Address by THE HONOURABLE KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR, PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO at a tea in celebration of International Women’s Day 2012
- Members of the Cabinet
- Members of the Diplomatic Corps
- Members of the Judiciary
- Parliamentary Secretaries
- Senator Lyndira Oudit, Vice President of the Senate
- Members of the Senate
- Members of the House of Representatives
- Permanent Secretaries
- Representatives of Non-governmental Organisations
- Members of the Media
- Distinguished guests
My dear sisters, a very warm welcome to you all.
As you know this special day is recognized annually on March 8th. However, this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day coincided with the 23rd Inter-Sessional Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government, which I attended inSuriname, and which for the first time in CARICOM history boasted two female Heads of Government, myself and The Honorable Portia Simpson Miller Prime Minister ofJamaica.
Following the CARICOM Conference, I undertook a State Visit toPanama, therefore I now take the opportunity to celebrate, bring greetings and stand in solidarity with you, on the observance International Women’s Day 2012.
I note, with pride, the many events that were hosted by the private and public sectors inTrinidad and Tobagolast week.
These I understand included a solidarity march and expo organized by the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women; a luncheon for female executives hosted by the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT) and RBC Royal Bank; the OWTU’s Tribute to Union Women in Leadership, the Ministry of Community Development’s Victoria East District, awards to 10 women for service to their communities and the activities of our Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development.
I salute all the individuals and organizations in Trinidad and Tobago which, through their actions, have recognized the vital importance of women to the development of community, workplace and country.
The International Scene
Last week the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) was commemorated under the United Nations theme of “Empowering Rural Women – End Poverty and Hunger”.
But against what backdrop did we celebrate International Women’s Day 2012?
Worldwide, we continue to valiantly stave off the effects of global financial crises, climate change, civilian uprisings against oppressive ruling regimes, as well as treat with the on-going issues of gender/wage gaps, gender biased access to essential services, domestic violence and significant inconsistencies in the opportunities available to urban and rural women.
Yet do we as women passively sit back and cower in the face of continued violence, inequality and discriminatory laws and cultural practices?
Certainly not! Not after a century of strife, struggle and sacrifice.
We have taken many positive steps forward in legal rights, educational achievements, participation in public life, and more women are surviving childbirth and can plan for their families.
None of us can deny that there have been steady gains but there is so much more to be done and much still to be overcome. To paraphrase singer/songwriter Helen Reddy, if we have to, we can indeed do and face anything to achieve everything.
Focus on Rural Women – international
My dear friends, the 2012 commemoration of International Women’s Day asks us to close ranks around our rural sisters, who are often most negatively impacted by natural environmental upheavals and social disparities.
In several instances it is our rural women and girls who work long hours, longer than their urban sisters, with little or no pay and still produce a large proportion of the food grown, especially in subsistence agriculture.
Worldwide, including right here inTrinidad and Tobago, it is our rural sisters who play a critical role in enhancing agricultural and rural development and improving food security, thereby helping to reduce poverty levels in their communities.
Focus on Rural Women – local
As a woman who grew up in the rural precincts of our country, I can fully appreciate the daily efforts of rural women to be treated as equals and given similar rights and recognition as their male counterparts.
My Government recognises the important contribution of rural women to the development of our communities and country, and we will continue to improve women’s access to financial and productive resources and services, expand their opportunities to diversify their production, increase their productivity through labour-saving technologies, and facilitate their access to high-value productive markets.
At this commemoration of International Women’s Day, I especially applaud the work of the Network of Rural Women Producers of Trinidad andTobagowhich has become instrumental in opening up economic opportunities for women, particularly rural women.
I believe that many of my sisters here this afternoon, are either individually or as part of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), closely affiliated with the Network of Rural Women Producers and I congratulate you on your achievements.
The Mango Festival, an initiative of the Rural Women Network which was first introduced in 2009, continues to open the eyes of the public to the potential and creativity of our rural women. The success of these grassroots-based initiatives is key to stimulating increased economic activity within our communities and reducing poverty.
I look forward to hearing of many more of your initiatives that promote sustainable agriculture and biodiversity.
Today I challenge my Ministers of Gender, Youth and Child Development; Community Development; Labour and Small and Micro-Enterprise Development; the Minister of the People and Social Development and the Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs to put in place or expand on their programmes targeted to our Nation’s women and girls and our rural women in particular.
I know that Senator the Honourable Verna St Rose-Greaves, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development already has, through her Gender Affairs Division, several programmes that target women in rural areas.
But Verna is a powerhouse in her own right and I know I can expect more from her Ministry in the not too distant future, as my Government continues to empower our Nation’s women and girls.
The Way Forward
It is not by chance that last yearTrinidad and Tobagowas named the third best country in the Commonwealth to be born and grow up a girl; but through solid and focused work among our women and girls and we will continue to strengthen our policies and programmes in this area. Criteria had to do with education and as I recall in my last incarnation we were able to offer primary education to all.
At the National level we are steadily moving towards more Gender Responsive Budgeting, which requires an understanding of the different needs of women and men, as strategic plans are drawn for national policies and programmes.
I am proud to note that last week, on International Women’s Day, the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development co-hosted with the Commonwealth Secretariat a very successful breakfast seminar on “Gender Responsive Budgets and its Impact on Rural Women”.
Prior to the breakfast seminar, the Ministry had also hosted a 3-day workshop for local government officials on Gender Responsive Budgeting.
It is our aim to ensure that at the heart of our communities there is an understanding of the importance of gender perspectives in all policies, projects and programmes.
My Government also understands that our girls…our children must be protected. Our systems cannot and will not be allowed to further fail our children.
In this regard we have recently appointed a new Children’s Authority Board which is chaired by Ms Stephanie Daly, SC and the Children Bill was read in the House of Representatives for a second time last Friday. Championed by Minister St Rose Greaves , this bill will go back to parliament for debate again this Friday.
As a women leader, I also believe it to be of extreme importance to continue to mentor our young girls and women to play a more significant role in political leadership and I will continue to be a vocal advocate of Women Leaders as Agents of Change.
From the ground up… in communities, in local Government, at National and Regional fora; our voices must be heard in decision-making processes at all levels.
In rural communities, in urban centres across our Nation, our Region and the World; women must be recognised as being central to national development.
Counsellor, motivational speaker and author, Iyanla Vanzant, once wrote, “for many women, we sometimes find it hard to believe that we have been chosen. Our lives, the circumstances and conditions in which we live make it very difficult to believe that we have a special purpose…”
Particularly for women who chose or who were thrust into leadership roles, I believe our purpose is to mentor, guide and inspire our girls and women to demand better futures for themselves and their families.
As we near the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, most of which encourage a focus on women, let us as a global community, seek to lessen not worsen the inequalities faced by the half of the world’s population.
Let me share one of my favourite Chinese proverbs “women hold up half the sky” and the men the other so we must work together as equal partners.
Let us collectively determine to narrow the separation between policy, decisions and practise which so often characterises issues related to women.
To my sisters in Trinidad and Tobago and my sisters of the World, let us unite on this International Women’s Day, confident that we are treading the path of progress…trusting that our brothers will one day understand that we seek not power over them; but rather to be accepted and respected by them as equal partners in a shared destiny of prosperity, security and peace.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you and may God continue to bless our beautiful Nation.