Tanya Stephens’ #HerLegacy Keynote Address — Be Bold For Change

#HerLegacy: A celebration of women and organisations taking bold action for change.
Hosted by We Change and UN Women 
Keynote Address: Tanya Stephens 
This year’s theme: Be Bold For Change

Being bold means being willing to take a risk, a willingness to exceed set limits, even the limits which were set by us. This boldness can be a big action which steps outside of your own personal space and enters the space of others. One example from US History is a black women who brazenly sat at the front of the bus in a time of racial segregation. A more recent example closer to home was demonstrated by a ‘spunky woman’ who impulsively used a tambourine to impact an unapologetic ‘alleged’ sex offender, giving the Tambourine Army its name.

Most of us wouldn’t even dream of being that bold! That’s ok. We don’t all have to be bold in the same way. Those acts are catalysts, very necessary in every revolution. But of equal importance is the bold action which need to follow. For some of us being bold will mean allowing others to be bold without our interference or even simply acknowledge an appreciating the potency of our sisters’ works. On that note let me pause to acknowledge a sister who last year pioneered this spot from which I speak and has made her position very clear in this revolution. I extend my gratitude and appreciation to my sister Imani Duncan-Price. Women like Latoya Nugent, Nadeen Spence and Taitu Heron inspire and motivate me every day to push harder, to breach boundaries, get up outa retirement and pick up back me weapon because this is war… (SING) and if dem want war you know we a go deal wid di case cause piece a sompn weh mi keep pon mi waist!

Identify your weapon and back it! This is war.

Not everyone will understand what you’re doing. Neither will everyone agree with your methods or expressions. Some people will just be uninterested while some will even be offended. Don’t’ you allow that to phase you. When you KNOW what you are doing and you can see clearly the path leading from your actions to the solutions we seek, do NOT break your momentum to explain anything to anyone who isn’t instrumental to the process.

Some people work for applause and awards, but your preservation depends on those who work for results. People with good intentions will advise you to aim at building a fan base. Thank them graciously and continue building your momentum. Don’t waste time worrying about who and who get big up and who breaking bread. You wah break bread wid dem? I MUCH prefer a rich, moist, gooey chocolate cake anyway!

So let us allow them to break bread while we continue to break the chains that binds us.

When it comes down to it we really are not here to impress each other, we are here to effect change.

The speeches we need to worry about are the ones which inadvertently reinforce dangerous present and subliminally blame and muzzle victims or survivors. We need to frame our statements so that they remain aligned with your intentions. As a survivor of gender based violence I do not appreciate even the slightest suggestion that improving on my resume could possibly have prevented attacks on my person. Education, independence, and safety are not interchangeable words or descriptions. When we speak people don’t hear our intentions, they hear what we say, so we must make sure to say it the way we mean. Let us be responsible enough to know when to simply be supportive. Do not try to silence a victim, a survivor. Especially not when they are identifying their attackers!

People who are lucky enough to enjoy the freedom of speech purchased by the spilt blood of our ancestors should never allow themselves to get so lax, so cocky, and so arrogant, that they fail to appreciate the luxury of it.

We are going to HAVE to operate by a higher standard that we demand from men. The truth is, we can demand more from them than we give to each other, but the lack of credibility which comes from doing so is going to return results which defeats our purpose. Hence it’s time WE start loving us, start being more aware of what we do to us even unwittingly, because continuing on the same old path is not an option. Continuing to live by the archaic superficial and demeaning models for women set by chauvinists and vigilantly policed and maintained by their unsuspecting victims is no longer an option. It isn’t conducive to the safety and wellbeing of the females in existence today, and as we progress and seek more for our offspring it will be even less acceptable for the females to come.

Today we have to upset delicate sensibilities, because the time for being petite in our proceedings is past. Occasionally we WILL have to rip some fabric! It is not sustainable for us to stand under machine gun fire while we maintain composure and worry about image. The only images we should be concerned about are the images of mutilated bodies of women and children being displayed on the nightly news, images of crimes and crime scenes being circulated all over social media, desensitisation of our population to the wholesale verbal, psychological, physical, emotional, sexual, an economical abuse of our women and girls with fear silencing too many of us. Those are the images of who we need to worry about. Stop fixating on preserving the integrity of the language of our ancestors’ owners and understand that our speech reflects our passion and is nuanced to impact those at whom our communication is aimed.

Communication is about getting your point across, and effective communication is getting your point aligned with your intention. Some of us have allowed ourselves to become outmoded in this new era of media and communication, presiding pompously over a dying kingdom. Mrs. Bucket and all of your friends we love you but I have news for you! The new breed of advocate that I am proud to call my family is not about finding ways to survive in this hostile environment. We are not about maintaining the tradition of suffering in silence while we wait for the prayers to kick in. We are not about preserving the image created for us by those who offend and to oppress us. We are not about the family portrait with the paedophile patriarch resting his hands triumphantly on his victims’ shoulders. That nah hang pon fi we wall!

We are not about treading lightly. We will not allow ourselves to be content with patiently chipping away inches of rubble while our oppressors are laying rows of brick and building new and even more intrusive walls. We do not limit ourselves to your methods and neither do we limit you to ours. We respect your immense potential and we WANT to combine our varied efforts but please, stop trying to bring us ’back into the fold’.