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Share with youth

Joan French

There is still some work to be done to make today’s youth understand the gender struggles of yesteryear.

It could help with some of the challenges and confusion young people currently face about gender issues, says Acting UN Women Director, Joan French.

French, who was part of the early gender movement in Jamaica and then Barbados, said: “I think there is work to be done in transmitting to this generation the history of what they are now beneficiaries of. I think it happens in every generation because in our generation we had to take the time to find out and we discovered things that nobody told us.

“So there is work to be done there and I have been part of some very interesting conversations between younger women and my generation where they said, but I didn’t know that. So it is important stuff to know because what I am observing is that the struggle for the liberation of women, sometimes, not always … there is an edge of it where liberation seems to be interpreted that I can do anything with my body, not recognising risks,” she expressed.

The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence ended on Monday, with a number of activities held in observance.

French said she believed there was now a superimposition of sexual license attached to liberation, and while sexuality and sex was a wonderful thing, it needed to be properly understood.

Even back in the 70s when she was part of the movement of which gender was a part, the UN official said that there was the belief that liberation meant not being able to say not.

“So I remember Millie Jackson having a song at that time which said because I am inviting you into my living room does not mean I am inviting you into my bedroom. To me that was the point. Liberation does not mean giving up … it is a total contradiction if it means putting yourself at the disposal of someone else, that makes no sense.

“I think there is that confusion sometimes in the minds of some young people. It cannot mean that. It has to mean that you take your own power and you use your own capacity for assessing your situation, your risk, and that you project yourself as a whole person, that you don’t present yourself as an automatic response mechanism to what when you look at it is the demand of another person, not your own.

“Even though you may be faced with the issues of the hormones raging, then there are any number of ways in which you can deal with that, why would you be dealing with it in a way which makes you simply respond to the demands of another male. Don’t you have to think it through and think about the implications and think about who is this male?”

She said it called for an exploration, not just of what was male and masculine, but what was female and femininity.

“Very often young people don’t know … these are issues that you talk about having to go into the masculinities, but you have to go into the femininities as well because women’s concept of themselves will determine the extent to which they can truly take advantage of the new opportunities that are opening in a wholistic and healthy way,” said French. (LB)

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