At the tender age of 12, Sapphire Alexander was exposed to a heated exchange between two parents at her Port of Spain primary school. Hearing screams, and crying, her young mind could not understand what may have been happening but the sounds stayed with her to this day.
She only put a name to the experience as a teenager, three years later, in 2018, when she saw a TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called We Should All be Feminists. It was her first awareness of the issues women and girls face around the world.
“At the time I thought, ‘Yes! We should all be feminists. This makes so much sense!’ And it really inspired me to want to learn and understand more
“But a lot of feminism is tied up in tertiary academia, especially in the Caribbean, so there wasn’t really a space or a community that I knew of at that time for people as young as me to learn and share about these issues and to connect with other young people who share that same passion.
“I thought, ‘If it doesn’t exist, I’ll create my own.’”
Therefore, she started the blog, Caribbean Feminist.
Around that time, the case of Jason Jones vs the Attorney General, which eventually led to the repeal of the buggery law, was in progress. So she and some friends who wished to contribute, blogged on the topic.
“We thought it was an important time for young people, especially LGBTQIA+ young people in the region, so we wanted to take the time to address what that meant for the region, for young people, and for the future of those in that community.”
Since then, she has been expanding her knowledge by learning from the regional feminist community including activists, the UWI Institute of Gender and Development Studies, and academic papers on Caribbean feminism and issues impacting women.
She has interviewed activists throughout the Caribbean on poverty, street harassment, period poverty, Caribbean women’s history and other issues affecting herself and other young women.
And since the topics have been so relatable, many people have had a positive reaction to the blog, allowing it to grow and transform into an organisation.
Now, at 19, the youth gender activist’s interests include women’s rights, gender-based violence advocacy, LGBTQIA+ rights, access to education for women and girls, sexual health, and reproductive rights and education.
She is also a member of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust Network; a global adviser for Frida – The Young Feminist Fund, an international non-profit organisation; and a part of the Transform Education Young Feminist Coalition, a subset of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.
Alexander stressed that, contrary to popular stereotypes and misconceptions, feminism does not equate to a dislike of men or the burning of bras.
“For me, feminism at its core is the pursuit of equity for all genders, sexualities, sexual orientations. There is no one way to be a feminist. A lot of people get tied up and think in order to be a feminist you have to look or act a certain way, and that’s not true. Once you believe in equity, once you believe everyone deserves the same rights and access then you are a feminist. Those are feminist principles.”
16 days of activism
This year will be the second time Caribbean Feminist has participated in the 16 Days of Activism, an annual international campaign supported by the United Nations.
Running from November 25 to December 10, the theme is Orange the world: End violence against women now!
Caribbean Feminist is continuing last year’s campaign called Youth Against Gender-based Violence.
Alexander told WMN that last year she and a friend were discussing how powerless and frustrated they felt because they did not feel safe taking public transportation and often experienced discrimination.
"While growing up I was constantly being told that “girls are to be seen and not heard” which conflicted with the way I would constantly speak up for the issues I believed in. In addition to that I would say that as a young woman and as a young person I’ve always been one of a few in most spaces that I interact in, whether it be STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or youth advocacy."
She wanted to do something to bring awareness to the issue so Caribbean Feminist launched a digital campaign with infographics on social media to raise awareness, as well as a series of spoken word presentations by young people expressing their perspectives on the issue.
It also hosted a panel discussion on gender-based violence in the context of the pandemic with contributors such as Terry Ince, founder of Cedaw (Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee of TT; Claire Guy-Alleyne, Superintendent of the Gender-Based Violence Unit of the TT Police Service; and Afiya Mohammed, founder of the NGO Conflict Women.
This year Caribbean Feminist will host a self-defence workshop, as well as an online conversation on Twitter Spaces to discuss gender-based violence in the region with gender activists across the Caribbean.
It will also be working on a solidarity circle, an in-person workshop to promote healing and solidarity around the issue of school-based gender-based violence, in collaboration with the UN Girls’ Education Initiative and FeminiTT Caribbean.
Alexander graduated from St Augustine Girls' High School earlier this year and has been accepted to a university in Florida to study computer science in September 2022. She said she studied languages and sciences throughout her secondary school life and has always had a passion for computer science.
“Computer science is a growing and evolving field that I actually love. I love the way you can use technology to create solutions to solve problems. In the advocacy space it is the same thing you’re doing – finding solutions to complex problems. It’s the exact same thing in computer science except you’re using code to do it.
“I also love seeing the way technology has progressed in the humanitarian space, using tech to find issues to global problems like climate change, gender inequality policy and all those issues. That’s what I hope to do with computer science – find that intersection of advocacy and tech.”
Alexander is also in the process of registering Caribbean Feminist as an NGO since she recently expanded and now has a team.
“The fact that I’m leaving soon is the main reason I feel it’s really important to expand, that I could still have a presence while I’m not physically here because it’s something that started really small and it has gone on to grow exponentially since its creation. I could only hope that as the years go by I’m able to do more important work for my community of women and girls and young people.”