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Women: press for progress; the time is now

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I extend warmest greetings to my Sisters of all ages and on all continents on the occasion of International Women’s Day, which was celebrated yesterday, March 8, under the theme – THE TIME IS NOW!

Vincentian women, following in the tradition which began here in 1975, engaged in different activities to mark the occasion, though on a personal level I would have liked to see a more coordinated and robust response. Significantly, it was the non-governmental sector, the progressive movement in particular, which led the way in placing the commemoration of IWD firmly on the local calendar, and I am eternally proud to have made some little contribution to the effort.

Today, there are visible signs of women’s progress in our society, as women become more assertive and occupy positions of influence, in the public sector in particular, but also increasingly in the professions and, to a lesser extent, in business as well. Female presence at leadership level can be evidenced in the Teachers’ Union continuing the tradition of again electing female leadership under the ppresidency of Sister Wendy Bynoe, to whom I extend congratulations and best wishes.

There is also a significant female presence in the media, even reaching right to the top, in ownership (Ms Desiree Richards at the VINCENTIAN), and management (Ms Clare Keizer, managing director of Interactive Media Ltd, publishers of SEARCHLIGHT, who wrote an excellent editorial in the Midweek edition earlier this week).

Yet, while we must celebrate these advances, it must not blind us to the fact that we still have a long way to go to overcome the legacy of centuries of discrimination against women, in our society and globally. The Secretary General of the United Nations, in an address to mark IWD 2018, put the matter squarely before us all as follows:

“Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”

In the address, the UN leader explained that are still “serious obstacles” in the way of addressing what he called “the historic imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation”. It is a charge reinforced by the Secretary General of CARICOM, pointing to a global pay gap, which results in women earning 23 per cent less than men, and in the fact that women constitute less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide. This continuing inequality is so glaring that the World Economic Forum noted this year that “2017 was the first time in more than 10 years that the gender gap began to widen again.”

In SVG, quite rightly, there has been much emphasis on a particular aspect of the injustice against women, that of violence against women, including sexual assaults, even of minors. This is laudable, but it must also be placed in the context of the wider social and economic injustices against women in our society, and our women, whatever their partisan political views, must never allow the Women’s Movement to lose sight of the broader objectives.

We still have a long way to go towards the consolidation of a solid national women’s movement, diversified in its many aspects, but united by common goals. There ought to be greater clamour and demands for stronger recognition of the fight for women’s rights and social justice for them. The attitude of both political parties over the years, while laudable in strengthening legislation, has been lacking teeth in strengthening and adequately resourcing departments which are charged with the responsibility of supporting the struggle to end discrimination and exploitation of women. It would be good if our women leaders, for a start, would begin to address this matter.

To quote again from the UN statement, “We are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights”. It is simply unacceptable to excuse any forms of violence against women, whether sexually, domestically, economically or socially.

THE TIME IS NOW! Let us all PRESS FOR PROGRESS!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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