International Women’s Day 2016 is being observed at a time when many women are able to reflect on having achieved the dreams held by the women of yesterday. But while women have achieved a great deal, the march towards institutionalised rights and freedoms, and fundamental change for parity is far from won, and nowhere near over.
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.
The idea of this theme is to consider how to accelerate the 2030 agenda of the new Sustainable Development Goals, especially goals number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and number 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
On Saturday March 5th, I joined the UNC Women’s Arm, religious groups, NGOs and youth groups from all over Trinidad and Tobago in a March Against Violence to commemorate International Women’s Day. It was a call to end all types of violence in our society. In Trinidad and Tobago, there are laws to address violence against women, yet we continue to see unconscionable acts of violence against women and girls.
In far too many instances, women and girls are still manipulated to feel ashamed of themselves and the very violence which was committed against them, at times even being punished while the perpetrators remain free.
It is unfortunate that on an occasion when globally many countries are making strides towards “Parity for All”, we as a nation are experiencing an increase in violent crimes. All types of violence, not only domestic violence, have an impact on women. Bullying, child abuse or violence in schools is of concern to mothers; gang violence and murders in the community is a concern to mothers and daughters; while rape, incest and domestic violence in the home continue to affect our sisters, daughters and mothers directly.
As Leader of the Opposition, I unequivocally affirm that violence against women is unacceptable, must not be tolerated and every effort must be made to bring the perpetrators of these acts against the human rights and dignity of women to justice. I extend sympathy to the families who have lost a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, grandmother, niece or cousin over the past year through violence.
The anguished pleas and stifled screams… the physical and psychological pain of women and girls subjected to violence and abuse must stop now!
The leaders in our society whether in politics, religion or business, have a responsibility to lead from the front. We cannot condone leaders who make sexist remarks and engage in victim blaming and victim shaming as these contribute to a culture of violence against women. It is hypocritical for such leaders to claim to be concerned about the rights of our women and our girls and violence against women.
It is not enough to condemn that stubborn persistence of abuse and crimes against women; we must fight harder, speaker louder and do more. One of the most powerful resources of the modern world is the strength of a united voice of a free people. That united voice must be able to cross borders, influence the deepest sanctums of policy making, and inspire the widest action to protect women at risk.
Many women in our own country face a frightening reality. Today’s generation of working, professional women must never be satisfied that the world has changed, and their progress now earns equal importance. There are still horrors to fight, and victories to achieve even as legislators, NGOs and global institutions put their voices and resources behind ending the horror that many women endure
All citizens, both men and women have a role to play in protecting women and girls and ensuring equality of rights, treatment and opportunities for all in order for Trinidad and Tobago to make strides towards parity for all.
Gender parity is linked to economic prosperity. It is an economic imperative. Women’s advancement and leadership are central to business performance and economic prosperity of a nation. Profitability, returns on investments and innovation all increase when women are counted among senior leadership. Numerous global studies on the impact of women in leadership reveal that women are the largest emerging market in the world and that where there is more equality there is more productivity, higher GDP and better financial performance.
Ironically, today March 8th 2016, the Opposition brings to the Parliament a motion for the government to negative the current VAT measures and to return to the original list of zero rated items. This is a matter that affects every household in Trinidad and Tobago. In many cases women who budget and manage their homes are feeling the harsh hand of the government’s VAT policy and the backlash of a deception of the PNM who promised to reduce VAT. It is my hope that the government members will let their support of this motion be a reflection of the cries of their constituents who voted them into office to represent their needs and not a blind partisan agendas.
So today, as we observe the 105th International Women’s Day, I ask all citizens to take up that shared responsibility of securing the rights of women and protecting those who are at risk.
Speak, act and do, for this is not only a responsibility to the present, because our work to protect women today will mean the achievement of a free, progressive and secure environment for our children tomorrow.
Together, we can accelerate the clock towards Parity for All in Trinidad and Tobago.