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Demanding gender equality

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by Nelcia Robinson 07.MAR.08

CARIBBEAN ASSOCIATION FOR FEMINIST RESEARCH & ACTION (CAFRA)
MESSAGE ON THE OCCASION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY MARCH 8TH 2008

International Women’s Day was first proposed in 1910 by German Socialist Clara Zetkin and celebrated the following year by an estimated one million men and women, who demanded women’s right to vote, to hold public office and for an end to sex discrimination in employment and training.{{more}}

Under slavery, males and females were declared real estate and equal in bondage. With the coming of emancipation and later independence, males have grown in dominance, with women remaining an oppressed sector. The Beijing Platform for action has outlined twelve (12) critical areas of concern for the advancement of women. Nevertheless, women have gained a more public image in society, including the right to vote, to education and to work outside the home.

These gains have generated a “backlash,” as the presence of women in the public sphere, and not confined to the home, is blamed for deviant behaviour in children and criminal activities among young people.

Additionally, many women in all Caribbean countries remain oppressed by the scourge of domestic violence, in spite of legislation and training courses designed for all citizens and front line workers, including police officers and social workers. Statistics on St. Lucia tell the chilling tale.

  • Common-law husband beating his wife in the city center on March 17th 2007 in full view of everyone. A television camera crew which was nearby captured part of the violent scene which resulted in the woman becoming unconscious and being taken away by ambulance
  • Woman in the rural community of Dennery stabbed to death by her common law husband. Neighbours heard the screams of the woman and did nothing
  • A woman and her three children died in her Soufriere home which was set on fire by her common law husband who was upset because she eventually ended their relationship which was characterized by incessant abuse
  • In January 2006 a woman and her 19-year old daughter were hacked to death at their Anse-la-Raye home by her boyfriend. Neighbours heard the screams of the women and did nothing. The police station is just a few yards away but they came long after both women were dead.
  • A famous case involved the beheading of a woman (Mary Ratcliffe) by her husband because she reported his rape and sexual abuse of their infant daughter
  • In the space of one week two young children were raped by their HIV positive step fathers
  • A 26-year old mother of four boys contracts HIV from her husband who has battered her for many years and after she has stayed at the women’s support center on four separate occasions.
  • The department of human services is overwhelmed by reports of sexual abuse of children in the home. Incest is a very common problem.
  • A 26-year old woman from the community of Bexon finds her father having sex with her 9 year old daughter. She is a victim of her father which resulted in him being the father of that 9-year old daughter. Three of her other four sisters also have children fathered by their father. She is shunned by the rest of the family for taking this action.
  • A very telling case is the brutal murder of 13-year old Verlinda Joseph who was killed on the day she was due to appear in court in relation to a case related to rape. Her step father was arrested and charged with her murder. She had reported being raped on two separate occasions but was kept in the same home environment. Her step father is currently in custody and his case will shortly be heard by the high court
  • A 17-year old girl who refused the sexual advances of her step father was severely maimed and has lost the ability to use both her hands as a result of violence inflicted by the step father who chopped her all over her body, including her head
  • A 13-year old school girl suffered very regular and severe beatings from her father and her step mother. Out of pure frustration neighbours began calling talk shows and talking about what was going on. The counselor at the child’s school referred her case to the division of human services but she was kept in the same home. One day the neighbourhood came together with the help of CAFRA marched to the police station where they demonstrated and called much public attention to the situation of the girl. Only after this public embarrassment and plans to march right to the prime minister’

The Seventh meeting of Ministers of Women’s Affairs held in June 2007 in Uganda, called for an end to this “shameful” practice.

In the area of employment, the quality of and remuneration for jobs have declined greatly, women are discriminated against in terms of promotion, and exploited in the commercial and hospitality industries. Their take home pay is below the weekly minimum wage. The minimum wage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is EC$25.00 per day.

Domestic workers are a hidden sector of women who do necessary work, but do not receive a decent wage. A “live in” domestic worker in St. Vincent and the Grenadines earns minimum EC$300.00 per month, and EC$350.00 per month if she is not resident. The efforts of the Honourable Clothilde Walcott must not go unnoticed. CAFRA honours her memory through this medium, while pledging its support to the National Union of Domestic Employees in its efforts to lift women out of poverty.

Successive governments throughout the region have made election manifesto promises to improve the situation of women. These have been largely unfulfilled, as women are the casualties of negative trade policies, as the perceived low wage labour force in this faulty engine of development.

Women have been advocating for change for many years, winning some battles, but with little success in other areas. The time has come for action to lift the curtain of poverty, oppressive shadows of violence that darken women’s lives, and for the elevation of women into seats of power and decision-making. This calls for financial resources to implement meaningful long term strategies that will yield change.

The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) salutes all women of courage, who have broken the cycle of fear and are speaking for themselves. Solidarity to every woman who has been a victim of sexual exploitation, incest, rape and other forms of abuse.

We call upon women everywhere to unite in this struggle for gender equality-LONG LIVE THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT OF THE REGION! LONG LIVE THE CELEBRATION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY.

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