Standing Up Today for a Better Tomorrow

Empowering Trinidadian Girls Against GBV

By Isabel Kubabom, Intern, External Relations & Communications, PSI

“I felt the passion and enthusiasm from them, I felt the power. As a man, I thought to myself, ‘Watch out. These girls are taking a stand.’”

As Ken watched the flurry of activity among the young girls in the high school auditorium, he was stunned. While he had hoped that the educational program on gender-based violence (GBV) for Trinidadian high school girls would be a success, he had not anticipated just how much the girls would enjoy it.  His only disappointment was that it was all coming to an end – limited funding only allowed the program to run for 12 months.

34-year-old Ken Ramdhan is the Youth Education Manager at Families in Action, a non-profit organization that provides services addressing drug and other addictions, family and relationship conflict, parenting and youth education in Trinidad & Tobago. From a young age, Ken knew that he wanted to help make the world a better place. When he was a boy, he moved from Tobago to a heavily Afro-Trinidadian community on the larger island. There, he experienced discrimination for his mixed identity – an experience that left him feeling alienated. He resolved then to do what he could to help change his community. “I can do something for someone today to give them a better tomorrow,” he explains.  Now, Ken works to ensure that young people receive the guidance and support they need to live safe, healthy and meaningful lives. This put him in a prime position to lead the initiative, ‘Girls Stand Up’, in partnership with PSI. The program was carried out in four high schools across Trinidad and focused on creating and training ‘action groups’ to help raise awareness and educate the other students on gender-based violence. But as the program came to an end, there was still much work to be done.

In Trinidad and Tobago, gender-based violence is rampant, with a staggering number of reported cases of violence against girls and women. Interpersonal violence (including gender-based violence and rape) ranks fifth out of 44 disease areas, accounting for 5.4 percent of the total years of lives lost due to premature deaths. Negative gender and cultural norms, many of which Trinidadians learn in their youth, are the root cause of this issue – a sentiment that Ken echoes. “These harmful practices are ingrained from a very young age. If we want to make a difference, we need to reach them while they’re young. We also realized that kids who needed serious intervention were going to the older, more popular kids to seek help and advice. They looked up to them.”

With the Girls Stand Up program, the idea was to educate and empower the girls while giving them the tools to facilitate discussion about gender-based violence among their peers. Groups were also trained to identify and guide anyone affected by an act of GBV to access help. At a joint training workshop, all the girls created a collective mission statement to sustain their action groups, which they presented to the other participants of the program. The girls embraced these activities wholeheartedly. By the end of the program, about 90 girls were recruited into groups. The movement against gender-based violence in their high schools had begun.

Ken hopes to see continued funding for this type of program. He envisions that the program can be carried out in secondary schools nationwide, possibly integrating it into their curricula. And importantly, he wants to include boys in the conversation, too.

“Having both boys and girls involved in the movement is important. If they all stand together against gender-based violence, they would make a much more powerful impact.”