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One step forward …two steps back
There are still fundamental issues yet to be tackled for the advancement of women in this country. Even after some 20 years of clarion calls to put in place policies to empower women, these are yet to be recognised, far more implemented.
For today’s observes of International Women’s Day (IWD) the key theme #PressforProgress, builds on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as women around the world continue to push for gender parity.
But how much progress has really been made thus far in T&T?
According to chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) attorney Lynette Seebaran-Suite, the country falls short in many areas. Pregnant women are still discriminated against and several complaints have been brought against employers for failing to recognise maternity rights and benefits.
“We do have some maternity legislation but we do get complaints frequently of women being disadvantaged in the workplace due to their maternity status,” she said.
“These have to do with complaints of women being victimised for being pregnant, or when they try to come back out there is no job for them.”
Seebaran-Suite said while women have made great strides in various fields, including education, the road ahead is still somewhat arduous.
“It is not an even march forward. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back. We still have not had the good fortune to have our government pronounce on a gender policy.
“We also do not have modern, forward-looking abortion laws. We still have the question of looking again at our domestic violence remedy. We have made some progress as we have domestic violence legislation, we have a domestic violence court, we have shelters but the remedy needs to be tweaked and the legislation needs to be looked at,” she advocated.
The EOC also gets many complaints of gender discrimination, especially relating to promotion.
Unequal pay for equal work remains a troubling area of sex discrimination, Seebaran-Suite said, but can be tackled within the remit of the EOC.
“The government might want to pass legislation to make it very clear in society that women should receive equal pay for work of equal value,” she said.
The most educated fall victim
What’s the difference between an abusive relationship and love? Even women perceived to be well-educated are often unable to decipher, rendering them stuck in years of horrific violence of all forms.
The International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN)—an organisation aimed at saving women from abuse—has a gynaecologist among its clients.
IWRN president Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan said educating women is an ongoing process as some needed to be “literally dug out” from the bowels of mistreatment that is meted out to them in all forms.
“Education starts from understanding the space that we coexist in which can be one of abuse. We have situations where many women have mixed feelings and mixed information and so they become confused and that is where we have to start, with education.
“It’s really about educating these women so they can come out of their shells,” Isaac-Rattan said.
Urging that “conversations be move to concerted effort” Isaac-Rattan emphasised that the IWRN has no desire to be part of forums.
“That is just about talk. We need to go into the trenches to get men and women in a space where they can understand what is going on with them.
“Both parties must understand where they are. We ask two simple questions: do you love your man and do you love your woman and do you want to remain in the relationship. Many times when we ask those questions both parties break down in tears but we are very on the ground. We keep it real,” she said.
Echoing the views of Seebaran-Suite, she said women had progressed over the years but there is need for a certain level of awareness particularly relating to gender justice and sexual harassment.
More voices are being heard, so those topics were no longer considered taboo, she said.
Women still a minority
In the area of economic and corporate decision-making at high levels, women remained a small minority, said Dr Gabrielle Hosein, head of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies of UWI’s, St Augustine campus.
This is not a reflection of their qualifications or capacity but rather of gender stereotype—some women are perceived as either too feminine and too willing to make sacrifices in their career for family. or seen as too masculine, too aggressive or domineering when in power.
Women are also saddled with greater responsibilities, as the care for children and the aged affects their career trajectory in ways which do not often affect men.
“The low number of women at the highest level of decision-making also have to do with informal factors such as mentorship, male network, and other kinds of informal relations amongst men… when they play golf or make business decisions in bars and rum shops.
“So pressing for progress means looking at the percentage of women at the highest level of corporate leadership and decision-making and asking if that low number seems to reflect what is fair, just and good for overall gender equality and development,” Hosein said.
A large percentage of women also comprise the sales and retail sector, but often hours are long, wages are poor and they are non-unionised.
“That labour segregation,” Hosein said, “is one of the reasons why the average income of men is around $15,000 more per month than that of women in T&T.
“When you average all male income and all women income, this is the figure and it says that women remain poorer in addition to them having less access to decision-making.”
She said this gender pay gap ultimately affects a woman’s ability to own a house, business or improve on professional qualifications.
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