Sometime in 1985, new to Trinidad and searching for an activist home, Rhoda Reddock invited me to a meeting of Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen). On a dreary afternoon, in a desolate room on St. Augustine Campus, I met five or six other people sitting in a circle- Liz, Jacqui, Lyris, Shelleen, Naomi and Gertrude. Rhoda with her historian self, took notes. I do not remember what we discussed but I recall leaving the meeting knowing that I had found my people.
Over time and with increasing core membership, under Merle and Rhoda’s co-chairing we moved from meeting at Merle’s home to a house on the outskirts of Curepe. Workingwomen’s membership expanded with quite a bit of diversity of age, occupation, education and interests, though mostly ‘easternerish’. The members struggled earnestly to take account of power dynamics, seeking internal democracy and individual accountability for inclusion and participation. Sometimes finding the balance, other times disappointing ourselves. But trying to apply what we were demanding from public decision-makers.
Workingwomen pioneered the commemoration of IWD in Woodford Square and the November 25th candlelight marches around the Savannah, always with children of the membership in tow. And true to the forward looking spirit of the members, we agreed that IWD should be an event convened by the Network of NGOs, and while difficult to release, release it we did.
We started a newsletter. The Group mobilized and worked with trade unions, trekking down to Fyzabad, on June 19th and to the OWTU hall for discussions on structural adjustment. Our members led deeply felt advocacy to end corporal punishment in schools and we made submissions in 1987 to the Constitution Reform Commission chaired by Sir Hyatali. There was always lots of internal education going on and at a session on reproductive rights, the sisters left me, big pregnant, to snore away in front the presenter.
Workingwomen has a realized vision to be largely self-sufficient. With the contribution of Lyris and Gertrude, we started a second-hand store cleverly named “New to You” on Charlotte Street. And through the credibility of its work and consistency of courageous activism Workingwomen secured a permanent home.
As the years passed and the number of children increased, I became less and less involved, until in effect my involvement ceased completely. But, can I say, I have never stopped considering myself a member of Workingwomen.
With all its achievements and challenges, the membership has remained steadfast in their contribution to a Trinidad and Tobago in which all have fair and equal opportunities for well-being; where men understand their responsibility to end sexism and women are empowered to claim autonomy, safety and equal voice in the public and private spheres.
Workingwomen expects accountable government; it demands that political parties represent the people and not the powerful; that the private sector engage in decent employment practices; that the education sector prepares youth for critical thinking, empathy and productivity; and that everyone is responsible for living ethically, respectfully and peacefully.
This is an organization whose membership indeed, never get weary yet. The long name says it all- Women working for social progress. Happy 30th Anniversary.
A luta continua.