The 3rd Annual Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference (CWSDC) was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad from October 5-11, 2015. Having attended the conference exactly one year ago in Suriname, I was extremely excited to once again have the opportunity to network with several women from a number of countries in the Caribbean region, while building my professional capacity as an activist.
The main aim of this conference is to bring lesbians, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women and allies together for a week, to build our professional capacity, encourage networking and the sharing of ideas, and equip us with the tools necessary to be effective activists in the Caribbean region. There is no other conference like this in the region and United and Strong Saint Lucia must be applauded for all the work they put into ensuring the conference is executed yearly.
The CWSDC allows participants to not only learn and share an incredible amount of important information that is bound to boost our capacity as advocates and activists, but to also experience the culture of the host country. This year I attended the conference as a representative of WE-Change. As I was the only Trinidadian in the WE-Change delegation, I was tasked with the responsibility of hosting the team. As a proud ‘Trini’, it was quite exciting to show the WE-Change team what Trinidad had to offer.
The day following their arrival – before the commencement of conference activities – was spent at Maracas Beach where they sampled different Trinidadian sweets, a few bottles of Stag, and our world renowned Bake and Shark. They also stopped at one of our malls and had dinner at the popular cinema and shopping plaza Movie Towne.
The WE-Change team was very committed to ensuring that they soaked up every bit of Trinidad each day after conference activities, and I ensured that they made it to the Avenue (perhaps one of the best strip of clubs and bars in the Caribbean) more than once; had doubles, a good roti; took a shopping trip to Port of Spain; and had our local KFC – Royal Castle. While they were not able to experience everything that my lovely twin island has to offer, they were treated to a wonderful time and went back home not just inspired and motivated as activists, but culturally satisfied (and were quite reluctant to leave Trinidad).
The WE-Change team is known to work hard and play hard, and was therefore equally enthusiastic about the conference activities. Everyone has their top two, three, five (or more) favourite sessions, and I am no different. As the Research & Advocacy Officer for WE-Change, the sessions which I enjoyed the most were Media and Advocacy, Creative Activism, Presentation Skills and Security for Human Rights Defenders.
I am particularly interested in the strategic use of media and communication (especially social media) to engage the audience activists work with and for, and this was very thoroughly and interestingly covered in the session on Media and Advocacy which was facilitated by Maria Fontenelle of United and Strong Saint Lucia and supported by Latoya Nugent of WE-Change. The session on Creative Activism by Lysanne Charles Arrindell of S.A.F.E. (Sint. Maarten) was also extremely interesting and relevant as people rarely think of the performing arts and writing as very effective forms of activism in the region.
On the final day of the conference, we played a game called ‘Stepping Up’, which focused on LBT Women’s Movement Building which I believe had a lasting impact on everyone who participated. To play this game we were placed into groups and challenged to finish a maze. Along the way we were met with various realistic problems on issues relating to feminism, child abuse, climate change, and education. We had to work together as a group to work through the issues in order to move forward. I enjoyed this activity the most as it gave me an opportunity to work with the other members of WE-Change, which is something I unfortunately do not do often, as I now live in Trinidad.
The greatest lesson I learned from the activity was the importance of working together and taking it one step at a time when making decisions and executing projects. My team was so insistent on finishing the maze as quickly as possible in order to win, that we did not always take enough time to carefully discuss issues, which we may have guessed incorrectly. I likened this to our daily activism where sometimes we do not take the time to truly understand the root causes of the issues at hand before we begin to plan and execute projects to solve these issues; or we sometimes do not spend enough time evaluating projects which we executed before moving on to other plans.
Further to this, the fact that many of the populations we serve and represent are affected by age old stigma and discrimination, means that taking things one day at a time and one project at a time, rather than rushing, is important to ensure we as activists do not become overwhelmed and stressed. This game was extremely significant and perhaps a ‘must play’ for all advocates and activists.
While the CWSDC this year was quite different from the one last year, having the opportunity to be surrounded by women who, though separated geographically and culturally, work tirelessly toward similar causes was incredible. The activities in which we participated, and the discussions we had as a group ensured that many of us left the conference more knowledgeable and definitely more empowered which is quite important, given so much of the work we do tends to be daunting.
I am already looking forward to the CWSDC 2016 to be held in St. Croix. And thanks to United and Strong Saint Lucia and all sponsors for making yet another staging of this exceptional conference a reality.