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On women’s equality, Govt must lead from the front
A century after it was established, and decades after it was first marked in this country, there is still widespread confusion about International Women’s Day. In some quarters it is misunderstood as a more generalised version of Mother’s Day; elsewhere there are misplaced complaints about its unfairness and the need for an International Men’s Day.
International Women’s Day in fact commemorates the centuries-long struggle for women to achieve the right to be treated equally with men. In this country, many women and organisations have fought that battle, and it is fitting that they should be honoured as they mark IWD this weekend. But—as they will be the first to admit—just as Emancipation did not mean the end of racial prejudice or discrimination, the fact is that although on paper women may have attained equal rights, the struggle is not over by any means.
In T&T, women have made striking use of access to education, and in some fields are outnumbering men. Women have attained the highest offices in the land. But still the lowest earners, the poorest of the poor and the victims of domestic abuse are likely to be women. Too often when women have achieved success, it has been in spite of obstacles put in their way, and not because they were always given the support and recognition they deserved.
Women still have to succeed in the face of personal and institutionalised discrimination, stereotyping and bullying. They bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for taking care of children and supporting them financially. Women do far more than their fair share of housework. And in a society born out of the violence of slavery, and where that violence is still entrenched, very often it is women who suffer at the hands of men who regard them as little more than servants or personal property.
Despite the outstanding examples of successful women, including political figures, succeeding governments have not always done as much as they should to break down the walls of gender discrimination, and despite being led by a woman, the current administration needs to move faster to avoid letting down women in the same way.
It is now almost 30 years since a gender policy was first mooted, and in the meantime other countries in the region have drafted, debated and accepted such policies. In T&T, however, there have been numerous drafts, controversies, consultations—and yet, decades on, there is no policy in place.
The policy and supporting legislation, which will give stakeholders the autonomy they are seeking in several areas—such as reproductive rights, marriage age consent, equity in the workplace (women continue to be paid less for jobs of equal worth)—is nowhere close to being adopted. It does not bode well, either, that the Gender Affairs Minister is reticent on the topic and does not appear to consider it a priority. Startlingly, her IWD message did not contain a single reference to the policy.
The time has come for the Government to lead from the front and act on key issues affecting women, rather than paying lip service to them at times like this every year.
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