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Making gender equality a realty


Special greetings to all my sisters – the women of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the world over on the occasion of the celebration of International Women’s Day, March 8th. In these days when the buzz word is all about GENDER, it is not so fashionable to be talking of Women’s Day. Who knows? Some crank may soon come up with the idea of an International Day for the Focus on Gender Relations, and depending on who puts it forward, it may even gain support. I want though to keep the focus on WOMEN.{{more}}

It is now over 30 years since we here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines first organized activities to mark IWD. Like most other positive developments, it was the progressive movement which first introduced and celebrated IWD here. In 1974, the still fledgling organizations like BLAC, OBCA, ARWEE and LEA (Local Entertainers Association), not only combined to commemorate African Liberation Day, in May, but fully two months before that they pioneered the organization of the first-ever IWD activities to be held in SVG. Those activities were held at the Peace Memorial Hall on March 8th 1974 and were a combined effort of young women and men working together for a common purpose. Talk about gender relations?

We have come a long way since. The Unitied Nations had by then placed the struggle for women’s rights, respect and equality on an official footing and many governments, whether half heartedly, or (as we would say it colloquially) in “follow-fashion” also adopted solemn proclamations on the rights of women. Legal and practical steps were taken, with varying degrees of committedness and success, to raise the standard of living and being of women. Following on this we had “Women’s Desk,” “ Ministries of Women Affairs” and a plethora of committees and organizations all aimed at ensuring the upliftment of our women folk.

Three decades on, there are many tangible signs of progress. In some societies like ours, women today dominate the more humane profession such as teaching and nursing, they are prominent in the public service and the legal profession, make important contributions to the service sector and gradually are emerging in fields once considered the sole preserve of men. The emphasis on education and health has contributed immeasurably to those positive developments.

Yet we are still far from the lofty goals and objectives set. Policy making, at the political level and in critical areas of national policy, is still overwhelmingly driven by men, in stark contrast either to the proportion of women in our society or their real contribution to national development. In many critical social areas, we seem to have regressed where respect for women by men, and by women themselves are concerned. Not only is there widespread crimes of violence against women-rape and sexual assault, wife and spouse-beating, incest and molestation – but in spite of our loud pronouncements we seem to accept these as “realities of life”.

Where the livelihood of women is concerned, important social contributors such as domestics, women in the hospitality industry and the involved in public sanitation, vendors and women farmers are still regarded as having lesser social status. Our failure to be able to dis-aggregate valuable statistics on the basis of gender leaves us with only a partial analysis of our problems and a consequent falling short in prescriptive remedies. Thus we can take the relative high levels of women involved in teaching, the public service or agriculture as positive signs of women’s advancement. But it may well be that they are there in numbers, sometimes by virtue of being entrapped by conjugal or familial situations or because men, for one reason or another, have more opportunities for lateral or vertical mobility. That is certainly true of many female- headed households, some families completely abandoned by the men.

For all these reasons, and given our historical developments, the issues of women’s equality and equity in gender relations need to be addressed in a far more comprehensive manner than we have managed so far. A lot of the responsibility for this must be borne by our women themselves. If our women only pay one-tenth of the attention to building a vigorous national women’s movement as they pay to the fortunes of the two political parties, ULP and NDP, then not only they, but the entire society would be much better off for it. If the partisanship in politics can instead be directed positively towards remedying the discrimination and exploitation of women, then we would truly be taking a giant step forward towards making the goal of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, a reality, namely.