Today I join Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the global community in commemorating International Day of the Girl Child, with the hope that our world will end all forms of gender discrimination and allow every girl child to grow and achieve her full potential.
There are more than one billion girls on our planet who – if they enjoyed freedom and equality – would one day take their rightful places in their respective communities, many as leaders and primary definers of society.
Sadly, that won’t happen for many millions of them because of myriad obstacles such as poverty, abuse, a denial of educational opportunities and blatant discrimination based solely on gender.
One of the greatest impediments is child marriage, which is a reality in even the most developed nations and is not necessarily restricted to religion and culture. Alongside that problem is the high incidence of teenage pregnancies that retard the progress of females in society.
Under my leadership, Trinidad and Tobago stood out as a leader in seeking the interest of girls and women in various facets of national life.
In a Commonwealth report in 2011 focusing on girls, our country was ranked at the highest level in providing access to education for girls and the quality of education we provided. We were also ranked the third best country in the Commonwealth in which a girl could be born.
As our country’s Prime Minister I was recognised by Time and Foreign Policy magazines as one of the top ten (10) female leaders in the world for what it called my “pioneering contribution to politics and social restructuring and gender equality in the world”.
We bridged the cultural, social and political gender gaps that put us at number 36 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2013, which measured the relative gaps between men and women in the areas of health, education, economics and politics.
Our focus on gender equality was premised on the recognition that sustainable development and a strong economy would not be possible without this basic human right. That’s why we established a Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Child Development to provide support for family services and gender, youth and child development.
But there is much more to do at home and globally.
I am of the firm view that no society will ever attain its full potential until it allows its girls and women to make choices for themselves so they could lead a full life as equals to their male counterparts.
We have an obligation to encourage our daughters to dream and then work with them to accomplish those dreams. Inequality and injustice against females must be banished forever if a society is to achieve true maturity.
Today as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, I re-commit to continue to do all in my power to end all manner of discrimination based on gender.
Leader of the Opposition