The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Guadeloupe-Martinique:
Where Women Led the Way

Jan 22, 2018

The following article is translated from Combat Ouvrier, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in the French Caribbean.

In October, actresses denounced a big Hollywood producer. Within a few weeks, their example gave confidence to thousands of other women who also denounced the sexual harassment they had experienced.

Mid-November, in Guadeloupe, the high school student newspaper Rebel! publicly denounced the protection given to a high school teacher who sexually harassed students for more than ten years without any reaction from the local education office. That makes seven years that Rebel! has protested against the attitude of the academic authorities, who protect the “educator” harassers, when they don’t take part themselves. At the Agricultural High School of Convenance, this helped lead to the conviction of a teacher who is no longer allowed to work with minors.

Harassing men can be found at many other places than just schools. At work, many women are confronted with sexual harassment, from derogatory remarks and humiliations to the most brutal aggressions.

In the Caribbean, sexism is aggravated by poverty. Working class and unemployed women must confront all the difficulties of life and also deal with this sexist discrimination. This situation has given birth to the idea of the “femme potomitan” (the common image of the woman as the center of life in the French Caribbean), who is a model of force and courage. It is a positive image of women, heritage of the fight for existence of all those who have had to deal with this since the era of slavery, and who continue to deal with it.

But this “femme potomitan” is also portrayed in a somewhat condescending manner. She is always confined to family life, always devoted to children, and occupied with daily survival. It is a false image. Because when ordinary people revolted, women were at the head! In Martinique as in Guadeloupe, all the big movements had their heroines, like Lumina Sophie or the mixed-race woman Solitude. And with them there were thousands of anonymous women whose names have been forgotten by history.

In this moment, women have good reason to denounce the “pigs” who harass them. These denunciations are precious, because they permit women to make shame switch sides. But in the future, when the workers again take the path of collective struggle, we can bet that women will again be at the head. This will be their best revenge against the little men who today permit harassment!