by Chantal Phillips
Sistren is a women's popular education theatre group. I met two members of Sistren at the V Encuentro De Feministas De America Latina Y El Caribe (the Fifth Congress of Feminists From Latin America and the Caribbean) in 1990. During its fourteen years or so of existence in Jamaica, working with the urban poor (market vendors, farmers, informal sector laborers, etc.), Sistren has developed a solid reputation in the field of popular education through street theatre.
The small group of working women who began Sistren have had great success, not only among the women who participate in their organization and their workshops, but also among international funding agencies such as the Canadian development organizations MATCH, OXFAM, and CUSO. Sistren has grown beyond its central goal of doing popular theatre and is now producing T-shirts and fabric art in order to keep raising funds for the organization. There are also books associated with the group; for instance, Honor Ford Smith wrote Lion-Heart Gal about Jamaican women in their own dialect (available from Sister Vision Press, Toronto), and a video has been made which celebrates the work of Honor Ford Smith and the forming of the Sistren collective in the seventies.
I had heard about Sistren in Toronto, but most of the women at the Congress in Latin America had no idea about the feminist movement in the Caribbean. Although there have been congresses in the region, both nationally and internationally, for at least ten years, it has been difficult to bridge the language barrier between English- and Spanish-speaking feminists. The V Encuentro in 1990 was the first opportunity for English-speaking women of the Caribbean to formally attend the international congress and speak about their work back home. It is no surprise that Sistren was contacted to present a workshop; their reputation has led to many opportunities for collective members to travel and speak with other women's groups around the world.