“If women share their stories they understand that they are not alone”: Simone Leid of Women Speak Project

By Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following my interview with Simone Leid of WomenSpeak, an initiative encouraging women in Trinidad Tobago and the Caribbean Region to tell their own stories about discrimination at home, work, and in the public domain to help themselves and other women. If women speak out they understand that they are not the only one. Sharing discrimination is essential to promote gender equality. It is fundamental to feminist discourse. And in this context poetry is an important way of expression.
 What does feminism mean to you personally?
Feminism is the belief that men and women should be valued equally. Inherent In that belief is the acceptance that all our institutions, be they social, economic or political have been created with a patriarchal world view, which either does not consider the effects on women and girls or does not value them in the same way that they do men and boys. Feminism seeks to promote and demand that women are given the same opportunities as men to live a life free from limitations and which ensures that women’s human rights are protected and respected. 
What is the main objective of the Women Speak Project?
The WomenSpeak project seeks to build the capacity of individuals and organizations to advocate around issues of discrimination against women. We do this through promoting sharing of women’s stories and perspectives on a range of issues from sexual abuse and domestic violence, to feminization of HIV and Human trafficking.  We also highlight the work of activists throughout the Caribbean region and promote sharing of knowledge and lessons learned on strategies and opportunities for advancing the cause and influencing the policy environment.
For ProMosaik the speaking-out is the first step to struggle against violence and discrimination of women. What do you think about it?
WomenSpeak was created with just that objective in mind. We believe that speaking out about the injustices that women face in their daily lives is important in letting others know the reality and extent of discrimination that is perpetrated against women everyday. In addition to raising consciousness, this self expression also helps women feel a sense of empathy for other women and build a sense of community, especially when much of the trauma women face is either unrecognized or normalized. At the womenspeak blog, we encourage women to not only tell their stories but to highlight just how these incidents have affected them and the choices they make. 
Which are the most important problems of women in the Caribbean region?
The Caribbean region has extremely high levels of domestic violence and sexual assault. In particular we see a troubling number of homicides of women related to intimate partner violence. Our laws do not provide adequate protection for women who are being abused and there is not enough institutional support and resources dedicated to addressing the issue. The number of Women’s shelters is woefully inadequate and some are unable to accommodate children or male children over a certain age. Because our countries are small, it’s very easy for an abuser to find a partner who has left the relationship. There isn’t enough support for women who choose to leave and so they often return to their abuser. There are also very few opportunities for abusers to get counseling. NGOs are doing the best they can, but simply don’t have the capacity to manage such a complex issue without adequate support from government institutions or the private sector. 
How can we promote awareness about gender issues?
There needs to be a concerted effort to mainstream gender into everything we do. Every school, church, workplace should include programs and policies which speak to the issues of gender and gender discrimination. We need people and organizations who are willing to be leaders in implementing a gender perspective but that is difficult. Often people are invested in maintaining the status quo. They benefit from women and men having unequal access to power, even in such areas as the role of men and women in relationships. 
How can we educate men about women rights?
We need to infiltrate the spaces where men come together. And we need to have men involved in sharing messages that promote valuing of women, womanhood and women’s rights. If men are rewarded within their peer groups when they use language or share stories that denigrate women then such ideas will continue to be perpetuated. We also need to educate women. When women interact with men, they need to know their rights so that they can stand up for themselves. It is difficult. Men and women are socialized to understand their roles in different social situations. We need to disrupt these gender scripts and let men and women know that women have autonomy over their own bodies, opinions and desires. 
How important is poetry for you? How can we use poetry as an arm to struggle for women rights?


Poetry is a tool for creating empathy. Poems delve deeply into the human condition and help us see ourselves. Through image or abstraction or story, poetry creates a snapshot of a time, a place and an emotion; a singular experience.  A poem is a meditation, something we turn over and over in our minds. That’s why poetry is such a powerful tool In the struggle for women’s rights. It is able to lift the veil on the experience of being a woman and illuminate the issues in a less theoretical and more personal and multidimensional way.
And she cries into the sea 
that will someday bring her 
ashes home

And she sings a song of feedom 
that her people brought here
a long long time ago

And she washes her blood from the 
tile — like the river, it has also
traveled for miles 

And in the fresh day
she mends — their socks, a button
her heart

And she draws back the curtains to let in 
the light that still stings her 
near swollen eye

And she smiles with a calm
because God is her rainbow at the
end of each storm

You may break a woman’s bones 
but never her spirit…
At least not for long

Copyright 2012 © Mika Maharaj, Trinidad