The Herstoire Collective came to life two years ago. Founded by Dr Su-Anne Robyn Charlery White, Herstoire has been embraced by women nationwide. With a focus on health, education empowerment, research and stories (‘Herstoire’), this collective has sparked great change and is only just beginning what is sure to be an amazing, life-changing journey. On Monday March 16, I interviewed Dr Robyn Charlery who was eager to discuss her brainchild.
A feminist, ‘sexpert’ and just your regular girl at heart, Dr Robyn Charlery was a burst of fresh air.
According to the founder, “Herstoire was founded as a result of research that I conducted during my dissertation studies for my PhD. The research that I conducted was primarily looking at Caribbean women but Saint Lucian women in particular: their risk for HIV, how they perceive their risk, the types of relationships they’re engaged in, the nature and concept of their sexual and intimate relationships and partnerships.”
“As a result of that a lot of stories started coming out,” she said, adding that women were opening up to her, even asking questions that were not directly tied to her study or research, including questions about sexual abuse, molestation, inter-partner violence, friendships and labels: being lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered or intersex (LBGTI).
“That’s what was coming out from the research that I was conducting and I said something really has to change,” she said.
She continued: “You do a dissertation, people do research, most times it’s published in an academic journal, they go to scientific conferences, they have their degrees and they’re never to be seen again but I really wanted to make a difference; I wanted my research to have impact.”
Dr Robyn Charlery and her colleagues decided that a collective would be a great initiative, and agreed that they would do what they could, to influence change and so, ‘Herstoire’ (‘her stories’) was born.
“From there we just started doing mostly digital advocacy which means you promote advocacy for sexual and reproductive health, promoting Caribbean women’s rights, all that stuff,” she said, adding that Herstoire immediately gained a large following and interest from persons who wanted to join the movement.
Later, ‘Herstoire’ which started in the United States, would branch out in Saint Lucia.
“Jessica St. Rose from ‘United and Strong’ was following the movement and she was like ‘we need more of this in Saint Lucia’, not knocking any other organization obviously,” the ‘Herstoire’ director said.
She continued: “I did notice that there were not many youth based organizations focused on women’s sexual reproductive health and rights. It’s usually a perspective of trying to reduce their risk for STIs or things like that, but it’s not looking at the young woman as a sexual being. The only time we’re a sexual being is when we’re being raped; that’s when society takes note.”
Dr Robyn Charlery noted that most times discussions like the aforementioned are off the table.
“The age of consent is16—a full grown individual should be able to make these decisions: healthy decisions to have sex, to be in relationships and to engage in intimate partnerships— these conversations are not happening,” she stressed.
Jessica St. Rose’s request was food for thought for the ‘Herstoire’ founder. Soon, the collective would have roots in the Caribbean.
The group has hosted a number of workshops and events.
“We try to target areas that are understudied. Something that’s not often talked about with the youth, young women in particular, is how to identify whether your relationship is healthy or unhealthy. Other workshops we’ve conducted are on consent issues. People talk a lot about sexual assault or rape but consent is so much bigger than that,”she said emphatically.
The group also works with other organizations as they “cannot do it all.”
“PROSAF, for instance, is integral in our ‘Safe Space’ programmes on Wednesday nights. A representative or counsellor from PROSAF is always going to be one of the moderators. If anyone logged onto the chat is a victim of child sexual abuse, you can contact Moderator Three and have a private conversation; that’s one of the benefits,” she said.
Herstoire’s ‘Safe Space’ initiative targets women who are16-25, however, the founder stated that younger women can also participate in the inspiring discussions.
“It’s definitely in alignment with the fact that women needed an outlet to communicate. It’s not that we are lacking psychologists or counsellors in Saint Lucia—they have to get paid too—so it would not be feasible to request psychologists and counsellors to provide that support that women need pro bono.The creation of a virtual space was the best tool we could think of that is something they could access for free and discuss these issues and possibly get help, resources, and access to what is available,” Dr Robyn Charlery shared.
According to her the platform is one where women can make well-informed decisions and have a non-judgmental space and can share their stories anonymously, or as part of the community. The chats take place every Wednesday night and interested persons can log onto herstoire.com/livechat at 7:00 p.m. for the next session, where sex, mental, emotional and psychological health, will be discussed.
Says the founder, “The Safe Space is here for you to access sexual and reproductive health information—not only for you to access but for you to share your stories and for you to access a non-judgmental space where other women are sharing stories that you can possibly relate to or learn from.”
‘Chief Cheerleader’ of Herstoire, holder of a Bachelor’s Degree (Psychobiology), Master’s Degree (Public Health) and PhD (Health Promotion and Behaviour, specializing in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health Disparities) Dr Robyn Charlery is indeed a ‘SHEro’.