This year’s theme I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights is appropriate, as it acknowledges both the progress made in creating a gender equal world, and the need for further action to realize this goal.
This year marks twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is a progressive roadmap for gender equality.
If we are to take stock of our achievements from then to now can we women say that we are better off today? Or are we in the same position or worse off than we were twenty-five years ago?
What is heartening to see is more young women are claiming their space, ensuring that their voices are heard on global issues that affect all of us. Not only are they speaking out, but they are rallying together to work towards sustainable solutions.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have seen limited progress in correcting gender imbalances in the last four years. Under the administration I led, work was done to empower women and girls, including opening up more educational opportunities, as well as providing training in skills such as entrepreneurship.
It is our vision to improve upon these initiatives and encourage girls and women to pursue areas critical to national development, including innovation, Information Technology, and leadership. Today, many of the initiatives that we started have been shelved or given only cursory attention.
I maintain the view that our country cannot progress without the participation of women at all levels –particularly at the leadership level. I continue to encourage women to get involved in their communities, and in politics, so that their voices can not only be heard, but their ideas and vision can be put into action.
In our own small twin-island Republic, we have many obstacles that hamper our ability to achieve gender equality.
The impact of violence against women and girls is a major factor hindering women’s ability to participate and contribute to society. On an almost daily basis, we see our women are under threat. We have seen more than 50 women killed last year and it is unfolding to be no different this year with 13 women murdered in just over two months.
This issue has been allowed to go unchecked as the current Rowley-led administration turns a blind eye to the increasing levels of violence against women and girls. The United National Congress, in seeking to develop solutions when we return to office, has consulted with several NGOs seeking their input on ways to fight this growing threat.
We have called for the Domestic Violence Act to be amended to close the loopholes that allow these crimes to occur. Proposed amendments included removing the perpetrator from the home instead of the victim and a better-defined time frame for the police to respond to these complaints. We remain hopeful that these proposals will be accepted so that the legislation can be strengthened.
It is also important to note that in order to achieve gender equality we need all hands-on-deck and men are our greatest allies in this fight.
I am, and the party I lead is committed to protecting and empowering our nation’s women and girls. In me, you have a champion, in me you have someone who will fight for you, and who will never turn a blind eye to issues facing us.
Your story is my story and my story is yours.
Today, let us commit to do our part to make a gender equal world a reality.
Small actions can have big impacts. On International Women’s Day, join #GenerationEquality and become part of the movement.
Happy International Women’s Day to all!