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Saluting International Women’s Day

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06.MAR.09

Thirty-five years ago, International Women’s Day (IWD) was first commemorated in this country.

Then, even before the United Nations first observed the event, the women of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, connected with progressive organizations, came together at the Peace Memorial Hall in Kingstown to mark and celebrate the occasion.{{more}} It was a brave act by these courageous young women, especially considering that in those days the issues of women’s rights were highly contentious ones and women were not well received in discussing these matters. Hats off, therefore, to those early pioneers, with women like Adrienne King, of Marriaqua, Hyacinth Charles, then resident in Kingstown, Ingrid O’Marde (née Williams) and the late Earlene Horne, of Diamonds, all playing prominent roles. Incidentally, none of the first three resides any longer in the land of her birth.

In stepping forward and calling on their sisters to stand up for their rights, those early pioneers were carrying on a long tradition of the struggle for women to be accorded their rightful places in society. IWD itself had its roots in such struggles. On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York, tired of brutal exploitation in dingy factories, staged a strike for improved working conditions, equal rights and a 10-hour working day (days of 12-14 hours were then the norm). As was typical of the times, the strike was broken up by police and the leaders faced persecution. Fifty-one years later, on March 8, 1908, over 15,000 women in New York marched in memory of the 1857 actions, and two years later the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, Denmark, proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day. By 1911, more than a million women in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland organized activities to mark the occasion. The women’s movement has not looked back since.

But it was not just in developed countries that women were proclaiming their human rights. In many societies, in Africa and Asia in particular, women had historically performed important roles in their societies, including leadership ones. They also were prominent in anti-colonial and liberation struggles. During the dark days of African chattel slavery in the west, many women were among the anti-slavery fighters. In the USA, the names of Harriet Tubman (of the “Underground Railroad” fame) and Sojourner Truth are etched indelibly in their historical annals. The struggle against colonialism, for Adult Suffrage and labour rights in the Caribbean could not have succeeded without the supportive and pioneering contributions of the likes of our own Elma Francois. Similarly, Ebenezer Joshua would not have been half as successful had it not been for the part played by his wife, Ivy, and that bulwark of his political and labour organizations, Alma Johnson.

The times may have changed and women today have won many more rights, but the struggle is far from over. Discrimination does not disappear overnight nor does the legacy of centuries of prejudice. The fact that women today have to wage ongoing campaigns to end the scourge of violence against our females is testimony to that. The women’s movement of today faces many challenges, not least among them its levels of organization and cohesion, its focus and how to fit unfinished tasks of women’s rights within the new scope of gender relations. We have far more educated women today, though not necessarily more dedicated ones. Women occupy far more positions of influence and power, but are they using them in the wider interests of the vast majority of women in our society?

Much to chew on, much still to be done. Be part of some activity for International Women’s Day.


Are we missing something?


Rodney Lewis in disobedience of the law drove a motor vehicle without due care and attention while he was disqualified from driving. He is guilty of driving without insurance and refused to obey lawful direction of the police. He assaulted police officers with an offensive weapon and resisted arrest. He made good his escape and was a fugitive for a week.

If he pays a total fine of $1,600, he will not see one day in jail. Are we missing something?

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