Welcome to Part 1 of our August 2023 Inspirational Interview with Kelsie Joseph, Co-founder of Catcalls of University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.
Kelsie Joseph (she/her) is a young, passionate intersectional feminist activist, organiser and chalk artist with IGDS Ignite, a student-led feminist club of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Trinidad. She received the 2022 IANGEL Rights and Leadership Award, the SWS Undergraduate Social Action Award, and was a finalist for 2022 CAISO Hard Head Awards, in recognition of her activism and commitment to gender justice. She is studying Sociology with minors in Gender and Development Studies and Criminology. She is the Co-Founder and Project-Lead of Catcalls of UWI and the Education Lead for Chalk Back, both projects that utilise chalk graffiti, cyberactivism and other community-based interventions to combat gender-based violence.
Part two of Kelsie’s interview will be published 7 August 2023.
All photos are courtesy of Kelsie Joseph.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)?
It was a thought-provoking but inspirational journey that prompted me to join the movement to end VAW. As I started my academic path at the UWI, my intention was to pursue a BSc. Sociology while maintaining a high GPA to transition into the Law program. But I took an Introduction to Women’s Studies course where my lecturer, Dr. Gabrielle Hosein, taught us how the personal is political. This ignited my passion for feminism and ending VAW. It was evident that God had another vision.
Also, my tutor, Shalinee, a proud feminist, told me about IGDS Ignite and their activism on campus. Then, in 2019, I volunteered at the Consent Station at one of their outreach events and observed that my peers, especially male students, had no understanding of the word consent. Thereupon, I remember telling IGDS Lecturer, Dr. Collins, “I love engaging and learning from the public.” She responded, “IGDS Ignite is the place for you.”
2.The Catcalls of University of the West Indies (‘Catcalls of UWI’) was established in 2020 as a project of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies (‘IGDS’) Ignite to end street harassment and gender-based violence at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine. How did Catcalls of UWI come to be founded?
As an eager student interested in women’s rights, I enrolled in my first gender course. I didn’t know what to anticipate. The course, Introduction to Women’s Studies, exposed me to feminist theoretical frameworks making connections to social justice and social change through the groups’ popular actions on issues affecting women.
Then, I decided to join the IGDS Ignite group to fulfill those interests and passions explored within my gender class. I wanted to experience first-hand student activism since I enjoyed engaging and learning with my peers. During my first semester on campus, a female student was assaulted in the restrooms which sparked ongoing safety concerns faced by students. Another Igniter and myself were inspired by @catcallsofnyc and our very own experiences of ongoing street harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) on campus. We co-founded the Catcalls of UWI project through our student club IGDS Ignite in 2019 to end street harassment and GBV.
3. Can you tell us about how Catcalls of UWI’s approach to stopping street harassment and VAW has developed since 2020?
Catcalls of UWI’s approach to stopping street harassment and VAW has developed organically since 2019 through mentorship, teamwork, and dedication of Ignite members on the Catcalls working group.
The Catcalls project began as part of IGDS Ignite’s gender justice work and in preparation for the 16 Days of Activism to Combat Violence Against Women Campaign. We were also guided by our global chapter, Chalk Back, which provided support and community. We decided to continue with the project as a safe online space for students to share their experiences of street harassment and sexual violence on campus because of the momentum it generated and the positive feedback we received from the student population.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed our activism, as we relied more on our digital presence, doing online club collaborations and GBV case referrals after the lockdowns began. Following our return to campus, we adjusted and continued our activism.
4. Could you give us an overview of the services that Catcalls of UWI provides for the victims and survivors of street harassment and VAW in Trinidad and Tobago?
Catcalls of UWI provides the following services in Trinidad and Tobago to victims and survivors of street harassment and VAW:
- A safe online platform for victims and survivors of street harassment and violence to anonymously share their stories via Instagram DM. Once consented, we chalk and amplify GBV experiences to educate creatively with chalk graffiti. This raises public awareness that street harassment (catcalling) should not be accepted as compliments, but rather as micro-aggressions on the gendered violence hierarchy, serving as a gateway to other forms of GBV.
- We provide a platform for collaborative and community engagement organising to highlight and amplify any form of GBV for social and policy change.
- We provide victims and survivors with UWI and external resources, along with sexual and domestic violence referrals.
- We provide concrete measures that allow bystanders to safely intervene or report.
5. What would your advice be to young anti-violence against women activists and feminist youth groups in other parts of the world who wish to adopt a similar model to Catcalls of UWI to combat street harassment in their countries?
My advice to young anti-VAW activists and feminist youth groups adopting a similar model to combat street harassment in their countries:
- Start with Catcalls: Do you want to create or volunteer with a Catcalls account? It’s as simple as going to the chalkback.org website and reading the toolkits.
- Cyber feminism: In this digital and post-Covid era, we can reach and connect to other activists and a larger audience through online platforms to end street harassment and leave a digital footprint. In the interest of establishing sustainable online spaces, communities of support and solidarity can be formed for anyone, especially disabled folks.
- Art as activism: The use of chalk graffiti is environmentally-friendly, trendy, digestible, and creative in raising awareness of GBV. Activism can be enjoyable while making a substantial impact.
You can adopt one or more of the points shared to address and sustain your gender justice activism to end street harassment.