Juliette the unorthodox Caribbean woman
Name: Juliette Maughan.
Education: University of the West Indies, Cave Hill; Barbados Community College; St Ursula’s School.
Qualifications: Master of Science in integration studies; Bachelor of Arts in Spanish; Associate degree in law
Occupation: social development and gender consultant; founder of Ev-O!-lution; and co-editor of Senseisha: Memoirs Of The Caribbean Woman.
Who is Juliette Maughan?
I often call myself a Caribbean lifestyle entrepreneur, which simply means that I build my life and work around things
I am passionate about. In that sense, I am a multi-passionate, unconventional Caribbean woman, with big dreams and
an inquisitive mind.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about gender equality and human rights, including sexuality and sexual rights, social justice, politics
and democracy, and pushing my own limits through travel
Do you have a philosophy you live by?
There are a number of sayings that guide who I am and how I engage with the world. The first is that “life is not about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself”. As a result, I believe I have to work at the future that I want to create for myself, which includes constant self-analysis and change.
The second is that “well-behaved women seldom make history”. It is a saying by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich that pays homage to the women in history who have gone against the grain; those who were pioneers in their own right, and who would have created change in the world.
Having graduated from secondary school, you enrolled in an Associate degree programme at BCC. Why law and economics?
I wish I could say I had dreams of becoming a politician; but nothing could be farther from the truth. At that age, the question of what I wanted to do with my life shifted and changed like the tides.
I was encouraged to take up law because I love to talk –– a lot. Economics sounded interesting and I decided to give it a shot. As they say, “no knowledge is lost”, and I have no regrets. On reflection, they were the best foundation courses for the type of work that I do today. Perhaps it was by divine design.
In some regions across the world, it is mandatory for students as early as preschool to learn to speak a foreign language. Given that you are able to speak Spanish at an advanced level, what are your thoughts on Barbadians being able to speak another language?
In my opinion, every Barbadian should have a second language, other than Bajan or Standard English. With a multilingual workforce, Barbados would have a competitive advantage for trading with countries throughout the world, whether it is through tourism or the sale of products and services.
Studies have also proven that those who have acquired an additional language from childhood are smarter, have better memories, can multitask and are more perceptive about the world around them. Apparently speaking another language can also reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia as a person gets older.
From my personal experience, having a second language has been integral to my personal and professional development. I have been exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things and I have a network of “adopted families”, friends and colleagues all over Latin America. I cannot even begin to imagine my life without it.
My regret is that I do not know more languages; but there is still time.
You possess great knowledge and experience in the area of gender and gender issues. What motivated you to get so involved in this field?
The catalyst for my passion and understanding of gender and gender equality was the Summer Institute For Gender And Development, now the Caribbean Institute For Gender And Development (CIGAD), offered by the Institute For Gender And Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit at UWI Cave Hill.
It is offered every two years in Barbados, inviting male and female participants from a variety of backgrounds –– from farmers to PhD candidates. We discussed a number of issues, from the environment to sexuality, dissecting and questioning everything we have come to know through a “gender lens”. This course provided critical thinking skills and has influenced much of the work that I do today.
With the concept of gender being widened to include transgendered persons, do you think a person has a right to determine his or her own gender?
To answer this question it is important to get to the heart of what we mean by sex and what we mean by gender. Sex is the term used to explain a person’s biological traits. We often think in terms of binaries –– male or female –– but there are some persons who are also born intersexed, with biological traits that are both male and female along a spectrum.
Gender, by comparison, is a social construct around how an individual is expected to behave, and their role within the society, based on whether they are born male or female. So for example, the belief that only women are supposed to wear dresses is based on society’s views of femininity. But what is it about a dress that makes it inherently female? I argue: nothing at all, other than that society says so.
The topic of the transgendered person is expressed as their gender identity. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of self as male, female, both, or neither. Interestingly, gender identity does not automatically dictate sexual orientation, but I digress.
So this topic speaks to a person’s human rights, specifically sexual rights. Does a person have the right to claim an identity that society has decided they should not because of what they had been assigned at birth? Yes!
Should a person be assaulted, violated, stigmatized and discriminated against because he or she is different from the majority? No!
In my view, the rights of transgendered persons should be respected.
Between 2006 and 2014, you worked with the Organization of American States (OAS) in various roles, initiatives and departments. Can you share some of them with us?
The OAS is an organization that is very near and dear to my heart. In addition to participating as a short-term international election observer, I was an intern in the Department for Election Cooperation and Observation during the summer I was completing my Master’s paper. During that time, I participated in the Model OAS Initiative, which is a simulation exercise of a meeting of the Permanent Council.
I was also able to lend support to a regional training seminar for election professionals throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Mexico. Since that time, I have been part of a number of electoral initiatives and training on issues like
political financing and the legal framework for elections.
In a sense, those in the field of election observation, particularly in Latin America, have become like family and I have learned so much about politics, governance and elections from the experts that I have worked with.
Given the fact that I am Caribbean, bilingual and have a background in gender, I also became involved in short-term projects with other departments like the Inter-American Commission For Women and the Department For Labour And Social Development supporting gender mainstreaming efforts into the Ministry of Labour project in the Caribbean.
You worked with TEDx in 2012 and 2013 here in Barbados. For those who may not know, share with us what TEDx is and what roles you played.
TED is a non-profit organization based in the United States dedicated to spreading ideas through short, powerful and engaging talks. The TEDx brand allows for independent organizers from around the world to host a TED-like event in their own communities.
The first TEDxYouth@Bridgetown event was actually organized by Barbadian students (Cherise Trotman, Rashad Brathwaite and Alisia Shepherd) in 2011. It was a small event where I was invited to be one of the four speakers.
Unfortunately, these young pioneers were not able to organize a future event and Maria Kublalsingh took up the challenge and became a TEDx licensee holder in 2012.
I came on board to assist with the planning of the 2012 TEDxYouth@Bridgetown event that had 21 speakers who addressed a number of topics on the theme The Big Questions.
Students and teachers from almost all of the private and public secondary schools of Barbados attended the event, which was streamed live on the day of the event. Based on feedback from the public, we were encouraged to produce the TEDxBridgetown event and in 2013, I assisted with the management of the event and worked with the 12 speakers in preparation for their TEDx presentation on the theme Redefining Wealth. The videos from all of the events are available on YouTube and Facebook pages.
If you could solve one global problem, what would it be?
Inequality in all of its forms.
If you had to choose an animal that best describes you, which would it be, and why?
I am a proud Leo, so I would like to say a lion; but, to be honest, I am more like a cat –– independent, loving, curious
If you had the privilege of choosing any organization in the world to work at for one year, which one would it be?
The Pleasure Project in Britain, because it introduces pleasure into promoting safer sex through research, workshops and advocacy campaigns –– which is very progressive and necessary work.
Tell us about Ev-O!-lution.
Since I cannot work at the Pleasure Project, I launched a social start-up that celebrates safe, guilt-free pleasure. Through Ev-O!-lution I facilitate safer sex and pleasure discussions among the adult population in Barbados, and also promote the use of body-safe intimate products like condoms and lubricants.
This is perhaps one of my most rewarding projects, given that people are very interested in learning and talking about sexuality, which is still a taboo subject in Barbados.
You are the co-founder and co-editor of Senseisha. What is Senseisha, and what inspired you to start this initiative?
As an extension of my work through Ev-O!-lution, I began to search for literature about female sexuality in the Caribbean and found very little. I approached Shakirah Bourne, writer and film-maker, about putting together an anthology comprising creatively written, non-fiction memoirs written by women across the Caribbean.
Senseisha: Memoirs Of The Caribbean Woman was published in 2014 following a call for submissions in the previous year. The 20 stories are organized around five thematic areas: First-Time Experiences, Coming Out Stories, Love And Intimacy, Overcoming Abuse and Embracing The Taboo. Accounts vary from a girl’s first period to how one woman finally escaped an abusive relationship.
The memoirs are currently available in stores in Barbados and from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Some of the stories have been used in workshops to discuss topics like loss of virginity, same-sex relationships and male versus female sexuality in the Caribbean.
At the age of 22, you backpacked for a month through Europe covering four countries and ten cities. What motivated this, and was it all worth it?
I was on a UWI student exchange for a year in London at the time and perhaps it was my wanderlust that led me to embark on this journey on my own. To be honest, as I was lugging my backpack to the nearest London underground station, all I could think was: “Juliette, are you crazy?”
I learned a lot about myself during that time and met some amazing people along my journey. It taught me that we are never truly alone and, in the backpacking world, all racial and social barriers seemed to disappear.
I also learned about survival on the road, as I navigated unknown cities and language barriers with only Lonely Planet’s Europe On A Shoestring and prayer as my guide. Those were the days before smartphones and Google Maps. I would recommend solo travel to anyone; it is actually my preferred way to travel.
You participated in exchange programmes to Venezuela, Colombia and Dominican Republic. Did these exchange programmes contribute to your development?
Two words come to mind when I think of my initial days in many of the exchange programmes: culture shock. Now when I look back on those days, what remains is the realization that these experiences have moulded me into the tolerant, culturally aware, and versatile individual I am today.
It is a tragedy that the AFS Intercultural Programme is no longer available in Barbados today; but I believe that these experiences are still available through the language programme at UWI.
What do you love most about yourself?
A former professor once said that I am unique in that I can operate very well in circumstances of uncertainty. I had never viewed myself in that light before. However, his statement points to something that I love about the person I have become: someone who moves forward in spite of my many fears.
Who has contributed to your success?
They say that a village raises a child, and this is my truth. There are many persons that have supported me along my journey –– personal and professional mentors, friends and family, even strangers. However, I owe much of my success to my very special parents. My mother is my biggest cheerleader, who reminded me throughout my childhood that “there ain’ nothin’ name can’t”.
By comparison, my father is the one who continues to challenge me to push my personal limits and he supported, and often arranged, many of the experiences that shaped me into the person I am today. I feel truly blessed to have had their guidance.
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