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It’s very sad—Mahabir-Wyatt
The reconfiguration announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar a week ago, has left Cabinet with only two female members besides the PM—Marlene Coudray, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, Minister of Public Administration.
That Cabinet has only three female members of a total of 33 and has been described as “very noticeable and very sad” by Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “We are falling way behind other countries, not just in the Caribbean but worldwide,” said Mahabir-Wyatt, herself a former Independent Senator. She believes it is the responsibility of any prime minister, whether male or female, to monitor gender equality in the Cabinet. “We’re dealing with human rights here, not just women’s rights. Gender equality needs both men and women advocates,” she said.
Mohammed: It’s not an indictment of the women’s movement
But University of the West Indies professor of Gender and Cultural Studies Patricia Mohammed thinks a female prime minister signifies a major shift away from “backward attitudes towards women as leaders.” She added that low female membership in Cabinet was “not an indictment of the women’s movement,” but representative of various societal issues.
“First, women in general are still not perceived primarily as public figures or as capable of leadership in public life,” she said via e-mail. “Second, because of changes in technology, educational access to both sexes, changes in the occupations and the cost of living, many women have worked outside of the home and in their communities, risen to senior management levels but are still unwilling to put themselves through the gruelling scrutiny that public power requires.”
Mohammed said she had noticed many women were filling permanent secretary positions in ministries throughout the region—a phenomenon she believes needs further exploration. When the People’s Partnership Government came into office in 2010, there were six female members of Cabinet including the PM. Since 2010, the PM has fired two female ministers, and offered another two diplomatic posts.
During last year’s reconfiguration former minister of health Theresa Baptiste-Cornelis accepted a diplomatic post in Geneva. However, former minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose-Greaves last week refused a position in Costa Rica.
Brown: It’s not new
Co-ordinator of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women Hazel Brown said low female representation in government is not new. “Our campaign since 1990 has been 50-50. That hasn’t changed and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.” She said she was pleased, however, that the newly appointed Minister of Local Government, Suruj Rambachan, had recently spoken out for the campaign for equal representation in government.
Brown said even though the PM was dedicated to defending women’s rights, her ability to act is somewhat hampered. “I believe she does have a commitment to the (women’s) movement, but the question is: how do you execute that plan, when it depends on finding willing and capable persons to fit vacancies? They don’t just fall out of thin air,” she said.
Mohammed said the face of the women’s movement has changed and agreed that it includes both men and women. “Younger women are born with an understanding of female equality in relation to the male. What they are faced with is the problem of managing that space of equality. I am optimistic that we now live in a more progressive age that is generous and understanding of the differences and needs of both sexes,” she said.
Former female ministers since 2010:
• Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam, minister of Public Administration,
• Mary King, minister of Planning, Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs,
• Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, minister of Health,
• Verna St Rose Greaves, minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development,
• Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, demoted from Tobago Development minister to minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development.
• Nicole Dyer-Griffith, removed from post as parliamentary secretary (Making Lyndira Oudit the only female member of Senate appointed by the PM).
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