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A national gender policy does not focus on women only but includes everyone in society, and if T&T had a policy in place, then male gender gaps would receive greater attention. Dr Rawwida Baksh, who is attached to the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development as a consultant, says it is a sad state of affairs.
The policy is a framework put in place by the government to promote fairness and equality between men and women and to ensure the development of the full potential of all—men, boys, women and girls. T&T, unlike some of its Caribbean counterparts, does not have a policy.
Baksh said, “Based on my experience of working on gender and development across the world while at the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Canadian International Development Research Centre, I have to say that it’s a national policy disaster.”
A draft policy was done by the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2004, but when it was published a short time after, Baksh said several faith-based organisations argued that it would lead to the legalisation of abortion and same sex relationships. She said the government in office at that time withdrew the policy.
Baksh communicated with the Sunday Guardian via e-mail last week, after a stakeholders’ consultation on the draft National Gender Policy at the Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s on Wednesday. Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose-Greaves delivered the feature address at the event.
She said the making of the policy was perhaps one of the longest in the history of policymaking in the country. “I believe that a national gender policy is critical in order to set out the government’s gender equality priorities across the social, economic and political spheres; build coherence among stakeholders including government, the private sector, labour and civil society; and secure the necessary resources to address the critical gender issues facing the nation,” the minister said.
Men, boys experiencing domestic violence
Baksh was head of the Gender Section at the Commonwealth Secretariat, where she developed the gender management system as the Commonwealth’s approach to mainstreaming gender equality in government, civil society and other sectors. She was also co-ordinator of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, and a lecturer in linguistics at the UWI.
She said the term “gender” has been misunderstood all over the world and is often confused with “sex.” “Sex refers to our biological reproductive system. Simply put, sex refers to whether we are biologically male or female. “Gender is more complex. “It refers to the attitudes, behaviours, expectations, roles and responsibilities associated with being a boy, man, girl or woman during the socialisation process,” Baksh said.
Asked how the policy will make a difference, she said it will affect how the State treats people, regardless of their gender differences. She said women and girls alone will not benefit from the policy but also males. She said the policy will allow the government and society to implement more resources and programmes to address male gender gaps, which were now seen in society.
She said several of the social ills involving men and boys, such as gang violence, rape, kidnapping, drug use and other criminal activities, were related to how society defined manhood. Baksh said, “The national gender policy would promote positive images and values of men and masculinity and take active measures to address men’s specific gender concerns on areas including family life, health, education and employment.”
She said it was also important to note that a growing number of men and boys were experiencing domestic and other forms of gender-based violence and that the policy would allow the government to improve legislation and implement measures to prevent such violence.
Baksh said a Cabinet-appointed committee, which was set up in December last year, has been reviewing, discussing and updating the draft policy on the basis of new research and information now available. A controversial topic now is that of gay rights. Baksh did not give a yes or no answer when asked whether the policy will include gays and lesbians.
Her response was, “Minister St Rose-Greaves has gone on the record on the news at (Wednesday’s) stakeholders’ consultation in support of the need for a discussion in the society on the right of consenting adults to choose their sexual partner. “The Cabinet-appointed committee has been having very interesting discussions on the issue with a wide range of stakeholders in the country in the public awareness round tables.”
She said there had been some movement on the issue among various faiths and while there was support for sexual choice, there was none for same-sex marriages. However, she said the government should be cognisant of this difference and agree to free choice between consenting adults, while not sanctioning same-sex marriage.
“This would allow individuals the right to choose, and go a long way to preventing gender-based violence and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual identity or orientation,” she added. Cabinet gave a deadline of early June to the committee to submit its report and a finalised version of the policy, Baksh said.