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Congrats and concerns: Working Women caution Dr Rowley on social policy

The following is a press statement from the Women Working for Social Progress:

September 15, 2015

Honourable Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley,

Office of the Prime Minister,

St Clair.

Dear Dr Rowley,

Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Workingwomen congratulates you and the People’s National Movement on your recent election victory, after a campaign that was well planned and executed.

We commend your dignity in the face of personal vilification.

We acknowledge and support your commitment to the devolution of power, already evident in the reforms achieved inside the PNM, and in your proposal for local government reform. We look forward to the release of this proposal for public discussion and input.

We admire the spirit of inclusiveness and the absence of triumphalism in your election victory speech.

We applaud the number of women and young people you have appointed to Cabinet.

At the same time we would like to make known our concern with some of the signals we see regarding social policy.

We support your move to reduce what had become a bloated Cabinet. In the restructuring of Ministries, however, three very important pillars of national development have disappeared from view: Child Development, Gender and the Environment.

Photo: School children pose.
Photo: School children pose.

It gives us no comfort to be told that they have been put away somewhere in some Ministry. These are portfolios that must remain fully visible for at least another generation, if not longer, since the work to be done in these areas has only just begun. And there has to be progressive thinking within the political directorate if this work is to change our society for the better.

Child Development:

It has taken decades of advocacy, from the women’s movement and other organs of civil society, for successive governments to wake up and stumble willy-nilly towards ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to amending the Children Act, to setting up a still limping Children’s Authority.

Meanwhile large numbers of our children continue to live in painful circumstances from which they have no escape, suffering, among other wrongs, daily violence in the name of discipline, sexual abuse, neglect, and child marriage. Too often, corporal punishment, this sanctioned violence against children, ends in death.

In the second decade of the 21st century, many of our people still think that beating children is a normal, acceptable part of family life. For us it is a matter of grave concern that some members of your government applaud and advocate this practice.

Such a position within the political directorate undermines all good intentions with regard to the care, protection and healthy development of children.

Photo: Is there a right way to hit a child?
Photo: Is there a right way to hit a child?

Leaders must lead in matters such as these, providing information and guidance, and taking positions based on international human rights principles, rather than caving in to misguided views inherited from our violent history. No administration has seen fit to equip parents with better tools for raising non-violent, self-disciplined, children in a modern world.

There is need for a strong ministerial portfolio that pursues and directs the optimum development of children, our best insurance against a collective future of violence and crime.

Gender and Sexuality:

Although much progress has been made in our country with gender equity, the struggle is not yet over. Among the problems that are far from being resolved are: inequality in women’s wages; the high incidence of poverty among women-headed households; domestic violence; sexual harassment; high rates of maternal mortality (women dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth) and infant mortality; thousands of unsafe backstreet abortions (out of which an estimated 3,000-4,000 women per year enter our public hospitals with complications); and the under-representation of women in decision-making and governance.

Gender equity has a bearing on every aspect of national development. The World Bank refers to gender equality as “smart economics.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s National Gender Policy, still in limbo after decades of advocacy, provides a framework for action on a wide range of issues in, for example, health, education, economics, planning, agriculture, trade and industry, leadership and sexuality.

Photo: Dancers for Massy Trinidad All Stars perform to "Curry Tabanca" during the International Conference and Panorama at the Grand Stands, Queen's Park Savannah.  (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Dancers for Massy Trinidad All Stars perform to “Curry Tabanca” during the International Conference and Panorama at the Grand Stands, Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The perspective on sexual orientation presented in the original 2006 version of the National Gender Policy is one of the reasons why it was rejected by the PNM government under which it was developed. Almost all of our politicians to date have considered it safe to ignore, condemn, or make snide remarks about differences in people’s sexual orientation, for example, describing as “fashionable” the struggle of the LGBT community in our country against criminalization, discrimination and prejudice.

It is a human rights issue which can no longer be shunted from one administration to the next. Nor is it an issue to be resolved by “consultation,” for this means asking the rest of the population to decide whether a minority group deserves to be recognized as equal under the law. Would any government consult the public on whether one of our minority ethnic groups should enjoy equal human rights?

Sexual orientation is only one of the gender issues on which an enlightened government would lead, and for this there has to be a Gender portfolio charged with facilitating public education.

The Environment:

Sustainable planning and management of our air, water, and other natural resources is an essential government portfolio. The country needs to be concerned about rising sea levels and the protection of our seashores; deforestation and its consequences – landslides, flooding and the silting of rivers; and solid waste management, among other pressing environmental issues.

Photo: A beautiful beach in Tobago.
Photo: A beautiful beach in Tobago.

A responsible government would also be expected to decisively tackle the environmental issue of everyday, widespread noise pollution in our country. The current provisions for addressing this problem are manifestly inadequate. There are deficiencies in legislation, enforcement, and public education.

The problem of unbridled noise-making is escalating, and it is a major indicator of the descent into anarchy that our country seems to be experiencing. It is a form of abuse that has to be curbed, for it has far-reaching negative impacts on our society.

A sub-committee of our organization, formed in May 2012, “Citizens for Noise Reduction”, has tried, over the past three years, to engage the relevant ministries of the former government, with no success. We have already submitted our position paper to you, and we look forward to a better response from the new regime, via an identifiable section of government dedicated to the environment.

In all three areas, Child Development, Gender, and the Environment, public education will need to be a key activity, facilitated by strong ministerial leadership and portfolios.

We recommend that Gender and Child Development be placed in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright Reuters)
Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Reuters)

We call upon the government to continue work on the 2012 draft of the National Gender Policy.

We wish also to respond to your call for volunteerism by offering our collective experience and expertise to help map out a way forward in the sectors highlighted above.

About Working Women

Working Women
Women Working for Social Progress is a 30-year old organisation based in Tunapuna, which was co-founded by activist Merle Hodge. The “Working Women” group does advocacy work on behalf women and children and led the way in discussions like anti-corporal punishment or “parenting for peace.”

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27 comments

  1. Leave pnm people alone pls.suddendly you all could talk.

  2. All of a sudden those voiceless persons have voices…most of them had not one word to say when had the chance to why now?

  3. LOL. People are persuaded by different arguments. And there will be those who feel that a Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Environment, and Ministry of Child Development/Youth are still necessities. And I think that was the point of the Working Women’s media release. Which doesn’t mean they or anybody else doesn’t see the need for a Ministry of Rural Development for example.

  4. Id suggest you return to some of the platform speeches because Mssrs Khan, Rambharat and Rowley discussed their vision for Rurul Development, Local Govt and Agriculture. Their explanation for their vision and the need for such a ministry persuaded me sufficiently.
    Youtube has several of the meetings archived.

  5. I don’t disagree with you re:goals and metrics vs buildings and letterheads. But if ministerial portfolios count for nothing to an administration, why create new ministries?
    People keep telling me there are so many women in the administration and that they’ll raise gender issues. Well ok. But there are government parliamentarians who represent areas that are considered part of rural T&T, so why create a Ministry of Rural Development if you’re not gong to give “extra attention” to rural development? What aspect of rural development cannot fall within another ministry?
    And 2010-2015 remains a lesson in how not to do things with respect to everything. Not just Gender and Environment.

  6. If Ministerial portfolios are a marker of priorities what exactly am I think or imagined happened with the Gender and Environment priorities from 2010 to 2015?
    I maintain, i am far more interested in having goals and metrics outlined than being told we have a bldg and a letterhead.

  7. I think it’s great that PM Rowley has so many qualified women from whom to choose. Although I’m not sure what the big deal is about having a female Speaker of the House and a female President of the Senate as the PNM has appointed women to these positions before.
    Nevertheless, appointments of those considered minorities – not just by this government or in this country, but globally – don’t really count for much if the administration’s policies don’t do much for said minorities. So we will just have to wait and see what policy decisions this administration takes re: women and children.
    Still, ministerial portfolios do point to a government’s priorities. So the upgrading of Rural Development from a company within MOWT and Family Services from a division within the MOTP to ministries says something to me as does the removal of the Ministries of Gender, Youth, and Child Development and the Environment.

  8. 1. Re the Ministry info, Im repeating what a current Minister said to me when I asked.
    3. Round of applause if the NGO you are linked to didnt go silent, because (far too) many did. That is a matter of public record now. It is very easy to search and see which groups spoke out on the relevant issues.

  9. I use it with full confidence. Do you know this organisation?

  10. Who really are these working women, a group of Kamla activists and sycophants who are only there to manipulate and intimidate persons into following their gender policy which is more or less politically motivated. Give the administration a chance to settle before making demands people.

  11. Oh please be careful when using the word NEVER…

  12. Rhoda 1. Perhaps you know more than Cabinet ministers; even they do not know where gender and children have been put 2. This interest group did better than written responses to the manifesto; there was face-to-face contact and 3. WWSP has never lost its voice in its 30-year history.

  13. Shaeila, Kala Ramnath and Nerisha Mohammed make vital points about the tenor of this contribution as a whole but in my view there’s at least one more thing that needs to be said. How can you salute the new administration for its “move to reduce what had become a bloated Cabinet” and then, even before you see how that is going to pan out, suggest that interests that are not nominally represented among the new ministries will necessarily be less well served. By all means, speak up and signal what in your view is important but don’t appear to suggest that things will not get the attention they deserve simply because they are not specifically identified in the new ministerial nomenclature.
    I say let’s wait and see, particularly in light of the number of women, as Lu Lama points out, in positions of authority in the new line-up.

  14. THNK YUH DEY RHODES !!! … THNK YUH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. 1. Cockburn-Crichlow has Family Services, not so? At least that is what Ive been told. So she should be the new line minister.
    2. The PNM’s manifesto was uploaded as a draft policy to its website since December 2014, with a call for feedback. Did interest groups weigh in?
    Im asking.
    3. Let us not deceive ourselves..
    Many interest groups lost their voices for 5 years. But whatever the ailment was, the symptoms wearing off. Give thanks.

    • EXACTLY!! Tell them Rhoda! I am going to win a bet that I placed pre election at this rate. Not happy that the obvious is taking place, but sensible enough to know that it would have.

      On another note, imagine Kamla talking about Helen Drayton and her independence being tainted, but Wade Mark gets up from the House Speaker’s seat and goes straight to the Senate..LOL So the same logic does not apply!?(not like it wasn’t obvious for 5 years) This woman and her hypocrisy yes!! Kamla ah sorry (actually I’m not) but YOU WILL NEVER GOVERN this country again! EVER!! Intelligent people who love Trinidad and Tobago cya vote for you… or yuh crew!

  16. No comment on the historic appontment of the several, well qualified women of substance in both the lower and upper Houses (two presiding over) selected by the new PM and PNM?

  17. 1. The PNM manifesto contains one nebulous paragraph. 2. If YOU didn’t see/hear all the noise these women were making, the question is where were you not where were they. 3. If sectors being named in ministries means nothing, why name any ministry at all? 4. Anyone who commented on this thread knows where woman and children have been put? Because no one has said. 5. How Hazel Brown reach in this? etc etc etc

  18. The first thought that comes to mind is where was the voice of this body calling for the immediate resignation of some ex-Ministers for their conduct. I note the new cabinet has more women than men I believe and probably more than the last. How did having ministries dedicated to youth, gender and the environment benefit the nation. I said it was ironic that with all these ministries there was an upsurge in domestic violence and related deaths, missing women and children, human trafficking allegations, fires at beetham holding POS to ransom. They do raise valid concerns but I hope they can appreciate that the presence or absence of a dedicated ministry does not impact on the issues being to be addressed. And they could also review the manifesto to see what are the plans so they can contribute and criticize accordingly.

  19. With every new Government, elected presumably to steer a different course from the old, real or imagined, its important for people social groups and organizations , civil society to agitate for the things they believe in. I keep reading these comments about ‘where were they during the last administration’ deployed as a slur. Its crazy. Whether its Kamla or Rowley or whoever its going to be 5,10,15 years from now, there’s one constant that citizens need to appreciate: you have to agitate for change. Politicians – no matter how much we are fond of them – are not going to hand it to us on a plate. People make noise so that the voices of the constituencies they represented get heard when the new guys and gals sweep in. If the PNM loses the next election and another party gets in, I would expect the same. So rather than wasting precious time talking about where they were in Kamla time, leh we talk about if what dem saying mekkin sense, nah.

  20. Doh try that. The whole lot of these social groups was so silent, I almost went deaf. I kept calling hazel Brown where are you.

  21. where were they all the time working they have time now they done eating dumplings lol