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Single Issue Allies

Recently, Taryn and I attended a conference hosted by Gender Dynamix, Iranti-org and the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit on Gender Affirming Healthcare. Taryn and I attended in order to help take notes but the target audience of the conference was medical and mental health practitioners. The goal of the conference was to bring healthcare providers from different countries in Southern Africa together in a space where they could learn about the range of barriers that transgender persons experience when accessing health and healthcare services and how we can make strides in addressing those barriers. The reality is that, transgender and gender diverse populations encounter barriers when seeking care and this ranges from accessing routine or preventative healthcare services to gender affirming healthcare. It was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least and something that was stated during the conference which was captured in the Tweet below was the fact that, “we can’t have single issue allies”.


A word that is used to capture this idea is intersectionality.  Before I left Canada, my friends gave me Angela Y. Davis’s book called “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” as a parting gift. In the book, Davis describes intersectionality as “efforts to think, analyze, organize as we recognise the interconnections of race, class, gender [and] sexuality” (1). From the outset one might think that intersectionality is something that is intrinsic to all social equality and justice movements. However this is not the case, in reality the most privileged within the marginalized populations are often those that benefit the most from activism. As individuals, we are not just one thing. We are a combination of intersecting identities that influence how we experience the world. We all have some sort of privilege in this world whether it comes from our, racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, class and the list could go on and on. The notion of identifying and accepting one’s privilege is something that could probably take the space of multiple blog posts but the comic in the following link is one of my favourite illustrations of privilege (http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate). This is all to say, that I have been spurred to think about whether my own position as an “ally” comes with any qualifiers or conditions. Additionally, I think it is important to talk about these issues with the people around you so that those that are marginalized do not have to be the ones who end up doing all the emotional labour. Furthermore, I’m now challenging myself to not only “talk the talk” so to speak but to also get more involved in activism in general when I find myself back in Canada. I am hesitant to end this on an extremely clichéd note but I think this famous Mahatma Gandhi quote sums my sentiments up succinctly: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

1. Davis, Angela Y and Frank Barat. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. 1st ed. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016. Print.

Agatha Nyambi is working as an Intern in Sexual Minority Health with the University of Cape Town in South Africa.


The Man

Wilfrid or as some call him “TI-Cabeau” or “Ti Son” is the most famous Handy man in Terrier Rouge. Marie and I frequently joke that he would be able to do absolutely anything, but we are also not really joking. I saw graffiti on walls calling for him to run as Mayor. He is, objectively, the hardest working person I have ever met (followed closely by my grandfather). He is 42 (he sometimes calls me ‘son’) although he looks 25, he has two daughters, Malou and Wilsa, with his wife, Ange-Getty, and would soon like to have a son.

The office where we work opens around 8:30, but I quickly realized that this was way too late for Ti-Cabeau. 7:30 is usually the time he comes in, meaning it’s the time I chug my coffee and start working, mostly out of pride. He sometimes comes in earlier, rarely later, the record is when he knocked on my room’s window at 6am to wake me up, rightfully so, as we had many things to do in the morning.

I was told before I arrived to stay away from daily wage and pay for piece work instead. Just like in Canada, people paid daily/hourly wage have less incentive to work faster, especially in construction work. I am sure everyone knows someone who would work just as hard if s/he was paid hourly or piece work for the very simple reason that they are hard workers. Wilfrid is one of those. After our arrival in September, we promoted him, and he now has to manage worksites, with a lot more responsibilities compared to his regular job he had for the past year. He has delivered and has been completing jobs way short of the deadlines, over and over.

Interesting enough, although he is a certified carpenter AND mason, he always refused to do any mason work. I was puzzled at first, since it would only mean more money for him but later realized it was due to a more profound cultural difference. A majority (obviously not all) of people don’t necessarily want to enrich themselves alone, but want everyone around them to have a chance to do so as well. Wilfrid’s rationale, as I understood later, was that by not doing mason works, he allowed someone else to be employed and make some money. It makes me think that although people were joking when asking him to run for mayor, politics in Haiti would certainly benefit from having more of these true Haitian cultural traits Wilfrid personifies.

Wilfrid also helps me a lot to find reliable contractors to do different type of work and negotiate with these contractors to ideally get more reasonable prices. The prices I’m getting are probably somewhere in between “Blanc” prices and Haitian prices, probably closer to “blanc”, but getting closer and closer to Haitians’ (at least I like to think so). He has also shown to be very protective of our projects and has no patience for contractors that propose ridiculously high prices, or try to re-negotiate contracts halfway through.

Work aside, Wilfrid and I always have fun hanging out. I met a ridiculous amount of people in Terrier Rouge because of him. I am insisting more and more for him to run for mayor and tell him I would help. As a joke, he told me that the main thing he would need to get votes is to stand by him and be white. I am very happy to have had the chance to meet and work with Ti-Cabeau, I consider him a great friend. This is a friendship that will continue way past this internship and will come back to Haiti to hang out and catch up with him without hesitation.

Jean-Christophe Taillandier is working as a  Value-Chain and Agri-Business Coordinator with ISCA in Haiti.


Canadian Election Reform and Jamaica’s Election

With all eyes turned to high profile elections in the United States, Austria and Italy (for the referendum) among others, the local government elections in Jamaica were unlikely to be top of mind for most. Of course, for myself living in Jamaica this was significantly more salient. Much is different in elections in Jamaica compared to Canada, Jamaican elections are frequently punctuated by violence, there are only two parties whom attempt to curry favour, and December elections are more likely to be impeded by heat exhaustion than snow storms. Despite this panoply of variances between these countries, both have inherited First Past The Post (FPTP) as our method of determining elections from our common former colonial power, Britain.

Canada has been awash in deliberations on electoral reform. Prime Minister Trudeau made it a common refrain in his election campaign and the Special Committee on Electoral Reform in Parliament was established in order to examine alternatives to the FPTP system. It was with all of this in mind that I examined the local elections in Jamaica. It is worth noting that local elections here are contested by the same two parties as nationally, and that parish councils, which ultimately pick a mayor are elected through FPTP districts. Basically, analogous to how both Jamaican, and Canadian national (as well as provincial) elections are determined.

With that out of the way here is what I noticed. I would be in areas where there was no sign of an election. No election signs nor campaign stops here. Sometimes there would be gigantic displays and colours for only one of the parties, helping punctate the futility of voting against the prevailing party. These were in safe districts, where those who did not vote for the dominant party were simply wasting their votes. In Canada, I have often lived in areas where the seats were safe. While there were perhaps a few more signs of life in the campaign in these areas compared to Jamaica, the eerie emptiness when compared to hotly contested ridings was much the same. This provided a blunt reminder of the disenfranchisement FPTP can have, in Jamaica just as in Canada.

What is different in Jamaica is the fact that as has been mentioned before, there are only two parties that have any realistic opportunity to win seats. While Canada might have only two parties seen as capable of forming government, others still do win ridings. Anyone who has paid attention to Canadian politics remembers appeals to vote for whichever party in a a particular riding was most likely to defeat the Conservatives. This concern over so called “vote splitting” led many to vote against their preferred option. However, Jamaica does not have this problem which should in theory lead to much more accurate election results. In Canada, a winner take all system with multiple parties means that a candidate with a small minority of the vote can win since votes were spread among many other parties. This should lead to more wasted votes and results that are less representative of the popular vote than a locale with only two viable parties. Not so however, looking at numbers taken from a national newspaper, the winning party in Jamaica (the Jamaica Labour Party) won 52% of the vote but 57% of the seats in contention. On the losing side, the PNP garnered 47% of the vote but received a measly 43% of the seats (The Gleaner, 2016). Simple arithmetic shows us that there is a 9% discrepancy between popular vote and the seats as allocated. This problem was even worse in national elections in 2012 where the winning party got a commanding 66% of seats despite only winning less than 53% of the popular vote (Jones, 2012). The aforementioned experiences are familiar to any Canadian who remembers Conservative majority rule with a minority of the overall vote, a regional Bloc Quebecois party representing Canada’s official opposition, or even our current majority government which enjoys a 54% majority of seats with a paltry 39.5% of the vote (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2015). 

Finally, this last point is far more anecdotal, but one argument made is that the advantage of FPTP is that there is a closer link between the MP and her/his constituents than other electoral systems. I noticed however how pervasive complaints were in Jamaica about how disconnected citizens felt from their local representative, especially at the local government level. One would think that Jamaica, which is significantly smaller both population wise and geographically than Canada, would be perfectly suited for a close connection between constituents and their representatives. I see no evidence that this is so, and the feeling of frustration at the lack of response to community needs from elected representatives is palpable, especially in those so-called safe seats as has been outlined above. Again, Canadians are also often hard pressed to even name their elected representatives, much less closely align them with important work they are doing for the community.

In sum, somewhat unexpectedly the recent elections in Jamaica, despite alien ideas like avoiding certain areas known for election violence or being careful of what colours I wore, were actually more notable for the similarities to back home and the critical lessons which must be learned from this. Despite in some ways being an ideal candidate for FPTP due to a two-party system and small size, Jamaica is still plagued with wasted votes, ignored constituents and distorted results. Canada is hopefully on the road to fixing our system, my experience in Jamaica simply reiterates the importance of this process.

James Thiébault is a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.


Meet Yankuba Anna Bojang | Community Health Trainer

“The best resource for any meaningful development is available and willing human resource.” – Yankuba A. Bojang

It has now been three months since I landed in The Gambia. So far, it has been three months of discovery, learning, unlearning, ups and downs; but mostly it has been three months filled with laughter and tears shared with friends, that have made living miles away from home feel like a home away from home.

Working with NSGA I have had the pleasure to meet Yankuba Bojang, who I have now the pleasure to call suma mag bu gor, Wolof for “my big brother”.

Yankuba has been one of the first people here to warmly welcome us, inviting us to our first Gambian cultural event the first week Krystal and I arrived.

Yankuba is not only a community health trainer but also a community-oriented individual who, beyond NSGA, works for the development of youth and his community at large.

I had the chance to sit down with Yankuba.

But first, what is NSGA?

The Gambian branch of the Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) is a Banjul registered NGO working at the grassroots level to provideprogrammes in health and education alike.  NSGA’s programmes aim to promote such topics are healthy life skills, leadership, and health awareness, as well as to promote ideas of equal rights for all community members.

Country-wide peer health education is one of the central ways the NSGA disseminates health information across Gambian communities.

What is peer health education?

Peer health education refers to the process whereby trained young people undertake informal (or formal) educational activities with their peers (those similar to themselves in age, background, or interests). Occurring over an extended period of time, peer health education is aimed at developing young people’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and skills about various health topics thus enabling them to be make informed decisions regarding their health and safety.

Why peer health education?

Peer health education is community based and avoids hierarchical, top-down approaches to development and health education. This approach allows young people from similar backgrounds to discuss sensitive and taboo subjects in ways authoritative figures like parents or  elders often aren’t quite able to.

Now, who is Yankuba?

Yankuba is currently serving as a community development practitioner and health trainer for NSGA.

A: What is your role as a health trainer and regional coordinator?

Y: My role is to coordinate all programs and activities of NSGA in my assigned region which entails empowering community members, especially the youth by providing them with health information and motivating them to share these information with their peers and community members at large. I also work with and as well supervise the work of the NSGA drama team assigned to my region. Lastly, I serve as a representative of to various partners at the regional level and finally, write monthly reports of all activities and report to the head office.

A: How has NSGA impacted your life and those around you?

Y: NSGA has impacted a sense of self-determination for development. It has helped me make informed choices in my life especially regarding sex and it has also helped me see women as equal partners in building a family and the community at large.

A: What is the most important thing you learned working for NSGA?

Y: Learning how to develop, write and direct a play/drama based on the development needs of people. This has helped me to see development from a different angle and realize that the best resource for any meaningful development is available and willing human resource.

A: What makes peer health education effective?

Y: Its approach towards information sharing using peers to reach out other peers.

Peer health education makes discussions about sensitive issues like reproductive health or sexuality less sensitive to talk about.

A: What other community initiatives are you involved with, outside of NSGA?

Y: I am involved in the development of community soccer teams for both boys and girls called Solar. I am also involved in supporting a local youth NGO called Niumi Foundation Youth Association (NiFo) geared towards developing music and agricultural skills of young people allowing them to take a lead in their own life and as well as helping them address their communities’ food production needs.

To learn more about NSGA, check out their Facebook page and website: http://novascotiagambia.ca https://www.facebook.com/novascotiagambia

Aurore Iradukunda is working as a Health Promotion Intern with Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Gambia.


Twitter Chats Galore

My role in Jamaica as a Health Promotions Manager Intern has been highly involved in promoting the Jamaica Family Planning Association on social media. Our newest and best avenue has been our Twitter account @FamplanJA (Feel free to give us a follow so I can reach my targets!!). For those who know me well, they know how much I love to keep on social media and celebrity gossip, so this is right up my alley (my fellow interns in Jamaica can attest to this).

A popular thing to do among the multitude of different advocacy organizations in Jamaica is to host Twitter chats. You may be wondering what a Twitter Chat is, like I also wondered my first time hearing that. A Twitter Chat is a conversation on Twitter that participants answer questions and engage in conversation using a common hashtag. The purpose of this is to raise awareness, educate participants and users, and to keep the conversation going on rather hot topics. Through our newly established Twitter account we are quickly growing in popularity through participation in Twitter chats. We have participated in chats surrounding hot topics that directly align with the work we are doing here: comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), world AIDS day chats for HIV prevention, ending violence against women, gender equality, just to name a few. The Twitter account is a new experience for me but I love every second of it. It is such a great way to network with other NGOs here in Jamaica, and develop relationships with colleagues that strengthen JFPA’s partnerships. For example, one of our favourite Twitter advocacy accounts is from an organization called WE Change that is committed to increasing the participation of women in social justice advocacy. We recently helped co host a Twitter chat with WE Change surrounding the topic of CSE using the hashtag #SexPlanning. Feel free to check out the thread. We shared facts about the need for CSE in Jamaica, and answered any questions for participants. Not only did we gain a lot of followers through this, we were able to gather information about the needs of Jamaican citizens, as well as educate participants about what CSE actually is. This Twitter Chat generated 704 tweets, with 690 000 impressions. This means that the tweets were delivered 690 000 times on twitter streams. With this many impressions, we have greater chance of educating the young people of Jamaica, and putting out quality information for participants and readers. Who knew Twitter could be such a powerful platform?

This Friday, December 9th, @FamplanJA is hosting our first ever Twitter chat in honour of Human Rights Day on December 10th. We will be using the hashtag #SexualRightsJA to discuss the fact that sexual rights are human rights. We have targets we hope to reach, and from this we hope to learn more about the challenges Jamaican’s face when exercising their sexual rights. I am nervous for the Twitter chat, but with support from many fellow NGOs, I think it will be a success. We have even partnered up with an organization called Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition to have tweets from the Twitter Chat live streamed at their Human Rights Day cocktail party event, which will hopefully increase participation!

Here is an ad that I worked with the graphic designer to design to promote the upcoming Twitter Chat.

So far we are starting out small. A month in and we have just over 100 followers, and 500 tweets. Over the next couple of months we hope to gain more so that we can widen our impact on improving access and education about sexual and reproductive health in Jamaica, as well as promoting JFPA. Additionally, we are strengthening our participation with LGBTI organizations, feminist organizations, youth organizations, and more. This makes for better collaboration between everyone, and a great avenue for sharing different advocacy events going on around the island. We are even nominated for a social media award for best new Twitter account which I am hoping we will win!

Let me just finish up and say, I have a new respect for the social media gurus out there! This twitter account is a 24/7 job!

Jennifer Brunet is working as a Health Promotions Manager with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in Jamaica.

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