BU student published in United Nations project

·5 min read

A Brandon University sociology major has had her writing featured in a special United Nations initiative designed to promote gender equality and equity in the Caribbean.

Amanda Hutchinson’s work will appear in the Caribbean Sheroes Initiative, a toolkit produced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The person who led the project is my aunt, who does a lot of civic work and is a published author in Jamaica,” Hutchinson said. “I’d previously done some newspaper work locally at the Jamaica Observer, have been published in online magazines and had done a bit of work with The Brandon Sun, and she really liked my writing. I knew relatively little about the size of the project, but I was honoured to have been able to work with so many women who were advocates for gender equality within Caribbean society.”

The Carribean Sheroes Initiative states gender equality is one of UNESCO’s global priorities, and the organization is committed to removing barriers hindering women’s personal and professional development while ensuring everyone has fair, inclusive and equal access to opportunities, resources and tools that enable them to reach their full potential.

In the Caribbean, UNESCO’s social and human sciences sector supports knowledge creation. The organization undertakes advocacy activities to promote women’s rights, raise public awareness and advocate for the elimination of gender-based discrimination and all forms of violence against women.

The Caribbean Sheroes Initiative, a collaboration between UNESCO, the University of the West Indies and the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, highlights and documents the contributions of women, women’s groups, their work regionally, and enhancing capacity among younger generations of women.

Her aunt’s request to participate in the project inspired her to write about her experience of growing into herself and putting her feelings to paper in “The Positive Power of a Force Ripe Girl.”

Force Ripe is a “very Jamaican term,” she said, referring to mangos on a tree. When a mango is not quite ripe, sometimes the fruits facing the sun will turn an orange colour from sunburn, making them look ripe even though they are not.

“They’re forced ripe — they’re not ready, but they look ready,” Hutchinson said. “The term is so inherently Jamaican that I worried that it wouldn’t translate to people.”

Hutchinson wrote the article “The Positive Power of a Force Ripe Girl” based on her childhood in Jamaica. She described how the idiom “force ripe” was used as a derisive term to define girls whose boldness of expression stepped out of expected societal norms. In Hutchinson’s case, it was her fondness for bright-red lipstick in her youth that caused her to be shamed by others.

“I wear my culture on my sleeve, so to speak,” Hutchinson said. “Being able to discuss the way that cultural narratives impact how young women can express themselves is so important to me. This project was purely independent of BU, but I took knowledge from gender and women’s studies, specifically what I’d learned from professor Corinne Mason, for this piece. It is stressful to grow up, walking on the tight rope of what is acceptable behaviour for a young lady. Dr. Mason gave me the space to question why that was the case in my assignments for her classes.”

In her essay she explored how leaving her home in Jamaica to study in Canada helped her realize that being forced ripe should be viewed as a badge of honour, allowing her the confidence to grow and embrace challenges in her life.

“Moving away from Jamaica was honestly a blessing and a curse,” Hutchinson said. “As much as I was homesick and experienced loss and tragedy being away from home, I was able to grow, explore mental health through Brandon University and ask questions I’d never been able to ask back home. This piece was met with a mixture of praise and expected criticism. Still, [by] leaving I got to realize that these cultural norms that place restrictions on women’s behaviour aren’t real. They don’t exist.”

She hopes those who read her piece will understand that young girls, especially those working to find their identity, do not need to be policed for every action they make. This is especially true when it comes to sexualizing and adultifying them in every single space they occupy in society.

“Even the benign stuff — red lipstick isn’t a sexual siren call,” Hutchinson said with a chuckle. “Let young girls be young girls. Let them be comfortable in growing into themselves.”

It is fascinating to zoom in on societies and cultures to understand how social experiences and practices weave together. She added it can be surprising the number of links that can be made from one sociological theory that would be based in a specific community to others around the world.

“I’ve always been interested in people’s cultures. My mom travelled a lot, so we lived in different places — we went to Israel for a bit, we lived in Trinidad for a little while, and all of that was before the age of 15,” Hutchinson said.

She ended up at BU after looking at Canadian universities with intentions to find a city where she would know the least amount of people.

“It’s been an adventure,” Hutchinson said, laughing. “It’s been a good mix of the good ... [and] the bad. The bad has been a learning experience — I learned that you cannot run across a snowy parking lot, there is ice there. You might not see it, but there is ice there.”

Hutchinson has always had a love for writing. She initially enrolled with BU to pursue an English or journalism degree, but was instead drawn to sociology.

Hutchinson, who is also minoring in psychology, is entering her fifth and final year at the post-secondary and will graduate in May. Upon the completion of her final year, she plans on attending grad school to obtain her master’s and PhD so she can become a professor.

“Once you understand sociology and how theory can apply widely to life, you start seeing it everywhere.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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