From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed May 24 18:42:02 2000
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 21:48:35 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: PROFILE-ST- LUCIA: Helping Women in Crisis
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Helping Women in Crisis
By Peter Richards, IPS, Women as Leaders Series,
2 April 2000
PORT OF SPAIN, 31 Mar (IPS) - The three words, "I need money,"
are likely to come up in any conversation with Iona Erlinger-Ford. And
she says those words like a beggar who has not had a meal for days.
But as the conversation progresses the "I" is replaced by
However, Erlinger-Ford, does not need the money for herself or her
family. In fact, she could have had a very comfortable life, with
little concern for the disadvantaged, but she chose otherwise.
Her family has worked in the tourism industry for years and
Erlinger-Ford gave it a try for 16 years before deciding that this was
not her "destiny".
Most people in St. Lucia know her as 'the little woman'. But size is
no indication. Barely five-foot tall, her dogged determination to stop
gender-based violence spans over two decades.
"I think I inherited this from my father. He belonged to a number
of friendly societies and as a result you get involved in helping
people a lot," she says.
"Erlinger-Ford has been a champion for women in the fight against
domestic violence. She is deserving of the highest accolade from women
in the Caribbean and indeed St. Lucia," says Lorraine Williams,
former president of the Inter-American Commission on Women.
"She has single handedly fought the issue against all odds,
including financial support," says Williams, who is also St Lucas
former Attorney General in St. Lucia.
Twelve years ago, Erlinger-Ford along with a small group of women,
opened the St. Lucia Crisis Centre for victims of domestic violence.
The Centre is in the process of expanding and first on the pipeline is
constructing a home for girls. This would act as a refuge for
"pregnant teenagers, school drop-outs because of the abuse at
home, victims of incest, prostitution and other forms of abuse".
The Voice newspaper, the oldest media organisation on the island, said
in a recent editorial that the Centre has made "its presence felt
as a pressure group for social change in the society".
In a document prepared for the ninth Conference of Spouses of Heads of
State and Government of the Americas held in Canada last year, the
Centre outlined its successes but said it was hamstrung by lack of
"We need funds urgently to continue the operations and we are
looking for support from some international agencies. Violence,
especially sexual assault and gang rape, is on the increase and
support from government, because of economic reasons, is very
limited," Erlinger-Ford said.
The Centre currently receives a monthly allocation of 1.100 US dollars
from the St. Lucia government.
But Erlinger-Ford says the Centre needs much more than that to keep
its doors open to the many victims of domestic violence and abuse in
need of counselling and other forms of support.
And while she is quick to talk on issues affecting women, she is
reluctant to give out any information about herself.
But some of the older persons in St. Lucia know that she is the third
of eight children, born to a successful business couple, Phillip and
Paulicia St. Helene.
Asked about her age, she responds, "I don't give that out because
of the rudeness and insults I have had to endure from people here
about my age and involvement with battered women and children."
But many of her contemporaries say " she is in her late 80s"
despite her "youthful appearance".
Educated at the St. Josephs Convent, one of the prestigious secondary
schools in St. Lucia, Erlinger-Ford was one of the first recruits for
the British Army's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She managed to
attain the rank of Orderly Room Sergeant and was in charge of the
Detachment on the Victory Parade when the Second World War ended in
After the war she joined the St. Lucia Civil Service until 1958. One
year later she married Canadian engineer, John Erlinger- Ford, whom
she met at her mother's hotel. The marriage produced two sons, Peter
and Bernard and later four other boys were adopted.
In 1975 she launched the Business and Professional Women's Club in
St. Lucia, advocating better conditions for women in business,
politics, "and all other concerns involving women".
Back in the 1960s and early 1970s for 16 years she managed a Hotel,
before migrating to Canada where she got involved "in all kinds of
"When I left St. Lucia in 1977, the government had just signed the
United Nations Declaration against the discrimination against Women,
but when I came back in 1985, I found that nothing had been done about
the elimination of discrimination against women," she says.
This lack of progress sent Erlinger-Ford back "into the business
of social work in St. Lucia".
Williams recalls Erlinger-Ford's determination to get the John Compton
administration to enact legislation providing for closed door court
hearings for any crime of a sexual nature and the establishment of a
Family Court to deal with issues of domestic violence.
"If there is one thing she had that was courage. Lots of
courage. She almost single handedly ran the fight and was instrumental
in getting the legislation passed," recalls Williams.
But Erlinger-Ford's biggest fight now is to get the authorities to go
along with plans by the Crisis Centre to construct a shelter for
battered women and children, although the last government approved the
proposal for the project which is estimated to cost 250,000 US
It is a fight she is determined to take to the authorities since she
is convinced that the shelter "doesn't seem to be a priority for
Origin: Harare/PROFILE-ST- LUCIA/
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