Gender, Love, Social Justice

Meet Ronelle King, gender rights activist, creator of #LifeinLeggings, and Barbados organizer

#Lifeinleggings came about from my own personal experiences of street harassment and sexual violence.

After months of preparation, the #lifeinleggings campaign, started by Ronelle King in 2016 in Barbados, spread to other Caribbean islands. This campaign launched marches across the region on March 11th 2017, advocating for the protection of girls and women and against gender-based violence.

The Tempest spoke to Ronelle about the impetus behind the #lifeinleggings campaign, the Caribbean-wide march, and what comes next in her activism work.

The Tempest: Give us a bit of a background in your involvement with gender based violence, and how did the #lifeinleggings campaign come about?

RK: #Lifeinleggings came about from my own personal experiences of street harassment and sexual violence. I’ve experienced being raped but more recently almost being kidnapped in broad daylight because I refused a ride from a stranger. I tried to report it to the police only to be met with a nonchalant attitude by the officers at the station which resulted in me feeling defeated. I tried to accept what happened to me and move on with my life, but I reached a breaking point and I felt something had to be done about it.

Why did you decide to use social media for #lifeinleggings and why did you choose that name for the campaign?

RK: Whenever I tried to explain to someone my experiences, I’d be asked questions such as, “What were you wearing?” #LifeInLeggings was purposely coined to dispel the myth that only certain types of woman are harassed and are deserving of their assault/abuse because of the way they are dressed. We know that this couldn’t be farther from the truth but the myth is perpetuated through the use of respectability politics.

I decided to use social media for several reasons; one being that the movement couldn’t be easily ignored by the very men who needed to see what women experience on a daily basis and how pervasive violence against women is. More importantly, the women whom we were asking to lend their voices to the campaign could easily read each other’s experiences and by extension they could empower each other to break their silences; they could also stand in solidarity with each other and amplify their voices to drown out any misogynistic noise.

What are your thoughts on the campaign being utilized throughout the region, and what does that tell you about sexual harassment, rape culture and gender based violence in the region?

RK: The campaign was intended to be used throughout the Caribbean. Gender-based violence, especially street harassment is a global problem, but due to our colonial history our experiences differ from those who reside outside of the Caribbean because our region, despite made up of various islands, is still deeply rooted in the colonial idea of gender separation and oppression.

Are you planning to make the campaign international or take it to politicians to have policies, or forums about this issue?

RK: The campaign has garnered some international attention, and I’d love for it to eventually be an internationally recognized organisation that provides a judgement free platform for survivors to speak out about their abuse, along with resources to be able to heal.

Our movement heavily emphasizes that everyone has a role to play in eradicating gender-based violence. Female politicians have shared their stories on the hashtag and are committed to helping us make this more than just a social media campaign. Some marched on March 11th with us to “reclaim our streets.”

We had 3 asks of the government:

  1. Ensure that your Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences legislation and policies meet international norms and standards to meet your obligation to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Belem do Para.
  2. Develop, implement and pledge government resources to National Strategic Action Plans on Gender-Based Violence and/or Gender Policies, which should ensure at least one sustainable government funded and managed shelter and a clear plan for psycho-social support for survivors and perpetrators.
  3. Parliaments and political parties develop standards and implement accountability policies on gender-based violence including political harassment against women and men. Confronting Gender Bias courses are compulsory for parliamentarians, party leadership, police, and the armed forces.

What comes next for the #lifeinleggings campaign? What are your plans to keep the momentum going about gender based violence both in Barbados and the Caribbean?

RK:  We have multiple upcoming projects which include a community outreach project that is chaired by my assistant director, Luci Hammans. She’ll be hosting some workshops to continue to educate and facilitate the discussion between men and women as it relates to gender-based violence.  She’ll also be hosting healing circles and directing a play that focuses on the experiences of survivors. In addition, we’re collaborating with the regional coalition of NGOs that we partnered with for the march to be able to continue the work throughout the Caribbean.

What’s your advice to young women of color looking to get into this field?

RK: You have the power to inspire others and to create change. This isn’t easy work but If you’re passionate about something, you keep talking about it and don’t give up even if it means standing alone. As a person of color, you understand that it is important that your advocacy be intersectional; speak up for those who are marginalized but don’t speak for them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.