CSOs form Caribbean Gender Alliance
Civil Society Organisations from across the Caribbean, along with members of staff of UN Women Caribbean – MCO and Spotlight Initiative Caribbean Regional at a Retreat held in August 2022
by Lisa Legall Belgrave
Several Caribbean civil society organisations (CSOs) have come together to form the Caribbean Gender Alliance, which is a regional partnership of organisations working to promote healthy gender relations across the Caribbean. The objectives of the Alliance are to implement gender transformative initiatives with women, men, girls and boys; support the implementation of Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) and similar curricula across the Caribbean; advocate for gender-sensitive policies and practices; and promote opportunities for local and regional collaboration among CSOs.
This follows the inaugural Caribbean CSO Retreat, facilitated by UN Women Multi-Country Office (MCO) – Caribbean under Pillar 6 of the Spotlight Initiative Caribbean Regional programme, which brought together 24 CSOs from across the Caribbean. The Retreat held from 7-13 August 2022 focused on alliance-building, movement strategising and targeted capacity building.
Akilah Dorris, UN Women Spotlight Initiative Caribbean Regional Coordinator stated, “civil society leadership and advocacy are critical and necessary tenets for movement building in the Caribbean. We were able to convene in this space because of the incredible commitment and work of the many feminist/women’s organisations who continue to ensure that women’s rights issues remain on the political and legislative agenda.
“Their efforts to ensure the delivery of quality multisectoral services to the most vulnerable and marginalised, do not go unrecognised. We are happy to have been associated with such an historic event and we are confident that the Caribbean Feminist Chapter, when formed, will be catalytic and transformational in advancing the sustainable development agenda in our region”.
Many CSOs provide services and engage in advocacy to end family violence (FV) and gender-based violence (GBV) and have contributed to the development of policies and legal frameworks to address the scourge.
However, during the design phase of the Spotlight Initiative Caribbean Regional Programme, it was noted that there is no formal network of Non-Governmental Organisations that focuses on GBV. To close this gap, there was a general consensus that the region would benefit from establishing an umbrella regional network of women’s rights groups and CSOs to support a coordinated approach to ongoing feminist movement building for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and ending Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).
It is against this background that the Caribbean CSO Retreat was conceptualised to start the groundwork for the establishment of such a network.
A selection committee reviewed Expressions of Interests and chose participants based on a set criteria. There was an effort to ensure that youth-led networks and CSOs participated as they are the “life-blood” of the women’s movement. Participants came from Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.
CSOs helped to shape the Retreat’s agenda by completing a survey during the planning stages of the event. It was important for organisers that participants played a major role in shaping the topics covered during the Retreat.
Over the five-day event, participants heard from veterans and champions of movement-building in the Caribbean during a moderated panel discussion. Panellists shared insights of what worked and lessons that can be applied to reinvigorate the movement. Other sessions focussed on a shared understanding of violence against women in the region, strategies to address VAWG, resource mobilisation, proposal writing, advocacy, and a briefing on the Spotlight Initiative Caribbean Regional programme.
In a follow-up engagement with the CSOs they felt better equipped to move the Caribbean Women’s Movement forward. Sixteen of the 20 organisations that attended have also formed a collaboration called the EVAWG Partnership to advance tools for every person in the Caribbean to use to end VAWG. These 16 CSOs are supported by 45 more from Trinidad and Tobago, 10 private sector organisations and six media houses.
Nadella Oya of Create Future Good, civil society activist and Retreat participant shared that “this was achieved because UN Women MCO – Caribbean campaigned to get us in the same room. [This] helped us to discover each other in a way that we were fired up to continue the work, amp up the momentum of the Women’s Movement regionally.”
This collaboration and movement building will be underpinned by a statement of principles that is being drafted drawing from inputs from the Caribbean CSO Retreat. Ultimately, it is anticipated that this will form the nucleus of a “Caribbean Charter” that will guide the cooperation of members of the regional network.