Source Article: Trinidad Express Newspaper: Woman Magazine
For most of history,” noted Virginia Woolf, “Anonymous was a woman.” These words, though written in 1928 by a European woman, still ring true today and are echoed by women all around the world. Women’s contributions to just about every facet of life outside of giving it is under-acknowledged by us and them, the powers that be and laypersons alike. Despite international campaigns which have challenged this institutional erasure and demanded recognition for the achievements of women and other female persons, it is evident that only a few are able to break into mainstream consciousness, created by a highly regulated media. This is why we have to tell our own stories.
Trinidad and Tobago is a nation of incredible human resource in just about any field imaginable and while it seems like fair play in recognising nationals of renown regardless of their sex, it is incumbent that we specifically promote notable women and female persons as part of the process of righting a historical wrong.
WOMANTRA is a feminist non-profit organisation that focuses on woman centred scholarship, activism and social programmes. As part of the collective’s commemoration of Women’s History Month, WOMANTRA has launched an initiative entitled ‘A Woman A Day’ or AWAD which features a Trinidad- or Tobago-born woman every day for the month of March. The women showcased have established themselves locally and internationally, for their talent, thought and tenacity.
The series highlights nationals who have risen to the highest ranks in their careers, as well as women whose careers are still developing but who already have noteworthy accomplishments. Two women featured in the first week of the campaign who have received national recognition are Beryl Mc Burnie and Julia Edwards.
Beryl Mc Burnie was a Trinidadian dancer of international renown who noticeably drew on folk traditions in her style of dancing and music selection. She is reverentially referred to as Trinidad’s ‘First Lady of Dance’ and founded the “Little Carib Theatre,” in Port-of-Spain. Mc Burnie’s career is important to national history particularly because her productions engaged citizens in a conceptual awareness of post colonial identity and independence. Thus she is regarded as a crucial figure in the development of Trinidadian nationalism. Mc Burnie was awarded the Hummingbird Medal Gold in 1969 and was recognised again with the award of the Trinity Cross (Trinidad and Tobago’s highest national award at the time) in 1989.
Julia Edwards, also a dancer and titled woman the “Limbo Queen”, popularised the dance that became the physical manifestation of the 1950s calypso craze. Julia literally turned the art form on its head by inverting the approach to the limbo, starting the dance from the highest rung instead of the lowest, as was traditionally practised at wakes. Locally Julia danced at the opening of every major facility in the country, including the Hilton Hotel where she and her troupe danced for over 40 years but Julia never forgot to give back, performing at many institutions for free — St Ann’s Hospital, The Leper Asylum, The Royal Jail, as well as schools. Her original flaming limbo act took Julia to every corner of the globe, from Dakar to London, Japan to India and from North and South America to Europe. Julia and her troupe not only gave command performances to appreciative audiences, but in their wake brought recognition to the country by stamping Trinidad and Tobago as the “Land of Limbo”. Edwards is the recipient of the Trinidad & Tobago Humming Bird Medal Gold (for culture) in 1991 and the Beryl Mc Burnie Award in 2007. So we see how these women have laid the foundation for acknowledging each other outside of nation recognition, which often doesn’t come.
Other women included in the series include Pearl Primus, Gene Miles, Merle Hodge, Heather Headley and Nicki Minaj.
In addition to ‘A Woman a Day’, WOMANTRA will launch its new website today, which also marks the organisation’s fourth anniversary. WOMANTRA began as a centenary commemoration of IWD, with a small gathering of women to celebrate the day. The group continued online after that, focusing on the circulation of articles and discourse centred on women’s issues. Earlier this year, Founding director Stephanie Leitch formalised the organisation under the companies act (1995) of Trinidad and Tobago as a non-profit organisation and co-directs along with Khadijah Sinanan (attorney-at-law) and Amanda T Mc Intyre.
The AWAD series comes amidst other initiatives and social programmes the group has undertaken in the past five years. Most recently WOMANTRA had its first installation of the ‘Sistah 2 Sistah’ mentorship programme, which paired young girls and young women with similar interests. Some of the topics included gender expectations, menstrual health, sisterhood and sovereignty of self. Similar to ‘A Woman A Day’, WOMANTRA has produced other online series, including ‘CARICAN’: a call for Caricom to take a stand against homophobia and transphobia and ‘Silent Silhouettes’, which commemorates the lives of those taken through domestic violence.
Follow AWAD on Womantra’s Facebook page or tune in to Sweet 100.1FM at 2.50 for your daily dose of Trinbigonian herstories. One of our commenters even posed a challenge to other readers, “More than just sharing each post, choose a child ...a girl and read it to them. Our efforts can go further than just clicking share.”
Womantra’s Facebook page
Happy International Women’s Day.