By Debra Greaves | Trinidad and Tobago Newsday | 7 March 2018
TT’s Deneka Thomas, Jennan Paige Andrew, Élysse Marcellin and Khadijah Pierre have been selected as 2018 Women Deliver Young Leaders. The programme provides an opportunity to get training and access to funding through Women Deliver, one of the world’s largest gender equality and women’s sexual and reproductive health advocacy organisations.
The four are among 300 chosen from some 3,000 applications from around the world. The resulting group includes people from 121 countries.
Women Deliver announced it on February 27.
They “selected all the Young Leaders for their potential to have a lasting impact on the lives of girls and women,” Women Deliver said in a media release. “As a group, they have already driven tangible progress on a wide range of issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, LGBTQ+ rights, peace and security.
“Similar to past years, the 2018 class of Young Leaders will receive training and resources to extend their influence and actively shape programmes and policies that affect the health, rights and well-being of girls, women and young people. This support includes training through Women Deliver’s Digital University courses, opportunities to speak on national and global stages through the Women Deliver Speakers Bureau, opportunities to apply for advocacy project grants, and a scholarship to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of girls and women, taking place in Vancouver, Canada in June 2019.”
One of the 2018 class, Deneka Thomas is “a poet, writer and advocate for gender equality, women empowerment, environmental awareness and LGBTQIA rights,” she said via email on Tuesday.
She works with the non-profit Girl Be Heard TT and the spoken word group 2 Cents Movement. Girl Be Heard “develops, amplifies and celebrates the voices of young girls through socially conscious theatre-making,” Thomas said. “This is what I am passionate about. I’ve found a way to bring all of these issues to the forefront through performance, through working with youth and giving them various tools to share their stories and concerns and speak out about the things that affect them.”
Called a “feminist dragon” by another activist, Thomas disagreed with the notion that TT’s women and girls may have it easy. “Yes, education is free and there is a high rate of employment. Yes, a woman is president and a lot of women are now achieving high leadership positions, have freedom of speech etc. Women and girls are still being told to be quiet. That when they succeed they got lucky. Still experiencing gender-based violence. I always say being a girl is risky business. And apart from all the above mentioned we still have some of the highest rates of rape, incest, sexual abuse and gender-based violence rates in the Caribbean. This affects our girls severely. It creates and inhibits a dangerous rape culture. A culture where assaulting a girl or a woman, objectifying her, victim blaming her is normalised.”
Thomas, who is in her mid-20s, added, “With this work, I hope to change the way girls see themselves and see themselves in society. Help girls understand their worth. And channel their energy into creative avenues and learn to express themselves in a socially conscious way.”
Kizanne James, a 2016 Young Leader, said on Monday in an interview from India where she was travelling for work, “Women Deliver has been really pivotal to my career.” Last year the medical doctor and Chevening Scholar was named one of the “120 Under 40: The New Generation of Family Planning Leaders” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
James is known for her work using mobile technology to provide sexual and reproductive health information for young people. She’s given a TEDx talk about it, and led a number of initiatives, including the Think Family Planning Caribbean-wide campaign that held youth forums in various Caribbean countries reaching 34,259 people.
James credits the Women Deliver Young Leaders programme with building her abilities. “It provided such a solid platform of training and experience that it would develop any young person into a well-rounded and capable leader regardless of the sphere they work in”.