Indefatigable is the first word that comes to mind with the mere mention of the name Hazel Brown.
In a society of nine-day wonders where commitment often comes with a limited shelf-life, Hazel Brown’s tireless and unwavering dedication to the cause of social and political change marks her out as special among us.
She epitomised female empowerment long before the term entered our vocabulary, making the power of her presence felt during the heady days of protest and demand for change in the early 1970s. In crushing economic conditions of 1971, Hazel Brown came to national prominence as a fiery advocate for consumer rights and frontline member of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HATT) and the Telephone Users Group. TUG would eventually be credited for a successful public campaign that helped to keep telephone and electricity rates at a more affordable level for low-income families.
Consumer advocacy remained a lifelong commitment which she would later channel within her community through the Diego Martin Consumer Co-operative of which she was chair.
Her confidence in the power of the civil society as a force for change spurred a mobilisation initiative that led to the birth of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women in 1985. This umbrella body gave women’s organisations from across the country a national platform for advocating women’s rights and addressing issues affecting women.
Through the Network of NGOs, T&T women got a voice on the regional and international stage, most notably through Caricom, the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth.
As the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Network, Brown was a fixture at the Commonwealth Civil Society People’s Forum held alongside Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.
In 1996, when Commonwealth Ministers for Women’s Affairs met in Trinidad and took on the goal of increasing the participation of women in decision-making levels in the public, private and political sphere to a minimum of 30 percent, Brown and the Network took on the challenge to “Put a Woman”. It was therefore a matter of great pride for her and the Network when Kamla Persad-Bissessar broke the glass ceiling to become T&T’s first female Prime Minister in 2010.
Hazel Brown’s combination of personal drive, self-confidence, intelligence and leadership skills made her a formidable and unique figure at the intersection of civil society, government policy, diplomacy and international development institutions. Trinidad and Tobago’s contribution to the path-breaking Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995 was significantly powered by her organisational skills and energy.
Despite her packed schedule, she made the time to serve on numerous bodies including the Minimum Wages Board, and to promote Solar Box Cooking as a more environmentally-friendly method of cooking long before solar became popular
From wherever the call to serve came, Hazel Brown put up her hand, unflinching even in the face of criticism and derision. This Warrior Woman served us all well. May she rest in peace and may her family find comfort in her inspiring example.