Meet Our Caribbean Partner: The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development

Maribel Gonzales Americas, Conventional Weapons

Author
Maribel Gonzales

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2009 Volume 30 Issue 1

Annual murder rates in the Caribbean—at 30 per 100,000 inhabitants—are higher than in any other region of the world. The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) in Trinidad and Tobago, a longtime partner of Project Ploughshares, has been a vigorous campaigner against gun violence in the Caribbean. WINAD’s beginnings, however, had little to do with guns. “We had a concern about succession planning in the women’s movement,” says Folade Mutota, community activist and one of the 11 women who founded WINAD in 1999.

Objectives and members

WINAD’s objectives include promoting respect for women’s human rights; developing initiatives to end discrimination against women and encourage collective action by women; implementing initiatives for social and political transformation; and developing alternative learning and social institutions. Membership is by referral. WINAD members identify women who can further the objectives of the organization, and they are invited to join.

This membership is a powerhouse of women leaders from various fields, including social work, media, insurance, politics, information technology, business, trade unions, law, education, research, culture, and social development, as well as homemakers. Although the number of members varies, Mutota estimates that there are currently 25 members.

Until May 2008 WINAD did not have a core staff or office. Still, driven largely by the voluntary efforts of its members, WINAD has accomplished a great deal, pushing forward its agenda both within and outside the country.

Leadership of women

In 1999 WINAD launched the Inter-Generational Women’s Leadership Programme, an innovative mutual-learning program that paired female students (aged 14-18 years) recruited by secondary schools in the capital city Port of Spain with older women selected by WINAD. Jillian Duncan, a founding member, recalls that the partnering “more or less came naturally as young and old met on ‘open days’ sponsored by WINAD.” About 35 young women have participated in the program; one is now a staff member in the newly opened WINAD office.

The program also offers workshops facilitated by WINAD members and associates on such issues as globalization, self awareness, HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, violence, finance, human rights, and political participation.

Gun violence

The trafficking of narcotics and weapons into and through the Caribbean makes it vulnerable to gun violence. WINAD is at the forefront of regional efforts to end small arms proliferation and misuse.

With gun violence in Trinidad and Tobago increasing, in 2001 WINAD began to look at this issue. After almost a decade of steady decline, the country’s murder rate has more than tripled, from 9.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 28.2 per 100,000 in 2006, second in the region only to that of Jamaica (IADB 2007). In a population of just over a million, the impact of such high rates is widespread. At the Russell Latapy Secondary School in Port of Spain, Principal Tarran Bhaggan estimates that “90 percent of students have seen or been touched by armed violence” (AdvocacyNet 2008).

WINAD has worked on community, national, regional, and international fronts to research gun violence, raise awareness, campaign for better gun laws, and push for stronger regulation of the global arms trade. Whether initiating community dialogues in Port of Spain’s “hot spots” of gun violence, convening national and regional meetings, or forming part of Trinidad and Tobago’s official delegation to UN meetings on small arms, WINAD displays leadership in bringing together key civil society and government players for discussion and further action. The accompanying table of WINAD activities attempts to illustrate the breadth and depth of WINAD’s efforts.

Civil society networking

Addressing armed violence requires an interdisciplinary, cooperative approach involving governments and other members of civil society. WINAD was among the first to join the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a global movement of some 800 civil society organizations in 120 countries to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms. WINAD is also a member of the Arms Trade Treaty Steering Committee, the civil society network calling for a global, legally binding Arms Trade Treaty.

WINAD is a key partner in Project Ploughshares’ Caribbean work. The collaboration started in 2003 with a project that began a process to engage Caribbean governments in discussing and developing common small arms transfer principles. Several more joint initiatives to do research and advocate policy followed, all working toward the development of regional approaches by Caribbean governments and civil society to small arms-related violence. The latest of these initiatives is a three-year program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, which includes a component to further develop WINAD’s capacity to act as a secretariat for the Caribbean Coalition on Development and Reduction of Armed Violence. Through this program WINAD has set up an office in WINAD House in Port of Spain and hired staff.

WINAD turns 10 this year. Asked to define WINAD’s strategic vision for the future, Folade Mutota replies, “To be a premier regional institution for alternative learning and practice.”

Table 1: Selected WINAD activities  

References

AdvocacyNet. 2008. News Bulletin 142. June 6.
Andrews, Erline. 2004. Aiming for change. Trinidad and Tobago Express. July 11.

Inter-American Development Bank. 2007. Project Profile: Trinidad and Tobago. Citizen Security Programme. October 9.

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