Featured Storyteller

JAMAICA: Waking Up To My Own Power

ruthibelle
Posted October 1, 2021 from Jamaica

Ruthibelle’s university mentors taught her to claim her voice and speak up for others. Now she advocates for women and girls’ rights.

“I was a timid country girl when I started university… those three years sowed the seeds of transformation that would ultimately determine my life's purpose.

When Ms. Nadeen Spence said to me, “Wake up to your own power,” it was a call to arms, a call to service, and a call to courage. I've lived out the rest of my life as a response to that statement.

My involvement in women's rights advocacy was almost accidental. I moved from my conservative home in rural St. Mary, Jamaica, to the only all-girls' hall at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI). For the next three years, the student services manager, Ms. Spence, and the female resident advisors encouraged us to make noise, claim our voices, and advocate for changes that would benefit women and girls. 

During my second year as a journalism student, I stumbled into a media, gender, and development course taught by a women's rights advocacy group called Women's Media Watch (WMW Jamaica). That’s where I learned how our assumptions and expectations about gender roles negatively affect women and girls. I was shocked that something so real and powerful had been invisible to me for so long.

I began volunteering with WMW Jamaica, eventually working my way up in the organization. This woman-led and woman-focused advocacy group was started in 1987 by some of the strongest Jamaican/Caribbean feminist voices. I was in awe when I realized that the same authors who had written my feminist theory textbooks sat beside me in meetings. 

Our founding members are still alive, and I feel lucky to have them as sisters, mentors, mothers, and friends. Their activism in the 1970s and 80s paved the way for my generation to access education, meaningful employment, maternity leave, contraceptives, and political power.

It's a blessing to work alongside them as we build for the next generation. Our work is fueled by a desire to help create positive, lasting, and meaningful change, especially for the marginalized and vulnerable. Despite my education, I still have to consciously unlearn years of mental conditioning about what it means to be a woman. I still struggle to defy subtle stereotypes that try to limit what I can do, and who I can be. 

What about the women and girls who did not get the same education and opportunities? What about those who have no access to financial resources, technology, or support? What about those who live with disabilities, or in poverty, or with HIV/AIDS? What about those who are non-binary? What about teen moms? Who speaks for them? Who fights for them? Who stands alongside them and teaches them to fight for themselves and others like them? Who helps them understand and navigate the injustices they face daily? Who advocates for change so their lives can improve?

My answer is baked into Ms. Spence's words: “Wake up to your own power.”

My awakening was an interesting, often slow process. I was a timid country girl when I started university and it’s taken me almost a decade to overcome that timidity. Some days, the fear is still there, like an unwelcome old friend. 

I thank my lucky stars that I lived in Mary Seacole Hall for my undergraduate studies. Funny that my parents selected an all-girls' hall because they thought it was a safer, more conservative option. Those three years sowed the seeds of transformation that would ultimately determine my life's purpose.

I refuse to pretend ignorance. I refuse to keep silent while women and girls are fighting for respect as human beings. This issue is too pervasive, too pronounced, too personal! And the price of silence is too high.

I'm a writer, a speaker, a thinker, a teacher. These are the tools I use in my advocacy.

That's my power. What's yours?


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 33

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Elizabeth Francis
Oct 01
Oct 01

Hi ruthie, my JA sis congrats on your story award.. I'm so Honored to read of your resilience and determination to stand avd make a difference. Purposeful living is living, keep on shining my sister

ruthibelle
Oct 01
Oct 01

Thanks Elizabeth! Appreciate the solidarity!

Stacie Dickson
Oct 01
Oct 01

You inspire me!

ruthibelle
Oct 01
Oct 01

Awww. Thanks so much for saying that, Stacie!

Olanike Adesanya
Oct 02
Oct 02

Congratulations, Dear.
Very thoughtful of you., Ruthibelle
Your story is quite interesting.
It was good you didn't pretend ignorance. It was good you were able to express yourself and not yet silent for the course of women and girls, speaking for the vulnerable, especially people living with disabilities.
Please keep the good job on. You're on good course. May God help you to carry on.

ruthibelle
Oct 01
Oct 01

Thanks Olanike!

megsmueller
Oct 01
Oct 01

Hey sister I remember this story and loved it! Congratulations on your story award. Please do keep on writing!

ruthibelle
Oct 01
Oct 01

Thanks @megsmeueller!!

Tesleemah
Oct 01
Oct 01

Congratulations, sis. Really enjoyed the story. Keeps writing as it means a lot to us.
Much love

ruthibelle
Oct 02
Oct 02

Thank you Tesleemah.

Marie Abanga
Oct 01
Oct 01

Dear Ruthie,

Congratulations on your powerful and award winning story. A wake up call to us all to keep going especially this month of October which is Domestic Violence awareness month and more...U feel you sis

ruthibelle
Oct 02
Oct 02

Correct Marie. Definitely a rallying call for us all. Thanks for being in the space and caring!

Sumera Reshi
Oct 02
Oct 02

Dear Sister,
What a powerful story you have! Your transformation from a timid girl to a vocal voice is amazing. More power to you dear.

Best,
Sumera

ruthibelle
Oct 02
Oct 02

Thanks Sumera. More power to you as well.

Sumera Reshi
Oct 02
Oct 02

Thanks sister.

Joshua Oyedele
Oct 02
Oct 02

Wow, Ruthie, your story is an inspiring one for everyone who desires to live a live with his/her voice heard. Thanks for being resilient and thanks for sharing your story.

ruthibelle
Oct 02
Oct 02

Thanks Joshua!

Congratulations to the story award. It is really an inspiring one and we really need to shout out our voices so it can be heard.
Thanks Ruth
My Regards

ruthibelle
Oct 02
Oct 02

Thanks Honorine! Agree that we need to shout so our voices can be heard!
Let's never keep silent!

Love & light
Ruth

Tamarack Verrall
Oct 03
Oct 03

Dear Ruthi,
How I loved reading your story. The power of what happens when women dare to speak the truth about how women are all too often still treated, and the power we have within us if and when we dare to be fully ourselves. I love that these messages were given to all of you inside a school for girls! I love that you have sat with elder sisters who encouraged you with their work from the 1970's, and that now younger women are hearing your words. This is how we move forward together creating the world we know is possible.

ruthibelle
Oct 03
Oct 03

Thanks Tam! I'm very big on intergenerational collaboration and dialogue. It's so important that we understand our history and the efforts of our forebears, so we can build knowledgeably, and powerfully.

Much love,
Ruth!

himani deswal
Oct 04
Oct 04

Woww Ruthibelle, you are doing such an amazing work

ruthibelle
Oct 04
Oct 04

Thanks Himani!

Love & Light,
Ruth

Jill Langhus
Oct 04
Oct 04

Hello Ruthie, Dear,

How are you? Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, and congrats on being a Featured Storyteller!

Hope you have a great week!

ruthibelle
Oct 04
Oct 04

Thanks Jill!

Love & light,
Ruth

Jill Langhus
Oct 04
Oct 04

You’re most welcome, dear! Xx

Susu Mohamed
Oct 05
Oct 05

Dear Sister Ruthibelle,
How are you doing,

Wow, what a great story that you shared with us. I loved it. Congratulations on being featured.

best regards,
suu

ruthibelle
Oct 05
Oct 05

Thanks Su! Appreciated!

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Oct 05
Oct 05

Dear Ruthibelle,
This is wonderful to read and a good preparation of your educational and experiences to inspire you to assist many women and girls to self independence. I agree that it starts with our voices to speak UP and speak OUT.
I encourage you to continue on this great journey of advocacy. We are the voices and the light our ancestors are rooting and praying for! #istandwithyou
All the best to you moving onward,

sincerely,

Mama Queen

ruthibelle
Oct 05
Oct 05

Thanks Mama Queen!
#istandwithyou too! <3

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Oct 05
Oct 05

Thank you my dear, Ruthibelle. Peace, love and prosperity!

ceegrah
Oct 07
Oct 07

Wow Ruthie,
I was glued to your story till the end. Your resilience and commitment to advocating for women and girls is powerful. I saw it in your words '...too pervasive, too pronounced, too personal!.". Rooting for you my dear sister.
Much Love

ruthibelle
Oct 07
Oct 07

Thanks Ceegrah!