Red Thread, originally The Women’s Development Project, was created as an effort to offer greater opportunities for women in Guyana. At the time of Red Thread’s creation, Guyana was both racially divided and economically poor. In the years prior to the project’s creation, then President Forbes Burnham had imposed a ban on the import of wheat flour, and in its place attempted to increase the local production of corn and other kinds of flour. In a country with relatively strict gender roles, the burden of producing the local substitute – grinding the corn – fell on grassroots women. Many working-class women also had rudimentary skills, but were limited with respect to where they could apply those skills. The Project that would become Red Thread worked with women to show them the worth of their labour and time.
Red Thread started with embroidery classes. Although this may seem unrelated to what the women do now, these classes acted as a portal to address and discuss many of the systemic issues – around gender, race, class, geography – that women faced. Rather than hard physical labour, women were taught creative and artistic skills. A practice passed down from colonial times, embroidery was predominantly a pastime for middle and upper class women in the country. The project looked at reclaiming and reassigning the use of embroidery within Guyanese society by expanding it to working class communities across race. Additionally, to reclaim it from the colonial past, these women personalized their designs by using Guyanese flora and fauna, drawing inspiration from their immediate environments.
Embroidery also has ties to the origin of the organization’s name. At the time of these classes, red thread became incredibly hard to source in Guyana because it was in such high demand by the embroiderers. When the founders of the project were looking to name of the organization they knew automatically that they wanted something with symbolism – a name that would connect them to their roots and their origins.
Andaiye once said, “Women are poor not because we don’t work hard, women are poor because the work that women do is unpaid or low paid.” Transforming women’s lives is inherently connected to women’s income and women’s labour. For many of these women, earning an independent income gives independence within the home. Labour and gender are prominent and primary issues in Guyana that people are often afraid to address. Traditional gender roles are connected to physical and emotional abuse within the home. Labour and class are determining factors for education and opportunity. Many women are not given the skills to better their situations, continuing patterns of passed down trauma and poverty. At Red Thread, women work with each other to challenge and change situations that they have once found themselves in. At Red Thread, grassroots women come together to raise their voices and fight for change.
Read more about Red Thread’s work and origins below
Red Thread, ND