Joan French, an undaunted feminist, has promoted feminist action throughout the Caribbean since the late 1960s. A leading member of the Sistren Theatre Collective, Joan has been associated with the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre since its inception, and is a founding member of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) which led the struggle for the recognition of Caribbean feminism in the 1980s.
As President of the National Union of Democratic Teachers she led the struggle for maternity leave for female teachers, regardless of their marital status, thus challenging the status quo.
She has worked as a lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages at the UWI, and at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies through the Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO). In 1991 she became the first Coordinator of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre, charged with engaging with structures such as CARICOM in order to advance people-centred policies on behalf of regional civil society organisations.
In 1995 Joan joined the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and continued her work for the rights of women and girls through the United Nations. She was the first Caribbean person to hold a Programme post in the UNICEF Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean in Bogota, Colombia, where she served as Regional Advisor for Gender from 1996-2008. As Chief of Gender for UNICEF from 1998 to 2003 she led the thrust for inclusion of gender analysis and action in every area of UNICEF programming.
In Burkina Faso, where she served as UNICEF Resident Representative from 2003 to 2007, she is fondly remembered for the outstanding part she played in advancing girls’ education.
Since retirement in 2007 Joan has served the UN as Interim Resident Representative for UNICEF in the Comoros Islands, and as Interim Director for the UN Women Multi-Country Office based in Barbados. She has also carried out consultancies for UNICEF.
Joan, primarily known for her activism and professional work up to now, has finally found time in retirement to acknowledge and further explore her literary production.