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SVG must join in the call for gender equality

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This year, International Women’s Day (IWD) comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality, and justice. IWD is celebrated around the world on March 8 and the theme this year is “Time is Now: rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.”

Today, we are witnessing women marching and campaigning across the world for equal treatment and protection from violence. In the USA, these include the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns. Indeed, in many countries around the world, women are actively engaged in shining a bright light on issues such sexual harassment, femicide, equal pay, and women’s political representation, which deeply impact the quality of their lives.

Echoing the priority theme of the upcoming 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, we are aware that around the world female activists will use IWD to draw attention to the rights and activism of rural women, who make up over a quarter of the world population, and are being left behind in every measure of development. However, we are also aware that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is a small country, where there is no meaningful distinction between rural and urban women.

This in no sense means that this year’s commemoration of the IWD has no value in SVG. Instead, what it demonstrates is that gender oppression differs from country to country and is not manifested in the same way around the world. Certain cultures place limits on women’s freedoms and their access to education and employment. Others place limits on women’s control over their reproductive lives. Still others limit women’s participation in the political spheres. And perhaps worst of all, some countries deny women equal protection of the law when men – husbands, boyfriends, or even strangers – violate the female body.

Vincentian women have a vested interest in the protection of the female body from violent men. It is the absolute truth that the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault is simply too high in SVG. In this regard, we have an enormous amount of work to do to reduce and ultimately eliminate violence against women in our country. But it is also true that Vincentian women have made gains that women in other countries have yet to achieve. Our women have made significant strides in academia with high rates of graduation from tertiary institutions. Across the Vincentian workplace many women hold positions of seniority. And perhaps most important of all, there is no question that over the past 30 years, successive Vincentian governments have passed laws to make men and women equal under the law.

What then should we make of the IWD when the Vincentian situation does not perfectly align with the experiences of women elsewhere? This we can say: the moment itself provides an opportunity for us make a general call for the expansion of women’s freedoms everywhere. In the continuum of freedom that women occupy, Vincentian women are not at the bottom, or even close to the bottom. But neither are we at a place of comfort. In too many homes right now, women and young girls remain subject to abuse. And on this we cannot compromise: until women’s ownership of their own bodies is guaranteed and protected, until women’s voices are given equal respect as men’s, until the levers of powers are equally available to all, regardless of gender; until then in SVG and beyond, we must join the call for equality.

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