DEMAND for better is the theme for the third annual Women’s Rights Rally in honour of International Women’s Day (IWD). Though IWD is commemorated today (March 8), the rally will be tomorrow at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Institute for Gender and Development Studies lecturer and organiser Dr Angelique Nixon encourages everyone to bring ten friends and come to the rally.
The global theme for International Women’s Day is balance for better.
"Pulling from balance for better," she said, "we have to demand better. We are inviting all organisations, all people who are interested to come out. Bring your message and come. We continue to the struggle with violence against women and girls and we are inviting everyone to bring your costumes and come. We want people to come out and celebrate," she said.
This is the third instalment of this march, which is run by a collective of 25 partner organisations such as the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, Womantra, the Network of NGOs and Working Women, Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), CEDAW Committee of TT and Fire Circle TT.
They are calling on everyone to bring their placards and come. As it is the Saturday after Carnival, they are describing the march as a last lap around the Savannah for gender justice.
Nixon wants better discussions and more attention to be paid to those who have experienced gender-based violence and sexual abuse.
“My message is one of priorities and privileging the voices of survivors. Personally and politically, I am a survivor of gender-based violence and child sexual abuse.
"We need to create a space for empowerment and healing. We need to ask how do we work harder and smarter to get rid of gender-based violence and child sexual abuse," she said.
Nixon says Caribbean people, through vestiges of colonialism, all experience gender-based violence. Be it catcalling in the streets, sexual harassment in the workplaces, intimate partner violence or homophobic and transphobic actions, women experience a number of forms of abuse.
"I was abused by a family member. It's difficult. I've been estranged from that side of my family for speaking out. I grew up in households that were so violent against women. I am not unusual. Most of us grew up in homes with violence," she said.
Saturday's events will include an information fair offering legal consultations as well as mental health counsellors, a service the organisers believe is important for women who need assistance to access such information.
Organiser Élysse Marcellin, of Mindwise, wants better treatment of women who express their mental health issues. She says often women’s mental-health matters are trivialised because of misogynistic stereotypes of women being overly emotional or on their periods.
"It's also important for us to make an open and honest conversation about how mental health impacts our way of life without it being diminished to being a sensitive woman. In many instances we are experiencing legitimate mental health struggles that need to be dealt with adequate resources."
She said women should be able to have the space to say "I'm having a bad mental health day" and have it respected.
Marcellin's demand for better is for women to exist in the public sphere without public commentary.
She described a moment during Carnival where she was sitting on the pavement and a man mistook her for a man. He apologised, but the men with him started to discuss how much she looked like a man.
Another demand Marcellin had was for women to exist in the public sphere without being subject to scrutiny.
"My first demands would be around the general respect for women's bodily autonomy. Women should be free to exist without commentary. We don't need anyone to tell us how we are not meeting up to their expectation of womanhood. We are allowed to manifest our identity in whatever way we feel fit," she said.
Stephanie Leitch, founding director of Womantra, is among the people leading chants for the rally. As the event is so close to Carnival the rally is appropriating soca lyrics and giving them a gender-justice twist.
One of the songs targeted is the highly-criticised Hookin' Meh. She is calling on the public to make their own chants and join the rally. “Bring Yuh Message and Come,” is the tag line this year.
Leitch said IWD is particularly special for her as it is Womantra’s anniversary.
She is one of the founding organisers of this specific IWD march. Previously the march was organised by Network of NGOs, which led the march on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port of Spain.
However, three years ago, Ronnelle King, Barbadian organiser of Life in Leggings, made a regional call for all women’s organisation to join together to speak out against gender-based violence, and Womantra, along with the other groups, gathered together for their first rally in the Savannah. Leitch said this way the rally was more accessible to families who wanted to attend.