As we join the international community in celebrating the achievements and contributions of our women, I add my voice to the calls to #PressforProgress. This year’s theme stresses the importance of sustained action as we seek to advance gender equality. International Women’s Day, which started more than one hundred years ago, gives us all an opportunity to pause and reflect on not only the successes since the movement began, but on the challenges that still lie before us.
Although we constitute almost half of the world’s population, in many countries, women remain on the fringes. It is unfortunate that today, in 2018, we are still talking about the need for equal participation in all aspects of our society, in Government, in Parliament, in business, and even in our communities. In Trinidad and Tobago, what is disheartening is that instead of uplifting and encouraging our women, there are those in positions of authority who continue to verbally abuse our women. This is unacceptable. Our leaders must be held to a higher standard, and they in turn must ensure that our women and girls are protected and provided with opportunities for their advancement.
Tremendous strides have been made by women, however, and this must be celebrated. In the last few months we have seen more women advocating for equality and justice, and we witnessed the power of women’s voices in prompting action against abuse and sexual harassment and assault with the #metoo movement. The world needs more of this – more women standing up, supporting each other, having their say and working to effect change. We must all have the confidence to tell our leaders and those in authority that the time for action is now.
It is encouraging to see more women accepting the challenges of leadership in their homes, in their communities, in the boardroom and in Parliaments or other seats of democracy such as the United States Congress. Right here, in our nation, we will soon welcome our first female President in Madame Justice Paula-Mae Weekes. Trinidad and Tobago can now boast of having two historic elections of women to the country’s highest offices – President in 2018, and Prime Minister in 2010. These events have, and will continue to inspire our girls and women to work towards achieving their goals, knowing that they too could one day sit in these positions.
Throughout my political career, I have worked to assist women and lift them out of the circumstances which are keeping them subjugated or demoralized. I am proud to have led a Government that recognized the importance of ensuring that our nation’s women and girls have opportunities available to them for their advancement, through education, skills training, the delivery of social services, and policy development.
Many of these initiatives were aimed at not only identifying the challenges facing women in our society, but in developing solutions. I am disappointed that many of the programmes put in place by my administration have seen been terminated, such as the dedicated Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. In addition, after two and a half years in office, the current administration has still not brought forward the long-awaited gender policy.
Under the Government which I led, we were working to establish a National Commission for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equity, which would focus on poverty alleviation, social development and gender-based violence and other related issues. In addition, we aimed to establish “Women City Centres” to educate women on their rights, provide support services in respect of healthcare, entrepreneurial training and dealing with domestic violence.
These programmes and initiatives sought to empower women through education, training and by providing employment. We recognized the importance of having good, well-paying jobs as it allows people to provide for their families, to ensure their children have the best possible opportunities, and to be able to plan for the future.
The party that I lead, the United National Congress, upholds the view that no society can achieve its potential until our women take up leadership roles and contribute as equals in advancing national development. We need leaders to champion equality, transparency and accountability and an end to discrimination.
I have been, and I remain an advocate for increased political participation by women, which is critical in enhancing democracy and encouraging social progress. As a woman Parliamentarian, I pledge to do my part to encourage and achieve increased women’s representation at all levels, particularly so in the Parliament and in local Government to a minimum of 30%, a goal outlined by the United Nations.
Today, the challenges women face require strong leadership and it requires each and every one of us to continue to work towards the empowerment of our women. Each of us can inspire girls and women to become forces for positive change in our world.
As we celebrate this International Women’s Day, I call on all citizens to continue to work together to #PressforProgress. The Opposition will continue to work towards inspiring our women and girls to become leaders, and to work with citizens in building a society of which we can all be proud.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC. MP