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Young Feminists in the Caribbean “Catch a Fyah”

Friday File: Tonya Haynes spoke with AWID about a recent “Catch a Fyah” convening she organized of young feminists from different countries, religious backgrounds and ethnicities in the Caribbean.

Tonya coordinates online and offline activities for CODE RED in Barbados. CODE RED began as a student organisation of feminist women and men looking to find space within Caribbean feminism

By Masum Momaya

AWID: The Catch a Fyah Feminist Grounding was recently held in Barbados. What is the origin of the conference name? And can you explain why it was called a “grounding”?

Tonya Haynes (TH): The concept of grounding is a Caribbean one. It speaks to the revolutionary potential of being able to go anywhere and sit and talk with people about their lives. This sharing and learning is powerful and crucial for social transformation. For us what this meant was the need to come together as Caribbean feminists from different countries, religious backgrounds and ethnicities and learn and share with each other. By grounding we meant getting to the root of what we saw needed to change in our societies but also the source of our collective strength. It also meant seeing the coming together and talking and listening as valuable in and of itself.

The fire (or “fyah”) we refer to is about passion and strength, igniting our imagination to find creative solutions to our challenges. Our understanding of Caribbean feminism is NOT one of victim feminism where we are talking only about what is wrong for women or how women are affected by this or that. We are talking about feminism as a platform for us to engage on a range of issues and as a source of collective strength that we can use to be change-agents. One conference participant described it:

"Fyah will be the fuel of this movement. Fyah to clear away the misperceptions of feminism, and light it up as the social justice platform we need in our communities, nations and in our region. Fyah to blaze us up and motivate us to speak our convictions, engage in the discussions and rely on each other for support. Fyah will clear the way and remind us to keep connected, stay loving, keep writing and always remembering the time we shared. Fyah will ensure that we remain enraged about the injustices and make this movement move. "

AWID: Who attended and what was the purpose of the meeting?

TH: The meeting brought together 24 young/ish Caribbean feminists from women’s, feminist, youth and LGBT organisations. We came from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Barbados, The Bahamas, Guyana, St.Kitts-Nevis, Haiti, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. Two things were important to us: (1) regional feminist activism on sexual and reproductive health and rights which could feed into the ICPD+20 review and (2) regional feminist mobilization. We want to become a part of the work which begun in the 70s and 80s by Caribbean feminists such as Andaiye and Peggy Antrobus who joined us for a bit during the grounding.

AWID: Several blog posts from Caribbean feminists at the 2012 AWID Forum and the Grounding featured poetry in addition to prose. Does poetry hold an important place in Caribbean feminism?

The use of poetry, image, song and dance during the grounding was deliberate as it served to remind us to honour all aspects of who we are. One Catch A Fyah participant is a mechanical engineer but she is also a dancer, visual artist and community volunteer. We bring all that we are to feminism and in the process we are changing the face of feminism in the region.

AWID: What are common issues facing young women across the Caribbean?

TH: One way of encapsulating the commonality of the various issues faced by young women in the region is to think about women and citizenship. Caribbean (Jamaican) legal feminist scholar Tracey Robinson makes the point that not only are women considered second-class citizens but that citizenship is considered secondary for women. For young women, this understanding of citizenship is even more heightened. Young women are not considered a political constituency. This has implications for their economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights and gendered experiences of violence and harassment.

AWID: What are some of the differences?

TH: The Caribbean is not one homogenous space. There are inequities within and between countries. As our participant from Haiti reminded us, in the aftermath of the earthquake even more NGOs are operating there, but the situation is becoming worse. She insisted that we cannot think of sexual and reproductive health and rights outside of economic empowerment and the geopolitical inequalities which worsen outcomes for women.

AWID: Are there organisations, communities or countries in the region that serve as exemplars for (young) women’s organizing in the Caribbean?

TH: There are lessons to be learnt from all attempts at regional feminist mobilization including those that have failed or stalled. We unanimously agreed that there needed to be intergenerational dialogue. That is on our agenda for next time. We need to learn from the challenges and successes of longstanding organisations like Red Thread (Guyana) and Sistren Theatre Collective (Jamaica). We also need to learn from newer groups like Productive Organisation for Women in Action (Belize) who are doing transformative community work.

AWID: What questions came out of the meeting?

TH: We left with more questions than answers, which demonstrates that the meeting was a success!

Questions such as:

How we ah go mek dis movement move?

How do we address privilege? How do we build an inclusive movement?

How do we support each other? What is the best platform for regional feminist mobilization?

What resources do we already have and how can we put them to work?

AWID: And what goals came out of the meeting?

TH: We took immediate, concrete actions related to our two main objectives directly after the meeting. We also committed to taking the fire back to our communities and nations by doing one Catch A Fyah action by year-end and documenting and sharing it regionally. We are also discussing more long term and strategic goals about how to make our work sustainable and the movement more inclusive. We have an online sign-up sheet so that we can build the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network.

A compendium of words, images and reflections from Catch A Fyah is here.

The Caribbean