There is a feeling of helplessness reading the newspaper or watching the news and seeing another case of a missing or murdered woman and child. And with a multitude of cases, it is easy for the public to begin to feel they are mere statistics.
But for the NGO Act to Change T&T, it was important to remember these victims, and the group recently launched a poster series highlighting 125 missing and murdered women and children.
The group said in a statement the series is part of its "continuing to call for drastic changes and action by the government and opposition to make TT a safer place for women and children."
It said the poster series was not exhaustive, "as there are hundreds of women and children who have been victims of violence or have gone missing over the years. However, by collating some of the victims into a visual format, Act to Change T&T aims to demonstrate that steps must be taken swiftly in the areas of safer transportation, legalising pepper spray, removing bail for sexual offenders, approving the National Strategic Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, and implementing educational programmes on proper conflict resolution."
Act to Change T&T was formed in February by the mother-daughter team of Samantha Juman, a senior financial analyst who is now doing a graduate degree abroad, and Nadia Juman, who works from home and is involved in various community organisations.
It was born "out of a need to highlight the many underlying struggles facing our nation, the most critical one being the criminal elements and injustices faced by women and children. The true spark for us was the deaths of Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt. By bringing awareness to this topic we hope to implore the morals and values of the citizens of our nation to rise up and voice these issues and to call out to our leaders to act, to implement and enforce policies that will bring positive change where it’s needed most," they told Newsday.
They explained that they are still trying to find themselves in this activist space and understand where their place is among many other organisations that strive towards common goals of social justice, equality, and safety of women and children in TT.
"Although we are a very new NGO that was formed and is still operating during a global pandemic where activities are limited at the moment, Act to Change T&T has an overarching goal to improve core areas of our country primarily domestic crime, violence and education, through encouraging and garnering community action. We aim to inspire and educate others around critical issues in TT."
They said this was most recently demonstrated by their call to action for A Day Without Women and Walkout for Women, both nationwide events triggered by the murders of Riley and Bharatt. They explained the latter event, which was organised by two other feminist NGOs and formally supported by 16 others, was really a “part two” of the former event, which was the result of the birth of Act to Change T&T.
The Jumans said after the formation the group garnered welcome support from other like-minded individuals and organisations.
They also stressed that they are not politically aligned and are concerned with accountability, peaceful support, and dialogue.
Asked about the inspiration for the poster campaign, they explained it was the brainchild of two men with whom they started communicating while planning theWalkout for Women. They said one of them, Nasser Khan, carried on collaborating with them on the idea.
"The inspiration really came from the momentum generated by the two other campaigns mentioned earlier that called for change by the government to end gender-based violence and create a safer TT for women and children. We wanted to keep reminding people of all of those we have lost before Ashanti and Andrea.
"For Act to Change T&T especially, the poster series was a way to communicate to the nation that we as individuals are inevitably responsible for our behaviour, how we bring up our children. While it is very difficult as individuals to move mountains in the fight against crime in our country, we can do our part to treat each other kindly, and when we cannot, find the strength to choose the power of words over the bloodiness of violence."
The images and information were all sourced from various local news articles, the Missing Persons T&T page, the Police Service Facebook page, and online archives.
"Unfortunately, it did not take very long to put all the names and information and pictures together, as it was not hard to come up with 125 names. There are endless names that could have been added to the list.
"What did take most of the time was the collating of information and images into a digital poster format, revising it, making edits. There were several iterations. Thankfully we had the help of our dear friend and designer Annie Duprey."
The poster series was launched on the Act for Change T&T Facebook page on June 15 and ran for about a week. The posters were also published in a newspaper.
The Jumans said they have had an outpouring of responses to the poster series, with almost 7,000 people engaging with the digital version.
"Sentiments expressed have mainly been sad, angry, upset. Several have commented that they were friends of or family of victims included in the poster and they are thankful that we have not forgotten them.
"One lady says she still has the knapsack of her son who was killed.
"Many speak of greater action needed by our police and government. Some say we can never be helped and the country is corrupt beyond return, but we will not give up in the fight for positive change."
There has no response, however, from either the government or the police as far as they are aware. They described the poster campaign as a springboard to continue holding the government, opposition, and police accountable for reducing crime, violence, especially domestic violence.
"Now that these 125 faces are brought back into the spotlight, Act to Change T&T would like to keep tabs on what progress is being made by our leaders, keep the public informed via our page, and if there comes a time when another 125 lives are taken or missing, we would develop another poster series. We hope that it does not come to that."
One of the changes the group would like to see is a reform of the transport industry that would make it safer for women and children to travel in taxis.
And what’s next for Act for Change T&T?
"As alluded to in the past page of the poster series, our main theme right now for Act to Change T&T is around being kind to each other and encouraging self-reflection especially in the times we are living in a lockdown (and under a) stay-at-home order."
They added that violence is learned, "And so we are currently focusing our efforts on tackling the issue of domestic violence through primary education in schools. We believe that education is the root cause of most of the world’s problems, and T&T is no exception."
The Jumans said at the moment, owing to covid19, their next project, with the Ministry of Education, has been delayed, as they are waiting for approval of a conflict-resolution poster.
"We hope that we can continue and complete the launch of this during the next school year."
For more info: see the Act for Change T&T Facebook page.