Powerful Stories Shared at Caribbean Women’s Conference (October 18, 2015)

Conference post-article October 10 WOW pg 18Making personal and professional connections was the best outcome of the recently concluded 3rd Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in Port of Spain. Participants said the friendships and linkages made will advance the cause of LBT (lesbian, bisexual, transgender) persons throughout the region.
The conference, held from October 5 to 11, hosted over 50 persons from a variety of feminist, LBT and women’s organizations based in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Kim Vance of ARC International said “I think these smaller venues are excellent opportunities for real networking, community building and finding linkages. I find big conferences are not very effective for actually moving forward or a sense of shared leadership.” Ifásínà Efunyemi, who represented POWA and PETAL in Belize, said “overall being able to make connections with other women, other organizations that are doing similar work, sharing ideas, was an important part of this conference to me.”
The participants attended several facilitated seminars on a variety of subjects, including community grassroots organizing, negative stereotypes and violence, local and international fund-raising, media and advocacy, creative activism, self-care, analysis of some of the international law relating to women, security of women’s human rights defenders and LBT women’s movement building through feminism.
Ifásínà said “I really appreciated the session on learning about funding and fund-raising because even though we’ve been successful in getting project funding, it hasn’t been sustainable and so this is an immense help. The session on security also really brought to our consciousness some of the issues that need to be addressed, so that was also very helpful.” Debra Benjamin of Liberty Place in St. Croix said “the topics that we covered really would help all of us in capacity-building and in making more of a community within our communities and overall in our region.” Others said the lessons on working with media to make them more sensitive to the work being done were especially helpful. A movement using the Arts to tell stories of Caribbean women was also started out of the creative activism session.
The sharing of stories was also a powerful part of the proceedings. As women, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, there were shared, common experiences everyone could relate to, as well as empathizing with the differences. The similarities of the fights in some countries struck a chord, while it was enlightening and frightening in other cases to hear some stories. A Nicaraguan attendee who runs a women’s shelter told of being stabbed by a man who was sent to kill her by people who did not agree with what she was trying to do, and the pressure she faced from her family to not return to the work afterwards.
Shari Innis Grant, a researcher with the Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) Cave Hill, Barbados, said the conference was an important space to bring together women from different islands who are a subgroup (LBT persons) of a marginalized community (LGBTQI persons) so their voices could be heard. “We were talking about the complexity of identity and it’s so useful when looking at sexual orientation and gender identity to remember that those are portions of our identity that are intricately interlocked with race, class, religion, spirituality and everything else we experience. A conference like this is really giving people the opportunity to reflect on all those different parts of their lives and themselves from this shared vantage point and recognize both commonalities and differences.”
Through focus groups, self-care and mental health sessions, the conference was also used to gather data about the experiences of LBT women, something which is sorely lacking in the Caribbean, where the tradition of oral history is still strong. Shari said “We’re now getting into an area of firm, consistent, dependable documentation. Having spaces like this where we can show the participants a series of issues which have been identified and ask if these are relevant to their lives is essential. It allows us to document their histories in a way that can be used to support research and create statistics that can be used for various purposes. Collecting these specific narratives allows us to get to the cause of some of these issues.”
Kenita Placide, Executive Director of organizing organization, United and Strong St. Lucia, said it was interesting to see the reactions of the participants to some of the sessions. “This was the third year the conference is being held and there were people who were here at the last two, as well as newcomers. We recognize it was a new learning curve to some people and to others it would be a refresher, while others didn’t quite see the value in it per se. We were also able to include persons from Latin America through the use of translators and for me their involvement brought a wealth of knowledge to the table that I felt was missing in the English-speaking Caribbean. Having been able to pull it off with over 50 persons interacting in that space is really a new high, as the previous two conferences was an average of 30 persons.”
The next conference will be held in 2016 in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands and will be organized by Liberty Place. Debra said “the conference will be the same type of LBT-focused groups and information that is related to helping us be better organizations, better advocates and better community builders.”

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