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Women’s Day must bring us together

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I was really happy to hear of the honouring of three female farmers, Nioka Abbott-Balcombe of Langley Park, Cordelia Scott of Georgetown and Norgie Tucker of Chateaubelair, as part of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) activities. These were accolades well-deserved, both on account of their own productive contribution in the field, but more so, the tremendous contribution they made, and continue to make, socially.{{more}} They have demonstrated that women can organize, can inspire not just other women, but their men folk as well, to do so, and beyond the agricultural field have made tremendous contributions to rural community socio-economic development.

I got to know all three and to work, at some time or other, with them, during my more than two decades with WINFA, and I am comforted that WINFA, in spite of the challenges facing it and the sector, not only upholds the International Women’s Day tradition, but does not forget the humble nation-builders. There are many more like them whom we must extol, put aside the negatives arising from our own pettiness, and hold up as examples for generations following.

The activity, a collaborative one between the Ministry of Agriculture, IICA and WINFA, was one of a number of different types of activities held to mark IWD. They included one organized by the Gender Affairs Department, focusing on female students and another, by the National Council of Women (NCW), which concentrated on women and media skills. Hats off to both and to the other less-reported but equally important IWD initiatives!

However, I am still not satisfied with the level of preparation and celebration of such a signal occasion in the national and international calendars. I admit to being particularly attached hereto, given my own involvement in social and political organizations over the years for whom, Women’s Day, Workers’ Day, Emancipation Day, African Liberation Day, National Heroes Day and Independence Day, were, each in their own right, accorded prominence. Perhaps now we can see the difference between the pioneering organizations and the narrow political organizations of today.

I say so because women play fundamental roles in the building and sustenance of our political parties. We are just out of an election, and during it, and the petty storms after, women have been in the forefront of the battles, on one side or the other. Yet when occasions like IWD come around, where is the comparable level of support for the cause of women, across-the-board, NDP or ULP? Where are the mobilization efforts? If we are talking reconciliation, is not the cause of women, irrespective of political affiliation, deserving of the unreserved support of both political parties in urging women to unite for a common cause, the cause of ALL WOMEN on IWD?

But maybe I am day-dreaming, for the political will to respond to numerous calls by international bodies such as the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS), among others, to make resolute efforts to ensure greater female representation in Parliament, Cabinet, and decision-making, seems not to exist, in one camp or the other. Yes, there are challenges, but so too in many other spheres of life; why are we so timid on this one? And, why do our women, so vocal and active in campaigning, accept the lame excuses?

One standard answer we get when these issues are raised is that women are the biggest beneficiaries of education, which has propelled them to many executive positions, especially in the public service. That is undoubtedly true, but it masks a number of realities. Where is the strong female presence beyond that? How come, almost 40 years after Independence, the post of minister of Gender Affairs, (it used to be Women’s Affairs) has been held for the majority of time by men? Given the still unresolved issues confronting women, when are we, all of us, ULP, NDP or otherwise, going to repose confidence in our women to take that responsibility fully?

As for the “education” talk, regarding women, it will be useful to refer to a study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) just released to mark IWD 2016, which notes that while there has been “significant progress” by women in education during the last two decades, these have not been translated into improvements at the work-place. The study points out that despite an almost equal spread between male and female in the global population, more men (two billion) were employed last year than women (1.3 billion) and consequently more women were unemployed, particularly young women. This has grave social consequences.

Then there is discrimination including in the pay packet. Women work longer hours than men, the study concludes, do more unpaid household work and there is a gender gap between the pay of female and male workers of about 23 per cent, which, it is estimated, will take 70 years to eradicate. Finally, because women are less employed, they have less access to retirement and pension benefits, so that in our world today over 200 million women are living without a regular income from old age or survivors’ pensions.

Does this not tell us why IWD is relevant to all women and the society as a whole? The challenges facing women have no party affiliation; they need broad cross-party action and unity to address them. IWD provides a focal point. Let us use it effectively.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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