Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 22nd 2014 Contents A30
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, November 22, 2014
"During those early years, in the 1970s, it was
socialism rising up throughout the world, and
Trinidad was no exception. The trade unions were
more or less aligned to socialist parties in Poland,
in Russia, in Cuba...and the Concerned Women for
Progress came out of the left-wing movement of
the trade union movement. That is how we really
emerged. It was amazing... really overwhelming...
during that period. You just had the passion and
the driving force to be out there. You wanted to
read every (piece of) Marxist-Leninist literature
you could put your hands on."
So said Tara Ramoutar, feminist and social activist,
as she reminisced about the heady early years of the
women s movement in T&T, inspired by leftist trade
unions lobbying for general workers rights. The Con-
cerned Women for Progress (CWP) was T&T s first
feminist organisation, founded in 1980, which rallied
around equal pay for equal work, objected to violence
against women, and discussed abortion, according
to Dr Rawwida Baksh (2012 Guardian article: Women
Organising for Change.)
Tara Ramoutar was the first speaker in the current
series of informal talks---Lunchtime Conversations---
which took place on November 19 at the Institute
for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at UWI,
St Augustine. Lunchtime Conversations is an off-
shoot activity of the larger research project The Mak-
ing of Caribbean Feminisms that aims to document
people who have contributed to the wider women s
and feminist movements.
From unions to women's rights
Tara Ramoutar used to be an activist in The Trans-
port and Industrial Workers Union (Tiwu), where
she worked as a secretary. She helped lobby for justice
for workers through marches, meetings, workshops,
seminars, conferences and industrial actions. From
this was born her interest in equality, fairness and
social justice for women and the working class. She
is currently the national representative for the
Caribbean Association of Feminist Research and
"Socialism at that time was the thing to get into,"
recalled another conversation participant on Wednes-
day. She remembered during the late 1970s, some
people s houses would be bombed with Molotov
cocktails---so much so that in her neighbourhood,
she remembered the young fathers of the street would
all come together at night, playing cards and watching
to "see if they were coming again."
Ramoutar recalled that the activism of the CWP
included work in the consumer protection movement;
picketing against a beauty pageant in Jean Pierre
Complex after Penny Commissiong became Miss
Universe; and community educational sessions in
the Beetham area.
"There were educationals on a Saturday. We had
a lot of those. We had gone through the Beetham
(Laventille), with our pamphlets, going from house
to house. We were talking to the women there. And
some of the women slammed doors in our faces and
said This is the best life we have had ---because the
then-prime minister built all these houses on the
Beetham and gave them one---and they were con-
tented by living there, but in their homes, they had
nothing. "And they had hardship, but they were quite
comfortable with that, so a lot of them run us out
of the place."
Ramoutar remembered early political meetings at
her home, to raise political consciousness. Prof Patricia
Mohammed noted that "All the issues that would
emerge later, like equal pay for equal work, abortion,
consumer rights, you name it---everything was raised
during those sessions. We were just beginning to
start the dialogue."
Ramoutar remembered sessions held at the OWTU
office in Charlotte Street, attended by several activist
women including young attorney Lynette Seebaran.
One of the main early issues they won a breakthrough
for was the issue of writing "legitimate" and "ille-
gitimate" on children s birth certificates; they had
these labels removed, said Ramoutar.
The CWP had the first ever forum on rape in T&T,
people at the conversation recalled.
Still a feminist
"I still consider myself a feminist today. In the
early years I would have said I was a radical feminist.
I don t think they use the term radical any more.
But feminism is still relevant and necessary in today s
world ....because women still need their space, to
be recognised, to be respected," sad Ramoutar. She
then referred to a current violent news story about
a young girl in Tobago being snatched from the Scar-
borough RC Primary School, and sexually assaulted
on November 18:
"I mean, when a man can just walk into a primary
school and snatch up a little nine-year-old girl....I
have nieces who have daughters who are nine years
and eight years...and when I think about all of that,
it just drives me. I think: what are we doing about
these things? I mean, you could just walk in anywhere
and pick up a little girl and rape her?! ...What is
going to come out of it?"
Ramoutar said she would like Cafra to do future
work on ending violence against women and girls;
and also to have educational sessions for women to
teach them about their choices and educate them
on health and reproductive rights.
She said: "If a young girl of 13 or 14 is raped and
gets pregnant, you must have a safe clinic that she
can go to, to get counselling, and have safe abor-
Radical feminist recalls
the protest days
Tara Ramoutar called for more research and education around ending vi-
olence against women and girls. PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS
• IGDS Tel: 662 2002 Ext 83573/83577
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