In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival Goes Feminist

Photo: Andrea De Silvia

Gabrielle Hosein,
The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, which recently ended its 2017 rendition, is an event as contradictory as it is extraordinary. The Conversation

No mere mimicry of other such celebrations in Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans, Carnival on this Caribbean island of 1.4 million people – primarily descended from enslaved Africans and Indian indentured labourers – combines African traditions with European pre-Lent festivities and Indian musical rhythms.

Given this syncretism, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, over the past 200 years, Carnival has been not just two days of normal order turned upside down but also an annual expression of female political resistance.

Beads and glitter and ‘bikini mas’

Caribbean women’s takeover of Carnival is most evident during “bikini mas”. Each year, tens of thousands of women participate in this Carnival mas(querade), “playing mas” in Rio-style sequined bikinis, feathered headpieces and beads.

Because playing bikini mas has come to replace traditional costumes portraying other periods, places and cultures (as well as some fantastical imagined characters), some fear that Trinidad and Tobago’s historic tradition is dying. New, imported masquerade styles, say traditional mas makers, do not make political statements or show off local artistry.

But bikini mas is a complex phenomenon. Its rise is directly linked to women’s increasing earnings and economic independence; disposable income and the desire for well-earned fun support the demand for such costumes. It also reflects black and brown women’s wish to be affirmed as beautiful and sexy, not only seen as successful and serious students and workers.

As feminist scholar and mas player Dr Sue Ann Barratt told me:

A big part of it for some women is … to show they have been working out and qualify as gorgeous, for affirmation as a woman and to send a message that you can be watched, but not touched.

In short, bikini mas authorises women to push back against the strict moral controls that religion and society place on them (while allowing men more sexual freedom).

Take, for example, these lyrics from Soca music star Destra Garcia’s 2016 hit, Lucy: “I grew up as ah real good girl, always home, don’t go nowhere. As soon as I was introduced to Carnival, they say I loose”.

Meanwhile, singer Orlando Octave observed in one 2017 tune, “Plenty girl have [a] man and [yet] acting like they single, wining like she single, feting like she single”.

This contradiction – which Trinidadian women live every day – has helped spur bikini mas to become a ritual for an entire generation of young women: a women’s movement given cultural expression.

The original anti-slut shaming

These revellers are continuing the nation’s long-standing tradition of female self-affirmation, resistance to subordination, and renegotiation of the rules governing public space.

Caribbean women have always been at the forefront of rebellions, from rising up against slavery in the 1500s to leading the 1903 riots over access to water.

Well before slavery was abolished in 1838, Trinidadian women played in Carnival bands. Sometimes they covered themselves in mud, expressing a sexuality even then decried as indecent. Alongside them would march women who fought in stickfights (public duelling competitions), a stereotypically “masculine” activity.

By the 1800s, such women had come to be known as “Jamettes”, from the French diametre, which referred to those considered to exist below the line of respectability.

After abolition these working-class, African-descended women continued the Jamette tradition. They often cooked, washed clothes and socialised in shared urban backyards, and worked in a wide range of trades, from washerwomen or market vendors to sex workers.

With its fearless and unapologetic combination of sexual, reproductive and economic issues with insistence on justice, equality and freedom from violence, Jamette politics has come to influence Trinidad and Tobago’s modern Carnival – and Caribbean feminism – in ways that cross class, colour, religion and race.

Predating by decades the “slut walks” of Canada and the United States, bikini mas has helped cultivate contemporary women’s opposition to rape culture in Trinidad and Tobago, where male domination and sexual harassment of women is seen as natural and normal. Indeed, the Caribbean region has disproportionately high rates of sexual violence.

Last year, a Japanese steelpan player, Asami Nagakiya, was murdered during Carnival in Port of Spain. After the city’s mayor suggested that that women’s dress and behaviour at this annual event invited abuse, feminist groups called for his resignation and young women came out in their bikini mas costumes to protest the victim-blaming.

Over the next months, #NotAskingForIt campaign, featuring female students, workers, family members and bikini mas players, circulated social media across the entire Caribbean region.

‘Just because I look glamorous in a tight dress’ doesn’t mean I’m ‘asking for it’.

Classist and sexist or empowering?

Bikini mas is not without its contradictions. The cost of participation in a “band” of mas costume players can be up to US$1,000 per person. Though all classes of women find the money to pay for an outfit, economics shapes access to these moments of female freedom.

Classism features, too, in the way that many women who play in bikini mas bands are contained on either side by ropes and security personnel. This reproduces historical ways that white upper classes used to cut themselves off from others while taking over the streets.

But such cordoning also signals a harsh modern reality of violence against women: the ropes are meant to protect women of all classes and races from sexual harassment. Still, this policing of women’s bodies complicates the radical potential of bikini mas.

Young feminist are finding ways to connect Trinidad’s centuries-old Carnival to a new generation of political resistance. This year, the prominent “Leave me alone, Leave she alone” campaign teamed up with singer Calypso Rose to embolden women against sexual violence and encourage men to help create a Carnival – and by extension society – in which women are safe and free.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival is where thousands of women express their aspirations for freedom and equality. Look beneath stock images of pretty glitter and beads, and you’ll find just such feminist ideals.

Gabrielle Hosein, Lecturer and Head of Gender Studies Department, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

WOMEN’S HEALTH ALERT – Public Meeting on Patient-Focused Drug Development for Sarcopenia

On April 6, 2017, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, FDA is conducting a public meeting on Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) for Sarcopenia. FDA is interested in obtaining patient perspectives on the impact of sarcopenia on daily life and patient views on treatment approaches. Registration to attend the meeting must be received by April 6, 2017.

In addition to providing input at the public meeting, stakeholders are invited to provide their perspectives on the discussion questions through the public docket. The docket closes on June 6, 2017.

Register for the meeting

Submit comments to the public docket

Sarcopenia, or the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age, is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.

There’s No Such Thing As Gender Equality If You’re A Women In Politics

Virginia García Beaudoux
University of Buenos Aires

March 8, 2017

In my work as a gender and communications specialist I have met – and in some cases professionally advised – female ministers, legislators, mayors, community leaders and judges across the world, from the Dominican Republic and Honduras to the Netherlands and Sweden. The Conversation

I’m Argentinean, so the struggles described to me by Latin American female leaders, who confront inter-party resistance and media double standards on a daily basis, are familiar ones. Our region’s gender gap is a disheartening 30%; Guatemala and Paraguay are among the world’s least gender-equal places.

I have been surprised, however, to hear that women in northern Europe – the most gender-equal region in the world – report the same grievances. While researching my latest book on women in power, I interviewed 18 female politicians in Sweden and The Netherlands, certain that their experience in public service would starkly contrast that of their Latin American peers. After all, in those countries, women already occupy 40% of political positions – and they didn’t need a quota system to do it. Only in a gender-equal paradise could that happen, right?

Sadly not.

The women I interviewed varied in age and ideological background. Some were already retired and others were engaged as EU parliamentarians, congresspeople, government ministers, judges and congressional commission presidents.

It turns out that although women in Sweden and the Netherlands have achieved near parity in national parliaments, they nonetheless share many challenges. Every person interviewed – conservative, progressive, junior or senior – felt that women still had a long way to go to achieve substantive equality.

“When we talk about involvement of women in politics,” one Dutch interviewee said, “it is not just a matter of numbers, but … also of their position to exert influence. How many of them are in ‘hard core’ areas like budget, for example, and really have visibility?”

In other words, equality is not just numeric.

In the Netherlands, since the 1970s “gender mainstreaming” effort, the idea of gender equality is so firmly instilled that citizens won’t vote for parties whose candidate lists aren’t roughly gender-equal, ensuring women get on the ticket. The EU first began to legislate equal pay and equal rights for women in 1979, pressuring member states to adopt such laws nationally. So a top-down cultural shift has been underway for decades.

All the women I spoke to agreed that this has helped, but only to a degree. Women are still under-represented in ministries and decisive parliamentary commissions: among developed-world nations, only 17% of government ministers are women. It’s also meaningful that in Spain only 9% of male ministers do not have children, while 45% of female ministers do not.

Neither Sweden nor the Netherlands has yet seen a female head of state – something that, for example, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica have all achieved.

We’ve still got a long way to go

So even in the world’s most egalitarian countries, the debate on women’s rights continues.

“There are still many stereotypes that exert influence, especially on domestic task divisions,” one Dutch parliamentarian said. Yes, even Western European women confront the “can she have it all?” dilemma.

Another woman, an EU parliamentarian, told me:

When I became Member of Parliament, [the media] asked me how I managed to combine my work as a politician with motherhood or family life. Before we had kids, my husband had two jobs … He gave up one to take care of the household and our children. After eight years, he became Alderman of Amsterdam, … and then everybody turned to me and asked what I would do now. I answered ‘well, I have the same job, he is the one who has a new one, so ask him.’

Of course, in Northern Europe as in the rest of the world, stereotypes and double-standards still influence media coverage of women. Women said journalists made numerous comments about their hair or clothing, or about looking exhausted after a late-night session (men were celebrated for their stamina).

One woman with experience as both an EU parliamentarian and government minister, recounted this anecdote:

A photo journalist came to me and said ‘Madam, you have always the same suit on’. I said ‘Yes, that’s not a problem for me, is it a problem for you?’ And he answered that in fact it was … because it gave the impression that photographs were always the same one. I always wore a brooch, so I told him, ‘Ok, I will give you something new: I will change the brooches.’

Women make the road

The women interviewed shared recommendations for fixing these inequalities – again, political affiliation made no difference in these policy recommendations.

Every woman commented on the need to address gender bias in early childhood education. One congresswoman who suggested working with young boys and girls to raise awareness of gender stereotypes also commented that teachers at preschools and schools must be trained in equality as well. And indeed, some Scandanavian nations are, controversially, already mandating gender-neutral reading (goodbye, Snow White).

Although defying gender roles is everyone’s job, women have a decisive part to play. Each and every woman I interviewed, regardless of age or political position, agreed that mentorship was key to her success. Women with more experience offered advice to those with less, and gave them strength to keep fighting.

At a collective level, too, these powerful women agreed that women’s movements and women’s organisations, both within civil society and inside political parties, are fundamental to the continued struggle for political inclusion. Such groups offer women “a place where women meet [and] fight for their causes”, one interview subject said.

When Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau introduced his new cabinet, comprised of 15 men and 15 women, after his 2015 election victory, a reporter asked why it was important for him to have a gender-equal cabinet.

Trudeau’s answer was, “Because it’s 2015.”

But it’s 2017 now, and I can’t seem to find gender paradise – only more women struggling for it. Maybe in 2018?

Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2017 National Women Veterans Summit

By Kayla Williams
 January 13, 2017

Women Veterans account for approximately 10 percent of the U.S. Veteran population, which will grow to 15 percent by 2030. While many of their challenges and opportunities are similar to those of their male counterparts, some are unique or disproportionate to the women Veterans population—which is younger and more ethnically diverse than their male peers.   It is for this reason that VA is planning a national platform to discuss these issues—the 2017 National Women Veterans Summit.

The 2017 summit will focus on the needs and issues important to women Veterans and provide training, information and guidance to assist women Veterans—and those who serve them—with navigating through VA and community resources.

womens Summit logoThis event, the first national-level women Veterans summit since 2011, will bring together key stakeholders from across a variety of sectors, to identify challenges and opportunities facing women Veterans and collaborate on identifying and diffusing best practices in serving them. It is designed to promote forward-thinking dialogue and innovative collaboration among private industry, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, innovators, researchers, caregivers, and women Veterans.

The target audience for the summit includes women Veterans; public sector partners, including military, federal, state, and local agencies; Veterans service organizations and other nonprofit partners; academics and others in the research community; representatives from the tech industry and corporations; other community partners; and VA employees, including women Veteran program managers and women Veteran coordinators. The summit will consist of lectures, discussion panels, an exhibit hall and an open forum. Discussion by all attendees will be encouraged throughout the event.

Attendees will have an opportunity to hear from VA leadership, and participate in breakout sessions focused on employment, mental health, entrepreneurship, military sexual trauma, reproductive health, culture change and more. Additionally, plenary sessions will focus on VA care and benefits, partner organizations, and a special “Voice of the Veteran” panel.  The event will also feature a women Veterans art exhibit, a display of artwork by select women Veteran artists from across the United States.

The event is tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 17, through Saturday, March 18 in Dallas, Texas. These dates and a location will be confirmed soon. Please check out the Center for Women Veterans website for updates and registration information. We hope to see you there.

Kayla Williams is the director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans.

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Knowledge Empowers – Learn About Mammography

 

Custer, SD – Zonta Club of the Southern Black Hills has joined forces with the “Mammo or Bust” Task Force to present an educational forum as part of an effort to inform the public that mammography services are now available in Custer.

Some of our residents may remember that a mobile mammography machine used to come to Custer periodically so that women would not have to travel to Rapid City to get a mammogram.  That service was terminated several years ago.  So a group of determined and tenacious women began a quest to bring those services back to Custer.  The “Mammo or Bust” Task Force was born.  The initiative became a multi-year saga as Task Force members learned what they would need to accomplish their mission.  First, they had to establish themselves as a non-profit organization so that they could take donations and apply for grants.  Then they had to gather the statistics necessary to support the need for services in Custer County.  They obtained the support of Regional Health which agreed to provide the facilities and train technicians.  And, finally, they were able to raise sufficient funds to actually buy the machine and have it installed in Custer Regional Hospital.

Now that the machine is in place, the next step is to get the word out to residents that mammography services are now available at Custer Regional Hospital.  But what exactly is a mammogram?  Why do women need to have one?  Additional confusion arises since guidelines for when and how often women should have mammograms have been revised several times in recent years sparking some controversy along the way.  Then there is the issue of health insurance.  What about women who don’t have insurance?

To help answer these and other questions is the goal of the forum.  The forum will feature speakers from the American Cancer Society, Custer Regional Medical Center, and the South Dakota Department of Health.  Topics include:

  • the role of early detection in preventing cancer;
  • description of the actual process of receiving a mammogram;
  • rehabilitation services available after treatment for breast cancer;
  • how to access the “All Women Count!” program, a federally funded, state administered service that pays for mammography and cervical cancer screening for eligible women;
  • overcoming barriers to getting a mammogram, such as transportation and child care;
  • what it is like to have survived breast cancer and how mammography helped.

The forum will be held on Saturday, October 15 from 1:30 to 4:30 PM at the Pine Room in the Custer County Courthouse Annex at 447 Crook Street in downtown Custer.  The event is free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be available.  For more information, contact Peg Ryan, 605-517-1664 or by e-mail at ultrapeg@yahoo.com

There will also be a 5K run/walk on the morning of the forum which will begin at 9:00 AM on Saturday, October 15 at Custer Regional Hospital on Montgomery Street.  A $10 entry fee will support the Mammo or Bust Task Force in its continuing efforts to help women obtain mammograms.

Knowledge empowers.  Get your questions answered.  This is your opportunity to learn from the experts.

 

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State of Women Veterans Social Media Campaign Launched

 

Washington – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is partnering with Women Veterans Interactive (WVI) to launch a State of Women Veterans’ social media campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of women Veterans’ military and societal contributions and provide an avenue for informing women Veterans about the VA benefits they have earned.

“This campaign is a collaborative effort to establish partnerships with nonprofit organizations that advocate and provide assistance on behalf of women Veterans,” said Kayla Williams, Director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “We are elated to be partnering with WVI in this important initiative. The new State of Women Veterans’ social media campaign offers another way to connect with women Veterans to raise awareness about VA care and benefits and to encourage collaborative partnerships.”

The campaign will conclude over the Veterans Day weekend and will be recognized and featured during a WVI- sponsored event in November. For more information or to join in the conversation, follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter, like the Department of Veterans Affairs Facebook page and use the hashtag State of #WomenVets. #

Zonta of The Southern Black Hills Seeks Grant Applications From Community Organizations

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Custer, SD – July 28, 2016 – Zonta of the Southern Black Hills is asking to hear from local community organizations in need of funds.

Every year, Zonta of the Southern Black Hills donates to a number of local organizations, all benefiting women in the community, with proceeds from the chapter’s monthly planner and Custer business telephone directory. In the past, organizations such as Women Escaping A Violent Environment, the Storehouse, Mammo or Bust, the Custer Library, the Hermosa American Legion’s Girls State program and Girls In Science have all received a donation from the Zonta chapter. Over $60,000 has been given away in Zonta’s 21 year history to organizations and groups benefiting women in the community.

However, this year, the chapter will receive grant applications.

“In the past, we had granted funds through applications, as well as selected organizations and groups that we think deserve funds to continue with their mission,” said Carrie Moore, Zonta Club of the Southern Black Hills president. “This year, we look forward to continuing the process of granting a number of groups and organizations with a donation to help with their mission based on their application. Now we can include organizations our club is not aware of.”

Organizations, groups and people who wish to receive a grant should submit a short request detailing the organization and its projects, as well as the amount of funds needed to fulfill the project(s) and how the organization/project benefits women in the Custer and Southern Black Hills community.

All submissions must benefit women, which coincides with Zonta’s mission to empower and help women. Proceeds from the fundraiser are open to organizations in the Southern Black Hills, including Custer, Hermosa, Hill City, Keystone, Hot Springs and Edgemont.
Requests may be emailed to southernblackhillszonta@gmail.com or mailed to P.O. Box 28 Custer, S.D., 57730. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, Aug. 31. Members of Zonta of the Southern Black Hills’ service dollar committee will look over the submissions and alert the organization of their selection, with funds to be given away at the end of September.

The Power of Community

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Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

The power of community is both humbling and inspiring.  Each of us has our own special individual gifts to offer the world.  But when we join those gifts together an energy is created by the group that can be greater than the capacity of the individual parts.

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in the inaugural edition of the South Dakota Yoga Conference.  We live in a rural state with a low population scattered over a large geographic area.  Yet the human resources available here are world-class. Presenters with expertise in a wide variety of mind-body disciplines came from all over the state to gather with a group of enthusiastic attendees from multiple states.  There were an amazing 33 sessions available over two full days.  The variety of topics and expertise of the presenters made it difficult to choose among them.  In the end all choices were good.  A total win-win for everyone!  In the past I’ve attended national conferences with “name-brand” yoga teachers.  This quality event was every bit as impressive as any of those – maybe even better since it was right in my own back yard.  No planes or passports required.  Dates for next year’s conference have already been set (last weekend in July 2017) so mark your calendars!

If you are reading this blog from outside South Dakota, take heart.  Of course, you are welcome to come here and attend also.  But if that is not possible for you, my point about community is that it can be found anywhere.  Sometimes where you least expect it.  This conference was conceived by three friends who saw the need and took the chance that others would recognize that need.  They are 3 fabulous and energetic ladies (Scottie Bruch, Jillian Anawaty and Cheri Isaacson) but I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that they have no particular special powers.  What they do have is a passion for spreading yoga and all related health promoting and life enhancing practices.  My point is that any of us is capable to putting together a community.  It requires a passion for learning and sharing and a willingness to take that first dangerous step into the unknown.  When these women began this quest, they did not know what the outcome would be.  But they believed in the concept and in the power of community.  Wonder or wonders the community responded!  A call for presenters was put out and the rest is history.

There was a preliminary session at the conference which was open to all current or aspiring yoga teachers and anyone else interested in participating in this gathering.  This became an opportunity for us to share challenges, successes and ideas with others engaged in both similar and different pursuits.  Here in the Black Hills we are fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive and close-knit yoga community yet we have never had an opportunity like this before.  The seed has now been planted so the possibility exists for something else of value to grow from this experience.

Even though many of us are in different work and/or life situations, it was interesting to see how much we could each benefit from the experience of others. This is actually not such a surprising result.  In fact, it is yet another benefit of community.  We learn that others are going through or have gone through similar situations to our own.  It’s easy to feel isolated in today’s world where so many of the institutions we used to rely on are no longer working.  Our society often places a value on being independent. We perpetuate the myth that we should all be capable of solving our own problems. Yet human beings are by nature social creatures who are drawn to groups.  As the song says, “no man is an island”.  The fact is we all rely on others in many ways whether or not we realize it. When you become isolated, you might feel like your thoughts or problems are unique and insurmountable.  It can be so comforting to learn that you are not alone. By becoming part of a group you may be surprised to find that there are others who are or have been where you are and can show you by example that change is possible.

There are opportunities for community everywhere.  Anyone feeling lost or alone can look for them.  Or create one yourself based on your own passions and interests. It may surprise you to find that there are others out there who share your interests.  Whatever you have learned will be different from what they have learned so the sharing can begin.  All that’s required is an open mind and a willingness to take a chance. If you’re afraid to join an existing group, give it a try.  If it doesn’t work out the first time, try again.  Maybe try a different group.  Don’t give up. Keep trying.  You never know when the right circumstances will arise.

Time for yourself has its value and everyone needs to be alone sometimes.  But community can be a magical and powerful force capable of transforming lives.  Keep your mind and heart open and release your expectations.  Just let it unfold organically without trying to force it.  The result may be totally different from what you thought might happen but you may just get what you need.

VA selects new Director of the Center for Women Veterans

 

williamsoptiWASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of a new director of the Center for Women Veterans.

Kayla M. Williams assumed duties this week as Director, serving as primary advisor to the Secretary on Department policies, programs and legislation that affect women Veterans.

“Kayla embodies everything it means to be a true advocate for women Veterans and I am proud to welcome her to VA in this leadership role,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “This is an important time for VA as we prepare for the growing number of women we expect to take advantage of the VA services they have earned. I know Kayla will be tremendously helpful in improving services for female Veterans now and in future.”

Williams is a member of the Army Education Advisory Committee, a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change, and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient.

She worked eight years at the RAND Corporation conducting research on service member and Veteran health needs and benefits, international security, and intelligence policy.

Williams graduated cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bowling Green State University and earned an MA in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University.

She is the author of two books.  Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army, is a memoir about her deployment to Iraq. Her second book is, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War, about her family’s journey from trauma to healing.

Williams is coming from Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, a combat-wounded veteran, and their two children.

The Center for Women Veterans was established by Congress in November 1994 by Public Law (P.L.) 103-446 and monitors and coordinates VA’s administration of health care and benefits services and programs for women Veterans. The Center serves as an advocate for a cultural transformation in recognizing the service and contributions of women Veterans and women in the military.