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,
Dear Dr Rowley,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.