WMW: Creating Equal Spaces

July 28th, 2014

On a warm Saturday evening, the harmonies of vintage reggae drifted gently from behind the neat building that houses WMW Jamaica’s offices. It’s a busy part of town, but the sounds were softer this evening. This was WMW’s mingle and website launch.

The Mingle warms up.

The Mingle warms up.

In the courtyard, guests were arriving. Staff members were putting in quiet finishing touches. The security guard at the apartment block next door leant over the wall, enjoying the music. Tables were neatly swathed in Jamaica’s national colours – black and gold and green (yes, Independence holiday is just around the corner). The tall and sturdy mango tree and most of the guests were likewise sporting the colours of Jamaica’s flag in various combinations. A number of bright booths displayed the efforts of women entrepreneurs: all smiling, one playing with a child.

Now, in case you haven’t heard of it, let me introduce you to WMW (who launched their new website at the event: see http://www.wmwja.org) WMW is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with a significant track record, and a specific focus on the violence that is meted out to women in our society – and on expressions of that violence in the media. WMW (formerly Women’s Media Watch) now seeks to empower women – especially young women and girls – through training in areas such as gender equity advocacy and media literacy. WMW has a volunteer board and members; men and women are welcome to join and support.

WMW training seeks to give women a stronger, louder, clearer “voice” – a platform not only for self-expression, but also for self-discovery and the motivation to move with confidence towards taking a leadership position in society. The media – traditional and online – is an important vehicle, along with writing and public speaking. WMW’s “PowHERhouse” is a vibrant training project for young women. The first sessions took place in Kingston, and this week PowHERhouse moves to St. Ann.

WMW's Patricia Phillips welcomes the gathering with her usual beautiful humor.

WMW’s Patricia Phillips welcomes the gathering with her usual beautiful humor.

Saturday evening’s gathering coalesced as the syrupy orange rays of the setting sun squeezed through the branches of the mango tree; and the programme got under way. Light humour and serious reflections were interspersed with appropriate reggae tunes from the (male) “selectas” – poignant but unobtrusive. Patricia Donald Phillips welcomed us with laughter and song. Elaine Wint read two poems, one of them an early inspiration for WMW: “No More Smalling Up of Me” by Jean Wilson.

Doctor, writer, poet, Gleaner columnist Michael Abrahams in performance.

Doctor, writer, poet, Gleaner columnist Michael Abrahams in performance.

Poetry flowed. The creative and observant poet and writer Dr. Michael “Mikey” Abrahams, a gynaecologist by profession, was one of several male supporters spending time with WMW. “My job is taking care of women,” he observed, before recreating a personal conversation with a friend before she died at the hands of her abusive partner, in verse. The audience visibly winced; this was a true story. The Chair of the Jamaica Federation of Women Cecile Jarrett (a teacher, Principal of the St. John the Baptist Preparatory School and a published poet) read a passionate piece about the abused and ignored child. “Where is the village to raise wi child?” she urged. Well, we all know who the village is, and where to find it, don’t we. Then, Mandeville businesswoman Diana McIntyre-Pike told us about her involvement in community tourism, and we learnt about the work of the Women’s Leadership Initiative and the International Women’s Forum from guests Sharon Lake and Camille Facey.

WMW's Keishagay Jackson was looking beautifully patriotic.

WMW’s Keishagay Jackson was looking beautifully patriotic.

I met up with businesswoman Greta Bogues at a booth where a woman was working on fine crochet creations (“It’s in my genes,” she smiled). Ms. Bogues observed, “Let’s face it, women are still marginalised in Jamaica. Still.” Yes, men have it all sewn up, with their Lodges and old boys’ clubs. Women need their own support systems, like this. We need more WMWs, we agreed. I also chatted with Damaris Konate, who has just opened a Fitness, Wellness and Motivation Centre for Women right next door called Butterfly Paradise (inspired by the Jamaican-born motivational speaker, Alvin Day). Life’s Work was selling delicious scented candles. And Nuneka Williams, a PowHERhouse graduate, entrepreneur and sixth former at St. Andrew’s High School for Girls, proudly displayed her flavored popcorn. She is CEO of “Pop-Pa-La-Pi-Lious,” and popcorn is just the start.

Like Greta Bogues, guest speaker and CEO of the Digicel Foundation Samantha Chantrelle did not under-estimate the challenges facing Jamaican women. Returning home after twenty years living abroad, she said she was disturbed by the way Jamaican men relate to women in the workplace; and yes, she did use the word “sexism.” Indeed, there is “disempowerment and limited economic participation” by women in Jamaica. Women’s unemployment remains high, despite their increased presence in the workplace and their dominance at the University of the West Indies. We must, said Ms. Chantrelle, harness women’s economic potential and transform our development model to include them. Her organisation contributes to this effort by partnering with Hampton High School, a girls’ boarding school in the strengthening of its science teaching. The Foundation supports the school’s renewable energy project, involving the installation of solar panels. “The girls are doing everything themselves,” Ms. Chantrelle emphasized. “This is a departure from the traditional way of doing things for women.”

Yet many young women are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and powerlessness. Joy Crawford is Programmes Director at Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that works to empower young mothers living with HIV/AIDS – most of whom also encounter sexual violence and abuse. This has been a growing concern for Eve for Life, along with the seemingly entrenched preference of some Jamaican men for young girls. “Stop sensationalizing what is happening to our young girls,” urged Joy. They need support and protection, not to be turned into adolescent sex objects. “Nuh guh deh” is Eve’s campaign on behalf of the girls. Note to men and boys – don’t go there!

One thing occurred to me, that warm Saturday evening. WMW is quietly and steadily building a supportive, progressive community of women, of all ages and from all walks of life – from the students of the inner-city Kingston High School to the middle-class businesswomen and philanthropists, to young entrepreneurs, university students and aspiring politicians. In this sense WMW is quite unique, and I love them for this.

“There’s no obstacle so bold/As to stand in my way/I am taking back my life/And I am doing it today.” – Jean Wilson

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8 Responses to “WMW: Creating Equal Spaces”

  1. judith wedderburn says:

    Thanks so much Emma! YOur blog beautifully captures the energy and spirit which is driving WMW as it is determined to create “equal spaces” in which women from all walks of life can thrive.
    Judith

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    Thanks so much, Judith! I am glad that you enjoyed it. There was much “positive energy” that evening. I think WMW is truly a nurturing organization. Emma

  3. Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah says:

    Another good blog Emma, this one sharing a good experience for those who missed it. Thanks.

  4. EmmaLewis says:

    Thank you, Barbara. It was a good experience indeed – and one of the things I loved about it was how different generations of women harmonized together (and of course, the support of men).

  5. Winnie Anderson-Brown says:

    It’s great to have you share your talent in this way. Excellent piece Emma. Keep up the good work. Lots of Love Light Laughter and prosperity to you.

  6. EmmaLewis says:

    Thanks so much for your encouragement and support, Winnie!

  7. Andrew Carey says:

    When will there be another lime/mingle?

  8. EmmaLewis says:

    Oh! Good question, Andrew! We would have to ask WMW… :-)