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‘Stand up and speak out’

Gercine Carter

‘Stand up and speak out’

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At 37 years old, Felicia Browne has become a human and gender rights advocate who is making her voice heard more and more across the Caribbean.

She starts off the interview by referring to a call she received recently from a young Barbadian woman, complaining that she had been denied a copy of her HIV test results by a local medical facility, an act that Browne terms as “yet another blatant disregard for the rights of women”.

“When the young person called me, I made a few calls, because I realise as young people we have to respect their rights.”

In her crusade she is taking on issues related to all genders and all ages. She explains: “When we speak about gender, people normally think we are just dealing with women’s rights but we have to recognise that women have always been disenfranchised within these societies; they have been oppressed economically, socially, politically.”

“The idea is about gender rights. When we think of gender rights we primarily think about women and we exclude the idea of men and their rights as well.”

But in her campaign Browne is reaching out to men and women, trying to educate about their rights within the law, about laws of which victims are often not aware.

She says: “In terms of domestic violence, we find that the majority of victims are women and for me it is about educating and ensuring that our legal framework protects our women as well.”

Throughout the region she has seen the scourge of domestic violence on women but she says, “We are also seeing an increase in male victims of domestic violence which we do not speak about.”

Change can only come through education, she believes. There must also be an effort to reform laws that provide the legislation that makes people aware and assured that they are protected and are included in fundamental international human rights to which everybody is entitled, regardless of class or gender.

“A lot of our laws never considered the woman and her needs and what we can do to empower her,” Browne argues.

“My work and training was in philosophy, where I studied a lot in terms of ideologies and patriarchal ideologies, which change how we look at women.”

Reaching under her academic cap, she added, “I think it is more than the hegemony of patriarchy thoughts. I think it is going to centres and seeing young women who have been raped, other victims of rape and also victims of domestic violence.”

This is part of the reality to which she has been exposed, travelling through Caribbean communities. “You feel it, you hear it and you want to do something about it. You ask yourself, ‘What can I do about it?’”

Browne suggests the answer is to become an advocate rather than remain a silent bystander.

In her experience it is a “Caribbean thing” for people to stand back and not speak up “for fear of victimisation”, but her message to all whose rights are being violated is that there are people like herself available to whom they can turn for help.

In her experience it is a “Caribbean thing” for people to stand back and not speak up “for fear of victimisation”, but her message to all whose rights are being violated is that there are people like herself available, to whom they can turn for help.

“You are actually victimising yourself by not even standing up for your rights,” Browne advises. “Even if you don’t stand up for yourself, always remember there are young girls behind you coming and you have to ensure that you keep the space as positive and holistic for them so that they will not encounter the same things that you went through.”

With a hint of passion she added, “We know of people who have been violated, but we do not act – we just turn a blind eye. But it could be your brother or your sister.”

The dynamic St Lucian is also a lecturer in philosophy at the University of the West Indies, but she is quick to draw a distinct line of demarcation between that and her activism, and prefers not to have her role as teacher of her tertiary charges mixed up with that of the petite activist who is also known to her fellow St Lucians at home as a political advocate.

Behind the scenes, she worked on getting answers and finding a solution to the problem of the young Barbadian had difficulty acquiring a hard copy of her HIV results.

“They are being told that it is the practice in Barbados that both male and female themselves are not allowed to have physical documentation and the only way that they may be able to get the physical documentation is if they have a personal doctor.”

To Browne, this is violation of a human right.

“We know a lot of women might not have access to private doctors and may not have access to finances to pay a private doctor and those kinds of practices violate people within a lower income class.”

It is cases like this that make her relentless in her mission.