By Capil Bissoon
One of the more contentious issues coming out of the 2015 Budget is the Government’s decision to offer a $500 one-year grant to underprivileged women for their. The Government’s thinking is that the first year of a baby’s life is most critical and good nutrition for infants is vital for the long-term well-being of children. It’s a bold move to give children born in poverty an equal chance to have a healthy start.
The Opposition has been careful in its criticism of it, only suggesting that it was not carefully thought-out as a policy.
However, one group is so fiercely opposed to the idea that it has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister. In a media release the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) described the offer as a “half-baked, insensitive, obscenely political and exploitative action intended to blackmail women into supporting your (Partnership) political agenda”.
It added that the initiative “under-values women’s contribution to the economy and encourages tensions between social classes of women”. How?
WINAD’s executive director, Folade Mutota, said the grant “invites misogyny and ridicule of women. It will invite violence against women in all forms…(and) demonstrates a disdain and total lack of understanding of women’s lived experiences. It is intolerant of the needs of women and children as citizens.” Again the question is—how?
WINAD’s objectives include the building of “sisterhood” among women, the promotion of women’s participation in decision-making, the promotion of respect for women’s rights and the promotion of initiatives to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
WINAD describes itself as a “women’s organisation committed to strengthening the capacity and social consciousness of women and girls to lead social transformation…(to) enable women and girls to explore and embrace an alternative leadership framework which integrates the collective genius of all the people.”
With such lofty ideals and purpose, one would have expected a rational, apolitical approach to a measure that fits the organisation’s aims and objectives. Yet WINAD rejected the idea outright with an emotionally charged statement that was devoid of any attempt to offer alternative solutions to the very women it is defending.
What’s worse WINAD also introduced racism into the conversation. “Whilst the assumptions with regard to social class are entirely evident, the under-current with respect to ethnicity must however be unmasked,” WINAD stated.
There’s nothing to unmask, except WINAD’s own bias. The government has acknowledged that some families desperately need assistance. WINDAD’s racist reference also showed its ignorance of the socio-economic structure of our society.
Poverty has no race! Even if it did, how do you separate one race from another in applying the rules for providing the grant?
Women of all ethnicities face tough times; many can barely afford to feed themselves, have little formal education and cannot find meaningful employment. This measure is meant to help them, regardless of race or geographical location. WINAD, if it is true to its principles and objectives, should rally with the state to help develop this programme and offer solutions.
It asks, “Who will be teaching these classes? What is good parenting? Who gets to decide what is good parenting? Will our approach to teaching these classes first begin with an acknowledgement of the positive parenting practices of the students before we demoralise them? How will we know that they are now able to parent better than before they attended these classes?”
Yes indeed these are good questions. Ask them not to gain public attention but to find real solutions. After all WINAD is committed to “collaborate with State and non State actors to build a just society” and is committed to developing alternative learning and social institutions.
This is the ideal opportunity to do just that by working with the government to help those lift these underprivileged women out of poverty and a life of oppression. WINAD’s outright rejection of the initiative without making an attempt to make it work is a betrayal of its mandate and objectives.