Joycelyn Bacchus: Red Thread Member, Grassroots Warrior for Justice

By Joy Marcus, Wintress White, Vanessa Ross, Susan Collymore, Halima Khan, Andaiye, Karen de Souza, Alissa Trotz For Red Thread

Red Thread mourns the loss of our dear sister, friend, and colleague, Joycelyn Bacchus, who lost a courageous battle with breast cancer.

Born and raised in Linden, Joycelyn’s first encounter with Red Thread was in 1987 as a 16 year old, when she attended a workshop on teenage pregnancy. After attending another workshop, she joined the group in Linden.

At that time Red Thread had a lot of older women, and Joycelyn was among a handful of teenagers who wanted to be a part of the group. The young people were not particularly interested in the embroidery projects that Red Thread had organised at the time as an income-generating activity for grassroots women across race. Joycelyn was more attracted to the group building discussions, finding this to be a space where she could freely express herself. Although she went on to work with the laundry service that the Red Thread group had set up in Linden, she began travelling to Georgetown once a week for training in how to plan and facilitate workshops. Eventually Joycelyn would leave the laundry to work full time as a workshop facilitator, a position that saw her travelling to several coastal communities: Meten-Meer-Zorg in the West Coast of Demerara; Victoria and Anns Grove on the East Coast of Demerara; Litchfield, Cotton Tree and No. 43 Village in Berbice. She co-facilitated workshops on several important issues that included teenage pregnancy; a woman’s place. As this work developed Joycelyn would travel to almost all of the regions, including indigenous communities to conduct workshops on domestic and sexual violence that

Linden, Joycelyn

focused on educating and advocating for the rights of grassroots women and children. We remember her enthusiasm and energy and commitment to find ways to make what we were doing interesting and relevant to people’s everyday lives; at one workshop she jumped up in the middle of a session to do the “Rampat dance, (from a primary school textbook called The Rampat Family) when she felt people were falling asleep. In the early 1990s she participated in the well-known radio serial called Everybody’s Business, which was also performed on stage in Linden, Charity and Pomeroon and which covered a range of issues addressed in the workshops like child abuse, teenage pregnancy, parent child relationships, abortion, a woman’s place and unemployment. Joycelyn was also involved in producing a handbook on dv called ‘Domestic Violence: A National Problem’; and a household guide which was a booklet that translated the Domestic Violence law into language accessible to grassroots communities.

Most recently before her untimely death, Joycelyn was involved in training women in five communities (Lethem, Bartica, Essequibo, Parfait Harmonie and Plaisance/Better Hope) to understand the domestic violence and sexual violence laws and to become advocates and resource persons within their own communities. For us in Red Thread, this involves educating the community on the issues, accompanying survivors to the hospitals and police station and the courts, and monitoring how all of these institutions deal with cases of domestic and sexual violence so we can get a better sense of how the laws are being implemented and enforced and where the gaps are and what it means for a survivor at every stage of the process to feel like they are being treated with respect and that justice is possible.

Joycelyn participated in several of our research projects on domestic violence, women’s reproductive health, domestic workers and sex workers. She was involved in the time-use surveys of women that Red Thread carried out to measure women’s work and recognise how important it was to the economy. This was the first time that grassroots women went out into communities to speak with other grassroots women about how many hours are spent each day on work – paid and unpaid, physical and emotional. The time use survey was repeated during the 2005 flood to show how women were affected across geography and across race divides, and to make visible how grassroots women in particular were being affected and were being left out of the discussions and plans for rebuilding. It enabled hundreds of women to come together in one place to address and demand more from policy makers at local, national and international levels about who was not being represented at the decision-making tables. Joycelyn was also part of a Red Thread delegation that travelled to Venezuela in 2006 to attend the World Social Forum. Through the Global Women’s Strike, RT members met and learned from grassroots Venezuelan women organising around the recently announced Article 88 of the Bolivarian Constitution (under then president Hugo Chavez) which recognised caring work as productive work and entitled housewives to social security under the law.

In Red Thread Joycelyn has worked on low-income issues with a specific emphasis on the plight of domestic workers. In this capacity she attended workshops and conferences in London, Venezuela, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, Antigua. She also served on the steering committee of the Caribbean Domestic Workers Network, which was founded in 2011. She participated in workshops to train domestic workers from Corentyne, Essequibo, Bartica, Linden and Georgetown on their labour rights. Joycelyn also played an important role in campaigning for the ratification and implementation of International Labour Organization Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (which was adopted in 2011). In Guyana this work included conducting workshops on the Convention, and helping to collect over three thousand signatures that were presented to the then Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul. Guyana ratified shortly after the signature campaign and protest action. After passing a Red Thread protest on his way to the May Day rally in 2013, the Minister announced that Guyana would ratify the Convention, which was done shortly after, making Guyana the first country in the region to take this action. Just this past September, Joycelyn was nominated as the interim chair of the Domestic Workers Service Cooperative Society Ltd. – which is now in the process of being registered, and whose mandate is to advocate for, represent and protect domestic workers to ensure that Article 189 is properly implemented. The Society, run by domestic workers, will also work as a placement agency for domestic workers in Guyana.

Joycelyn was a regular face on the picket line, whether it was about protesting sexual predators and the inadequate enforcement of the Sexual Offences Act, or condemning the situation in Haiti, or protesting the police violence that led to the shooting deaths during the Linden protests of 2012. We will remember her as a no nonsense person who stood up always for what she believed in, and who fought with and for grassroots women’s rights to dignity, respect and a life worth living. She always reminded us to believe in ourselves and our power and ability to make change together. We have lost a friend, a colleague and a warrior in the truest sense. To her daughter, Malkia Troyer, and her family, we extend our deepest condolences.

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