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IWD ’21: Women, let’s choose to challenge ourselves

IWD ’21: Women, let’s choose to challenge ourselves

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When the women of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) join our sisters all over the world next Monday to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), we will do so in the knowledge that there is much that we have to celebrate, much of which to be proud.

This year, the United Nations has chosen as the theme for the occasion, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid–19 world”. It is a most fitting theme indeed given the effects of the global pandemic on women, children and families as pointed out in our Midweek editorial of March 2.

Complementing this is the campaign theme for this year’s activities #ChooseToChallenge. It has been chosen so that all, not just women, can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequity and in this way collectively help to create an inclusive world.

Women in SVG have been making headway where leadership positions are concerned. Our country has a female Head of State, one of only 20 countries worldwide to have a woman as either Head of State or Government. Our Parliament is presided over by a woman with another as her deputy to boot, and female Senators sit on both sides of the House. There is an impressive list of female leaders in the legal and medical professions, in managerial positions in the private sector as well as a bevy of female entrepreneurs, along with female dominance in the public service and prominence at the leadership level in a host of social organisations. We are well placed in this regard and on Monday our women are entitled to “Take a Bow”.

Yet in spite of these meritorious positions, women’s influence does not seem to be reflected adequately in the impact on public policy, especially on issues pertaining to women, children and the family. Our considerable social and political weight seems not to be brought to bear in influencing public policy and its effect on women.

Take the continuing scourges of violence against women, sexual exploitation and harassment and the problems encountered on an ongoing basis by female domestic workers, and women in the hospitality industry. Our women have reached too far in social, economic and political life to be confined to annual marches calling for an end to violence against women. We possess the collective capacity to do something about it.

So as we applaud the achievements and celebrate the advances, some collective soul-searching is needed. Why is there no vibrant national umbrella women’s organisation, uniting all the diverse strands and bringing the collective experience and wisdom of women to bear on the problems facing us? Are we satisfied with the current state of activity or influence of the national Council of Women or the impact of the Department of Gender Affairs? We thank those women who are already doing their best in our interests, but what of other, more influential women? Are we too busy with our own advances to make the sacrifices necessary to organize collective action?

The lack of unity and coordination at such an essential level is severely limiting the scope of women’s influence. Women cannot content themselves to be mere images of men in leadership positions. We have had women as Ministers of government from as far back as the sixties but their impact on public policy in favour of women has been rather limited.

We cannot afford to let such a rich array of talent go to waste. Collective effort is needed to coordinate all the noble initiative at the personal and individual organisational level. Choose to challenge ourselves, dear women of SVG.