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Leadership and the Women’s Movement

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Yet another International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration passed this week in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as in the rest of the world. But yet again our activities were scattered, unconnected and without a central theme or focus. This is not to decry the efforts of those organizations who stuck to their commitment by holding activities, not to down play the participation of those women, and men, in the celebrations. But surely, in 2006, isn’t IWD worthy of a grander, national approach? {{more}}

After all it is now a full 32 years since the first celebration of IWD here, by the progressive movement in 1974. The next year was designated International Women’s Year by the United Nations and since then there have been major conferences on the status of women, including the drafting of the Beijing Declaration, still seen as the yardstick by which the progress of women in society is measured. Locally, too, women have come a long way, in all fields of endeavour – social, economic, political, so there is much to celebrate on IWD.

Yet it is also true that we still have a long way to go towards achieving gender equity, towards erasing discrimination against women and the restrictive barriers which prevent them from making an even greater contribution to national development. In particular the pangs of poverty, the structures of unemployment, the horrors of HIV/AIDS among young women and the scourge of ignorance are still with us. And, there are worrying signs of a rollback in social consciousness and a resultant increase in sexual abuse, domestic violence and blatant disrespect for the sacred status of our women. Many young persons, men and women alike, are especially guilty in the latter regard.

These should give all the more reason both for a celebration of achievements for IWD as well as a renewed commitment to completing the process of women’s parity. Of course there are those who argue that there’s no need for a DAY, a WEEK or a MONTH to focus on any such issues. In their idealism they say that every day should be a day for this or that, hence there is no need for such high-profile declarations of DAYS or MONTHS of activities. They miss the point that it is precisely because of the need to rectify injustices that we declare an INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY or NATIONAL HERITAGE MONTH, to give examples.

Yes, there is need to specifically use an occasion to focus on the status of women, as on IWD, just as there is, need for a MOTHERS’ DAY. But we can do much better than the scatter-shot approach we see today. I make no bones about laying the responsibility squarely at the feet of those women in leadership positions. We cannot justify having a Ministry with responsibility for Gender Affairs, a Gender Affairs Department, a National Council of Women and myriad women’s organizations of all types, business, religion, social, political etc. yet not have a united, organized, massive approach to IWD celebrations. Where are our women’s arms (amputated?), our business and professional women’s bodies (covered in social robes?), our many religious -based women’s groups (too holy to stand up for gender equity?)?

We cannot continue to wait for some reprehensible act such as the brutal murder of Lokeisha Nanton for us all to speak out on behalf of women. Our teaching service is predominantly female and women are prominent in the public service. Couldn’t the Teachers’ Union or Public Service Union organize activities to mark such an important occasion? What of the Soroptimists, Rotary-Anns and Lionesses? Shouldn’t all these enlightened and educated women be leading the way, building the National Council of Women into a force to be reckoned with and manifesting the strength and power of women on IWD? What about our trade unions bringing a working class perspective to IWD and using the day to highlight unemployment among women, their sexual exploitation, discrimination in promotion, super-exploitation in the commercial and hospitality industries as well as in domestic employment?

We have too many valuable assets in our womenfolk for IWD to be just a “who want to organize, do so”, business. There can be a variety of activities of different types and venues but coordinated in a mighty stream for maximum effect. Clear leadership is needed, and we must challenge our lawyers, our social workers, our educators, our political parties which boast of the strength of their women, to demonstrate that leadership where IWD is concerned and generally in building the women’s movement. They cannot continue to abdicate their responsibility.

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