #Equality360 Advocacy Training Programme for women.

Conversation Series

Our participants have been hosting a series of conversations with students based at UWI, Mona. To date they have reached just over 60 students and have explored ideas around body love and feminism.

img_4297

Mental Health JA Chat

During Mental Health Week, our participants hosted a Twitter Chat to raise awareness about Mental Health issues. During and following the chat, #MentalHealthJA tweets were delivered over 400,000 times to Twitter streams!

img_4301

JA WE Can Chat

This chat focused on challenging many societal standards of beauty for men and women, & promoting the practice of self love and body love. Over 12,000 Twitter users saw at least one #jaWEcan tweet!

img_4298

Mental Health Support Group

A Mental Wellness support group has been established by our participants. They have since hosted a poetry reading event featuring music, poetry and short stories. A total of 40 persons attended & live tweeted from the event.

img_4300

Period Is Natural Chat

A #PeriodIsNatural chat was hosted by participants aimed at removing the societal shame associated with the menstrual cycle #PeriodIsNatural tweets were delivered over 750,000 times to Twitter streams!

img_4299

Period Awareness Day

Participants established a Period Awareness Day on October 24th aimed at de-stigmatizing how Jamaicans treat with the menstrual cycle. They hosted a number of activities on the day, which were widely promoted on television, radio, and social media.

14732322_538240103036440_7766916146020629346_n

Check out our participants’ work on Twitter:

@SafeSpaceJA

@EmbraceHerFlow

@we_UBUNTU

@Empower_MENTJA