Trio make history at gender studies programme
Three Bermudian women made history by being the first from the Island to attend a prestigious gender studies programme in Barbados.
Elaine Williams, Deborah Bradford and Robyn Skinner spent all of July on the intensive course at the Caribbean Institute for Gender and Development Studies.
It covered subjects including feminist theory, the women’s movement, gender as it relates to trade, development and law, and political participation.
The focus was on the Caribbean in particular, and renowned lecturers flew in from the region and beyond to address the course, hosted at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus.
Ms Williams is executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre and Ms Bradford is employed by the Department of Human Affairs as well as working on a new leadership academy for women. Miss Skinner is a freelance journalist and travel writer with a particular interest in women’s issues.
The trio were sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, and each had to apply for the course and be accepted on their own merits. They found it to be of great benefit to them in their chosen fields.
Ms Williams said: “It was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The course material was extremely profound. It impacted me because of our work here to empower women, and it also empowered me personally in understanding my place in the world as a woman, what’s affected where women are in the world, and why.
“It’s empowering to have a better understanding of that. It helps me to put life in a more realistic perspective and to be more forgiving and more kind. It also helps me to be able to react and make decisions in a more powerful way.”
The course had a historical perspective and covered topics such as slavery, the diaspora and the relationship between men and women during those times.
Lectures ran from 8.30am until 4.30pm five days a week, but often went later into the evening due to the spirited debates they provoked among the 28 female and five male participants from across the Caribbean.
The students came from backgrounds including Government service, charities, counselling and education. In addition to the lectures, they were also encouraged to participate in exercise classes beginning at 5.30am three days per week as part of the holistic focus of the programme.
Each student produced their own project during the course. Ms Williams’ focused on how to improve the work of the WRC as a resource centre in collaboration with other agencies.
Ms Bradford worked on an analysis of state policy on gender and development issues in Bermuda and the wider Caribbean.
She explained: “The reason why I chose the topic is that we do not currently have a gender bureau or any kind of national policy on gender in Bermuda.”
She undertook the course under the auspices of the Leadership Academy of Bermuda, which she will launch in October as a pilot programme designed to offer support to women at a grassroots level.
The academy, which is sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, will offer an eight-month programme to assist women in achieving their goals through skills such as effective communication and problem-solving.
Ms Bradford said the course assisted her with her Government role and the work she is doing on the academy.
“It was phenomenal. It provided a critical insight into various theories and methodologies. Feminism is about social justice; it’s not about male-bashing,” she said.
Ms Williams added: “Gender equity is the result of a broad spectrum of systemic ideologies and cultural beliefs and practices. It is based on such factors as patriotism and the historical belief systems that our society is based on. Many of us practice gender beliefs and judgments without being aware of where that came from. We simply accept it as the norm.
“Many of these belief systems are the underlying cause of inequity in all areas of our lives including education, financial and economic disparity and religious beliefs.”
Miss Skinner said of the course: “It was intense but incredible, with amazing professors who were top-notch.”
These included Professor Eudine Barriteau, a Grenadian-born Caribbean feminist, scholar and activist who recently won the tenth Caribbean Community Triennial Award for Women for her contributions to the field.
Miss Skinner added: “It was a real culture-shock living in Barbados and meeting other people from the rest of the Caribbean and hearing how different their lives are from our lives in Bermuda.”
Her project was entitled ‘Bermuda Health Insurance Policies: a gender bias check-up.’ She explained: “Initial findings were that women are charged more for their insurance policies; not by every private health insurer but by at least one. The HIP low-cost policy is not adequate for women as prenatal and postnatal care is not covered.”
Miss Skinner plans to finish off her survey of all local health insurance providers, including an analysis of claim statistics relating to women.
“I hope it will help influence and shed some light on the ongoing healthcare review in Bermuda, as they are not looking at gender,” she said.
Myra Virgil of Atlantic Philanthropies said: “Atlantic seeks to build the capacity of leaders in Bermuda to promote gender equity, among other efforts to tackle systemic inequities and social problems that impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
“Under this objective, funding was made available to support Bermudian participation in the gender equity programme in Barbados, with the aim of expanding the understanding of, and narrative on, local gender equity issues and paths to systemic equality.
“We believe that it is through the hard work and commitment of leaders like these, and what they learn and then apply locally, that Atlantic’s grants can make an impact on the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.”
Useful websites: www.cavehill.uwi.edu/gender, www.wrcbermuda.com, www.robynswanderings.com, www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/region/bermuda