As members of the media, there are go-to names we seek out for an array of topics. Long before there was a gender minister, Hazel Brown was that name, synonymous with our coverage of all things dealing with the advancement of women’s rights.
Even as we prepare for our Budget panels on Monday, we remember jostling for her attention as a commentator on consumer rights.
The phrase “she lived a life of service” was used repeatedly by those who paid tribute to her life after learning of her passing yesterday. But it would not be misused here to say Hazel Brown, who was 80, lived a life of service — service to women, service to cancer patients, service to consumers and most importantly, service to Trinidad and Tobago.
Brown, who was married in 1962, famously told the United Nations during a 2017 conference, “The income tax law in Trinidad and Tobago considered an employed married woman in the same category of persons as children, imbeciles and people with insane mind.”
She would, of course, successfully advocate for the law to be changed, along with so many others over the years.
Thankfully, she was one of our national stalwarts who were honoured before her passing. In 2011, she was bestowed with the Medal for the Development of Women (Gold) for her work. The University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus also honoured her in 2015 with a two-day symposium entitled Fearless Politics: Life and Times of Hazel Brown.
In one of her more memorable moments, the late mayor of Port-of-Spain Raymond Tim Kee resigned in 2016 after a wave of protests over comments he made following the death of Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya. When the T&T Guardian interviewed Brown on the issue, she hoped the wave of feminist awareness wasn’t just a passing phase.
“Can we continue to carry those messages, not necessarily the protest part but the awareness building part of it?” she asked. “Where are we going with this is the question that I am trying to find an answer for? Where is it going, or is it a nine-day wonder? Will it just die next week?”
We are thankful we do not see the persecution of women here as we do in other parts of the world, where there are examples like Iran’s hijab laws and the tragic death of Mahsa Amini by “morality police,” or even in parts of the United States where women face forced births and almost no maternity benefits. But violence against women remains an epidemic in this country.
It’s sad that we write this tribute on the same day our front page tells the tragic story of a woman allegedly ending the life of a baby through poisoning. What more could have been done for her? What more could we do to raise awareness of postpartum depression or mental illness? Where can women go if they need help?
These are the questions we’d probably have reached out to Brown to ask.
Our women still need as much support as they can get from the state and from each other. There will never be another Hazel Brown but there will be other activists carrying on her fight.
We vow her memory will be no nine-day wonder.