There is no set time, date or event where Diana Mahabir Wyatt can say she became a human rights activist. It was an ongoing process, triggered by different situations in her life and the lives of loved ones. Mostly known for her work in helping women and children, we remember her mainly for her role as an independent senator and being the founder of Childline, a counselling hot line for abused children and those at risk. She often used her position to champion Human Rights issues in Parliament and championed the cause of protecting those suffering from domestic abuse for more than 35 years. Back in 1941 she was born in Toronto to parents who wanted a son. The family had had generations of boys and it was a competition between her father and his brothers as to who would carry on the tradition. Sadly, their first baby died and Diana was the second born. Wanting to make her husband’s dream come true, Diana’s mother would risk her life to have another child, although in those days you were only allowed two Caesareans. Diana had already begun to resent the fact that boys were considered more important than girls (back then), and she often had to compete with her brother for her family’s attention.
At just five years old, she started becoming aware of the differences between how male and female were treated, an awareness that worked well for her as she became independent at an early age. Always industrious, she worked through her summer vacations and at the age of 17 she entered Mc Gill University in Montreal and wasted no time working her way through there as well. Of course, her parents had saved money to fund her brother’s university education, but this bias wasn’t meant to intentionally hurt Diana, it was just the way the world worked at that time. It was also at Mc Gill where she met her Trinidadian husband. Together, they return to his country of birth not yet finishing her degree. She had two children and continued climbing the corporate ladder of success. It all sounds smooth and well planned but even the best-laid plans go awry. At the age of 26, Diana was going through the rigours of divorce and juggling a job and being a mother. She had to turn to housekeepers to take care of her kids when she wasn’t there, so she took these women into her trust, telling them the importance of education, especially for women. Diana made sure her housekeepers were educated and went on to achieve big things. She then discovered that her neighbour was a victim of domestic violence and the problems she and other women faced became all too real. She started attending conferences where people would gather and talk about the issues. But no one was actually doing anything. So Diana called and begged government offices every day for help until she got a place to set up an organisation to assist.
Before she knew it, she had a family on her hands that needed shelter. There was no time to plan or time to gather funding to furnish the house, so she took it all on her shoulders and went out and got mattresses and kerosene lanterns and moved the family in. They were troopers, bravely staying at the house, happy to get away from the brutality that had been their fate not too long ago. This accomplishment marked the beginning of the Shelter for Battered Women and Children, and sealed Diana’s resolve to continue advocating for women and children’s rights and she went on to do much in this field. Disturbed and bitterly disappointed by the failure of government to protect children by ensuring the implementation of the strong legislation that Parliament had passed in respect of children’s rights, Diana resigned from the Senate to work for the implementation of measures to protect children at an NGO level. Today Diana says she is happy to live in this time when people aren’t just sitting back and tolerating things like they used to. They are blogging about issues, she says, talking about it, getting the word out. It makes her happy to see that people aren’t desensitised to the injustices that happen daily, but are rising up against them instead. Diana founded the Shelter for Battered Women and Children. She founded Childline and helped to start the Coalition against Domestic Violence (CADV). She served 12 years as an Independent Senator and fought for Amendments in the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Cohabitation Act. Diana also established the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights and is the Managing Director of PMSL Caribbean Limited.