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International Women’s Day in need of a boost

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The women’s and progressive Movements in St Vincent and the Grenadines can take some pride in their historical contribution to the global recognition of International Women’s Day (IWD). As long ago as March 8, 1974, a number of local progressive organizations here, supported the women of those bodies in the first-ever public celebration of the event in SVG. This was before, mind you, the United Nations staged its first official activities for March 8, and, THREE YEARS BEFORE the UN General Assembly invited its global membership to declare March 8 as International Women’s Day, the “UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace”.{{more}}

From the humble beginning at the historic Peace Memorial, to a world-wide flowering and recognition of the Day, we can say that women, and by extension, our society, have come a long way. Acceptance of March 8 in the official calendar of events has spread through the Caribbean and the rest of the world. Today, IWD is an official holiday in many countries of the world, among them: such war-torn countries as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as well as China and Mongolia in Asia; some African states such as Zambia, Uganda, Eritrea and Burkhina Faso; a few European states, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Macedonia, though not in any western European state, whilst in the Caribbean, only Cuba celebrates this landmark for women’s rights with a public holiday.

In the course of time, the highlighting of women’s issues and the persistent focus on the continued denial of fundamental human rights to hundreds of millions of women, have resulted in some progress being made to address those issues. Progress has been made in extending those rights to many previously denied them, and a great deal of social legislation enacted and socio-economic programmes implemented to the benefit of women all around the world.

In our own country, no one can deny that advances have been made, in socio-economic conditions and especially in the access of women to educational opportunities and, through them, to entry into the professions. Indeed, today the complaint often surfaces of not enough young males attaining these heights – a tribute as to how far we have progressed. In the field of politics too, though still largely a male enclave, women have come to the fore. Our Deputy Head of State is the well-respected widow, Dame Monica Dacon; our Deputy Prime Minister is Mrs Girlyn Miguel, while in a previous administration, Mrs Yvonne Francis-Gibson also acted temporarily for her Prime Minister.

Yet, even here, though statistically the ratio of women Parliamentarians does not disgrace us by comparison with international rates, there is still a sense that we ought to have made more progress, and the choice of women, as candidates or Senators, depends a lot on the considered political fortune of political parties than on any principle of ensuring women’s representation. Not even the presence of women in Parliament or in Cabinet has been able to consistently keep to the fore the matter of women’s rights.

It is a fair comment to say that after 37 years of activities to mark IWD, one gets a sense of staleness about the occasion. Whether this is due to complacency on the part of women in our society, the weaknesses and lack of cohesion of the Women’s Movement itself, or a combination of both, the fact remains that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm as we approach the Day. I dare to say that women in St Vincent and the Grenadines are far more enthusiastic, far more involved in annual Valentine’s Day activities than in any thing to do with IWD.

This should give us much food for thought, for women in our society still face serious social problems. Prominent among them is domestic violence and other manifestations of the lack of respect for our women folk. Our traditional approaches of marches, prayers and even calls for drastic punishment do not address the fundamental issue of our consciousness, our common understanding of the worth of our women folk, their own sense of self-worth and self-respect and the intrinsic underlying truth that no society which fails to respect its women and ensure their equal rights as human beings can ever be itself liberated from the bonds of oppression.

IWD 2012 seems to be another low-key affair. Can I throw out a challenge to all those women who have benefited from the economic, educational and social opportunities offered to try and ensure that, side by side with their menfolk, they seek to work together to make future IWD occasions, both worthy of national celebration, as well as of recommitment to the cause of respect and equal treatment for ALL our women.

Please keep IWD in focus.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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