Interview Series: Ronald Francis -- By Alberta Richelieu
Ronald highlighted that part of what is needed in the Caribbean to keep young adults, especially, young women, engaged and confident is the understanding that not all women are the same.
“The Caribbean is full of women who are empowered in different ways. For those who aspire to work in an international arena, it starts with showing them the possibilities available to them. I realized from teaching at the Saint Joseph’s Convent (SJC) and at the University of the West Indies that you can simply broaden someone’s scope and change his or her life forever. A few weeks ago, I explained to some of my students that Linguists in the Caribbean should learn computer programming and they might have a chance to work at Google and/or Facebook. I pulled up a few examples of job ads for Linguists from various social media companies and they were all shocked.”
Ronald pointed out that demonstrating to young people that possibilities are endless is key to empowerment, especially in today’s world. “We have to start showing Caribbean women, in particular, that the world is their oyster and that they are not limited.”
Ronald was quite cautious to comment on the idea of social change. He made it clear that understanding the agenda for ‘social change’ requires understanding the context of social change. “If you mean social change in the sense of equality and social justice, I think that it starts with education. It is crucial to tell children that their dreams are valid, especially girls. Inspiration should be part of [our] educational system.” He emphasized that the agenda for social change can be as simple as highlighting to young girls, stories of other women who have made it, telling stories of people who triumph over poverty and other struggles, and letting girls know that even though it will not be easy, it can be done!
In regards to teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship, Ronald opined that a business mindset is necessary despite the career pursued. “That is a lesson that I am learning the hard way. More and more, I am realizing that you must diversify your income. What I mean is that the person you work for can pay your salary at the end of the month but that person does not need to determine your total income.” Ronald highlighted that it is possible to have several streams of income. He noted further that people have needs and a good business meets a need. More importantly, Ronald underscored the need to ask oneself the following questions : What can you provide? How can you meet a need?
He expanded on the need for a better job to be done in the Caribbean, at teaching skills in entrepreneurship at earlier levels. He underscored that it should not be just for students in the ‘POB’ class but for every student. “Every student, from the budding poet to the engineer, must learn how to monetize his or her skills and talents and make a living from them.”
In terms of the role of men and boys in female empowerment, Ronald stressed the need for men to be allies in the equity and equality for the women’s empowerment agenda. “It starts with attitude. Stop catcalling. Stop associating women with weakness. In a relationship, be a partner. Spending time with your family or raising your children or even cleaning the kitchen does not make one a ‘special’ or exceptionally sensitive man. Partnership needs to be the norm.”
With all of that said, Ronald highlighted that women themselves play a vital role in defining masculinity. “My personal opinion is that part of the responsibility falls upon women to accept the vulnerability and sensitivity of men and not equate those traits to weakness.”
Ronald Francis is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics and a Research/Teaching Assistant at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago.
Ronald’s research interests are literacy, language education and language policy in multilingual contexts. Ronald hopes to work in the education sector at the local and regional levels with a focus on inclusion.