Post 386.

Last week, I suggested there would be nine to 13 women in the Lower House. Now, that number is 11, with only two of these being Indo-Trinidadian women, not one of whom is from the PNM despite claims that the party is nationally inclusive.

TT’s parties need to show their commitment to more equitable representation of women (across race, disability and sexual orientation) in ways that increase their numbers in the House, where the nation’s decisions are made. At 26 per cent as of today, we have actually moved backward, and there is little to celebrate about a near shatter-proof glass ceiling in 2020.

Such marginalisation of women is ever more important as the world faces health and economic crises that will exacerbate gender inequalities, but is blind to such inequality as a substantive issue.

Globally, men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, 73 per cent of managerial decision-makers, and 72 per cent of executives of global health organisations. As UN Women points out, disaster preparedness and recovery plans also rarely include women’s needs and interests, and tend “to be developed with little or no sex- or gender-disaggregated data and little input from national gender equality representatives or women’s organisations.”

The PNM’s manifesto, our guide for the next five years, similarly highlights the low priority given to ending gender inequality. The manifesto was based on the Prime Minister’s Road to Recovery Committee, comprising 14 per cent representation by women, two of whom represented the public service, with one of these acting as secretary to the committee.

The long active women’s movement was completely excluded despite the fact that, on the ground, women provide the majority of care as front-line workers in hospitals, schools and community organisations, and as carers of the ill, aged and children at home. Women also work in the hardest-hit sectors such as accommodation and food services, retail trade, administrative activities, and the informal economy, already predominate in the lowest income brackets, and will be less able to benefit from economic stimulus plans because of their greater responsibility for unpaid care work.

None of this is acknowledged anywhere in the manifesto. It is oblivious to a sex-disaggregated picture of the economy, the extent to which it shows unequal distribution of income, ownership, labour and opportunity, and the explicit need to address this as part of national recovery.

Women are mentioned on two pages of the manifesto, where they are characterised in terms of motherhood, welfare and vulnerability. Advancing gender equality, as a goal and responsibility of democratic governance, is not integrated across economic planning, agriculture or housing.

Some women will benefit from plans outlined. However, given that women are a minority of manufacturing business owners, own account employers, contractors or construction workers, for example, means there will inevitably be inequality in women’s direct inclusion and benefit from the manifesto’s plans. Gender-blindness in the recovery committee led to invisibility or insignificance of such outcomes. That said, the one civil society representative, who should have raised this issue seems to have focused on ensuring that single fathers are mentioned five times.

The manifesto includes a commitment to “implement policies which improve the lives of women and children such as the National Policy on Gender and Development,” but doesn’t speak to approving the policy. This may continue the status quo where parts of a draft policy, not formally approved by Cabinet, are being implemented, creating significant policy and public confusion.

The manifesto also commits to fund shelters, transitional facilities, and strategies to end gender-based violence. This is welcome. Thus far, shelters, victim and witness support, and the GBV Unit have received vastly insufficient funding to meet public need. The Government will also be formulating a second national strategic action plan to end gender-based and sexual violence, after letting the last one lapse for four years. Here, resourcing the plan, so the Government puts money where its manifesto says it will, is key.

UN Women (in Policy Brief #18) calls on governments to 1) ensure that decision-making bodies are gender-balanced, 2) harness existing gender equality institutions and mechanisms in the pandemic response, 3) ensure that gender equality concerns are embedded in the design and implementation of national covid19 policy responses and budgets in ways informed by sex-disaggregated data, and 4) include and support women and women’s organisations in covid19 response decision-making.

None of this was promised, and is yet to be seen. I’ll wait to celebrate when we see basic commitment to, as the UN puts it, “building back better” than before covid19.

Post 365.

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On Saturday from 2pm, all of the nation is invited to the Annual Women’s Rights Rally & March at the Queen’s Park Savannah. There, Trinidad and Tobago will join the world in commemorating International Women’s Day, officially marked on March 8th every year.

International Women’s Day cannot be reduced to activism against violence against women and girls, but women are being killed by men, mostly their partners, at shocking rates across the region and the world, and public affirmation that their right to life matters and that such violence has no tolerance in our society should bring us all out of our homes.

The other issues that impact women’s lives also remain; from work-family balance and unequal responsibility for care of children, the aged and the ill to the fact that choice to access safe and legal termination of pregnancy is still denied by the Trinidad and Tobago state to the reality of women’s vastly unequal representation at the highest levels of political decision-making.

However, International Women’s Day is about much more than acknowledging continuing injustices in the lives of women and girls. It is also about affirming centuries of struggle by women to secure their rights. This year, it is also about remembering the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This was a resolution adopted by the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, China in 1995. The conference was a global gathering of tens of thousands and created one of the most progressive blueprints for advancing the rights of women and girls. It aimed to remove obstacles women face in their public and private lives through ensuring their equal share in economic, cultural, political, and social decision-making.

25 years after the Beijing conference, we must now define our own vision for the next 25 years. The “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” global campaign expresses just this, demanding equal pay and equal sharing of unpaid domestic labour, an end to gender based violence, better health-care services and access to such services, and women’s equal participation in politics and decision making.

The campaign has six major demands: justice and peace for all, environmental justice, equal participation in politics and decision-making, freedom from violence and discrimination, economic rights and opportunities for all, and access to sexual and reproductive rights. Each of these is inspired by the vision of our foremothers, as articulated in the Beijing Declaration, but each of these walks in the power, beauty and light of a another generation finding its fighting spirit.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we will also continue to rejuvenate our commitment as a nation to the theme and goal of “Power in Action”. This is the most fundamental of civil society calls, recognising that power is always with people, in our most collective movements, and in the difference each of us can make to the world.

On the ground here, International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to honour women, and the work they contribute to sustenance and transformation of communities the Caribbean. It is an opening to encourage another generation to bring their own issues, experiences, vision and peer communities to the most inclusive and fearless gathering that the nation can produce, and to play active roles for justice and change.

It is a reminder that we always can do better in including those whose rights get left behind, and taking into account that girls and women live multi-issue lives as persons with disabilities or from rural communities or as LBGTI+ citizens. Finally, it is an affirmation that the end to our social, environmental and economic crises can only come when we are prepared to act, not only for ourselves, but for each other. There could hardly be a more fundamental message to us at this time in history.

Some may say they are tired of marches and skeptical of what they achieve. However, this isn’t a protest march with a single specific aim. It is a symbol of a nation’s recognition of the rights of women and girls. It is a moment when men and boys can affirm their solidarity with diverse communities of women seeking justice. It is simply a gathering which exuberantly and inter-generationally brings together history, tolerance and aspiration in our own words and with our very bodies.

Bring your drums and tambourines. Bring your placards and banners. Bring water in reusable containers. The march starts at 3pm outside of Whitehall. See you there on Saturday at the Savannah in Port of Spain.

Post 153.

Why pursue what many consider a lost cause? Battles that seem like they are no longer or never were worthwhile, ones you can expect to be opposed by the majority or by Goliaths around you, ones about which too few seem to care.

Should you simply abandon struggles you are unlikely to win, and re-strategize for the ones ahead? What about when your vision seems unpopular and justice appears impossible? Does it still matter if it’s considered only a minority issue?

Being a part of Caribbean feminist efforts to advance women’s political leadership or end violence or secure the right to safe and legal abortion, I often encounter women and men who think that feminism has no value because gender inequality is natural, normal and inevitable. Then there are others who, inronically, think that feminism is now outdated and worthless because women have all they should already.

Some just think the work needed is too hard and too uphill, but you don’t pursue a principle because it’s popular or easy. You don’t give in because pervasive but inaccurate stereotypes misread what is possible and still necessary.

You stay and fight for change, however large or small, whether opposed by the majority or the dominant because your analysis of rights means that you know the world cannot stay as it is, that wrongs should not occur with impunity and dishonesty, that inequalities reflect on our own humanity.

I seem to support a whole spectrum of supposedly lost causes. They razed the mangrove for Movietowne anyway. The women’s movement supported Mrs. Persad-Bissessar and got a Cabinet with only 10% of women anyway. Both parties shelved the Draft National Gender Policy anyway. Both agreed to extend the criminalization of same sex encounters between minors from ten to fifteen years to life imprisonment anyway. The Partnership is going ahead building the Debe to Mon Desir extension of the highway anyway.

So much for approaches that won’t sacrifice the environment for the economy. So much for equality, even when the PM had enough mandate to set history. So much for government that deals with the problems of boys and men on the basis of policy. So much for ending legalized discrimination justified by nothing other than hypocrisy regarding sexuality. So much for transparent and accountable infrastructural development.

So, why stay?

Our society comes from enslaved and indentured workers who ended globally oppressive systems with nothing but endless resistance, despite every setback. I wouldn’t have any rights if, all over the world, women and men who experienced defeats didn’t dust off and press on, giving me legislation I couldn’t live without today. I’ve learned from social movements on everything from workers’ rights to wildlife protection to abortion that, even if it takes decades, public opinion can be changed. And, I’m clear that when we walk away, gains don’t just stand still, they are systematically eroded away. Benefit from those who came before without giving similarly to those still to come? Not me. No way.

Seemingly lost causes carry the damage from larger, longer battles for emancipation or responsible government or sustainability. Democracy isn’t only about majority rule, it’s about the power of the majority to protect against unfair persecution of minorities. And, you will be surprised to see who can be inspired to care, just through connection or emotion or strategy.

You might see a lost cause. I see a handful of people defending our dreams until others, who have the right numbers at the right time, lovingly, thoughtfully and mightily make those dreams come true. I’m here however I can be until they do.