Would you consider T&T a developing country when it comes to issues of gender?

“Would you consider T&T a developing country when it comes to issues of gender? Our women do have access to health, education, ownership of resources etc. But we still suffer from gender discrimination, gender violence. So what do you think?”

I think any definition of a country’s development status must take into account the degree to which human rights are protected. Issues of gender discrimination and gender violence are human rights issues. Far too often ‘development’ is thought of in terms of economics and infrastructure alone. But when we drill down to the lived experiences of men and women we get a very different story. Institutions – the social structures, policies, frameworks, systems that guide how we confront issues impacting gender and human rights is the place we need to interrogate.

So what does Trinidad and Tobago have in terms of institutions

  • We have a National Policy on Gender and Development which was laid in Parliament as a Green Paper for further comment in 2009 but hasn’t been heard of since.
  • We have ratified CEDAW,  the major international treaty on women’s rights.
  • Our constitution recognises equal rights and equal access to men and women.
  • We have laws on domestic violence, marital rape, maternity benefits.

Sounds fairly good, no? So what’s missing? Lots!

Sexist attitudes and stereotypes still persist which make the enforcement of laws and the recognition of the rights to which women are entitled difficult to exercise.

There is still unequal pay. There is still unequal representation in certain industries – usually the more lucrative ones. There are no policies to protect against sexual harassment in the workplace. There are many more women graduating university but much less of them that reach top managerial positions. There is an unwillingness to accept that provisions need to be made for working mothers and fathers who are primary caretakers. Women are too often victims of domestic abuse and murder and rape.

Moreover, there is not enough critical analysis of the ways in which the policies, programs and structures in our different sectors affect women and their lives. There seems not to be a real recognition that these are issues that are important, serious. Not enough national resources are dedicated to providing the kind of support systems that women need to be able to access all the country has to offer. It is not enough to have systems that are neutral. Women and men do not experience their lives in the same way and typically the rules were designed to accommodate men. We need to understand that. Women are living under a status quo that makes it difficult to achieve equity.

And it’s not just Trinidad and Tobago. These issues are also present in the so-called ‘developed’ world as well. It will not resolve on its own. There needs to be a commitment to achieving gender equity. If you look at the Millennium Development Goals, achieving gender equity is listed 3rd. But really, NONE of the MDGs can be achieved without addressing the position and welfare of women.

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Gender Stereotyping

Gender Stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the personality traits, attributes, characteristics, abilities, value and roles of men and women.

Gender Stereotyping can be discriminatory because it limits individual freedom and potential, pressuring us to conform to preconceived notions about the roles of men and women (in the home, in the workplace, in our relationships) and preventing us from exploring all our talents and skills.

Can you identify some of the ways in which gender stereotyping has influenced your choices or negatively impacted your life?

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Letters from the community

Hi, I think your website is GREAT! My sister and I had a similar idea for a site, it would have been called “today you made a womon uncomfortable”.

The idea was that often in the moment of being made to feel uncomfortable you’re without the words, action or environment to respond in a way that affirms you and let’s the other person know what they have said/done and why it should never be said/done in the future. It would be so much easier if you could just hand them a card on which you tick a category [] gendered violence, [] street harassment, [] being ignored etc. and/or facts about gendered violence and its many forms.

All that to say it’s great to see this site speak to what I and so many womyn endure and often cannot name everyday. Thank you for creating this site. If there’s any way in which I can support this effort please let me know. Zahra

Dear Zahra,

Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s wonderful to see that there are other women out there who are also thinking of creative ways to get the message out that discrimination against women is a real problem. Each of us, in our own way, can contribute to making a more equitable, free and just society.

And yes, I do need your support; to share the site with your friends and co-workers, to talk about the issues highlighted on the blog, to share your stories and encourage other women and girls to share theirs and to participate in the discussions on twitter and facebook.

Great to have you on board,


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The Working Woman: Elka



WomenSpeak: What do you feel is your greatest challenge being a woman

Elka: Getting things done. I can’t do it all, and need help and no one helps me fast enough. I think of all the ideas, time, dates. I am too demanding I guess, which trickles over into relationships. Because I have to deal with men all day at work, I don’t feel like taking shit. Sometimes I have to take a step back and realise that I have to be patient. I can’t fix everything or help everyone. I need to let some of it go. These are the reasons for my sleepless nights I guess. My mind races with ideas all day long.

WomenSpeak: Do you think things would be different if you were a man?

Elka: Yes, sometimes. I have to literally fight for respect. Or not to be ignored. And I can’t get away with shouting and cussing cause then I will be a bitch, whereas men can do that and it seems fine. I have to be creative in how I communicate and dont be overly emotional. I swear if men had PMS things would be different.

WomenSpeak: So why do women care so much if people think they are bitches?

Elka: Cause no one listens to you after a while. When men have to deal with an unapproachable woman boss they wont be honest. I mean, I actually care if they are honest. Some people don’t. It makes my job easier when I know whats really going on.

WomenSpeak: So they dont care if the male bosses are bitches?

Elka: No. They expect men to be harsh and hard. And then, as a woman, if you’re too nice you’re taken advantage of. So there has to be a balance.

Tell us what you think of Elka’s statements: Is it more difficult being a woman who has to manage men in the workplace? Is it fair to expect women to be more creative in their communication styles than men in the workplace? Do women put too much pressure on themselves to be the best at everything? Is Elka an exception or do many women feel this way?

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My gf & I watched a movie that raised a debate between us. Does Marriage Imply Consent?

No. Absolutely not! When we marry we do not become property. We have a right to our own bodies. Marital Rape is said to occur when a spouse or domestic partner engages in sexual intercourse without the woman’s consent or reckless disregard for such consent, or such consent is extorted through threat or fear of bodily harm.

Marital rape is a form of domestic violence and is often preceded by or accompanied by other types of domestic abuse such as verbal threats and denigrating language, physical assault and other actions aimed at maintaining control and dominance over a partner. The results of Marital Rape are just as traumatic as other forms of rape and can result in physical, emotional and psychological trauma where the rape survivor has feelings of fear, revulsion, depression or anger. Because the perpetrator was at one time trusted and loved, the survivor is likely to deal with bitter feelings of betrayal, confusion and powerlessness.

In Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica and other countries in the Caribbean, Marital Rape is a crime punishable by imprisonment. In Trinidad and Tobago the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2000 states that a husband or cohabitant who is guilty of rape “is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life or any other punishment which may be imposed by law.” The Act also protects in cases of “Grievous Sexual Assault” which are sexual acts that do not include penetration vaginally or anally with the penis.

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Trinidad and Tobago 3rd Best Place to be born a girl? What the report doesn’t say.

Plan UK along with The Royal Commonwealth Society recently released a report on the Best Countries in the Commonwealth to be Born a girl.  The top three places went to New Zealand, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Wait, what?

The study used 8 indicators to come up with the rankings

1: Life Expectancy at birth

2: Sheer Survival – Proportion of under-5 year olds that are underweight

3: Education for Life – Expected number of years in school (primary and secondary)

4: Early Pregnancy – Fertility rate of girls aged 15-19 years

5: Studying Hard -Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships taken up in the acdemic years 2006/7, 2007/8 and 2008/9

6: Political Participation

7: A Sporting Chance – Atheletes and Medals at the Delhi Commonwealth Games

8: The Pay Gap – Gender gap in pay

Ref – http://plan-international.org/files/global/publications/campaigns/because-youre-a-girl.pdf

What the Report doesn’t say

1. In Trinidad and Tobago DEATHS from cases of domestic violence have quadrupled over a five-year period from 2004 to 2008, while the amount of cases of domestic violence reported to police have increased by 60 percent. The number of cases of deaths in relation to domestic violence for the years 2004 to 2008 there were 9, 26, 32, 17 and 36 deaths respectively. In terms of the number of cases of domestic violence reported to the police for the same period, the recorded cases numbered 962, 1,291, 1,250, 1,356 and 1,556 respectively.

2.  According to data available from the UNODC’s Crime Trends Survey, based on police stats, three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world are in the Caribbean. All of the island nations from which data was gathered — Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago — experienced a rate of rape above the unweighted average of the 102 countries in the survey. Between 80-90 rapes were reported to the TnT Rape Crisis Society during 2004-2005. The Society also notes the increase in the number of gang rapes. Added to this many rapes go unreported.

3. Trinidad and Tobago still has no national policy on sexual harassment in the workplace.

4. In Dominica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago girls outnumber boys by a large margin in being awarded Commonwealth Scholarships. However, even though more women are earning higher degrees, women’s earnings are still below mens with ratios of 46% in Trinidad and Tobago and 52% for St. Lucia.

5. In T&T banking and financial serivces sector, 80% of employees at the lower level are female while only 25% of women reach higher managerial levels

6Women still report being victimized and discriminated against with regard to maternity in the workplace.

7. Maternal Mortality in Trinidad and Tobago (2008) is 55 deaths per 100 000 births. While this figure is far better than over half of the developing world, we can do far better.

So what does this mean for us?

I think its significant that even while women have a more public face – are participating in political life, are excelling educationally and athletically, there are still many serious issues that threaten our lives and well being. Sexist attitudes and discriminatory behaviours are still entrenched in our societies. Violence Against Women is still tolerated and often blamed on women themselves. Our countires need to do better. Each one of us needs to do what we can to stand up against such injustice. We cannot be complacent.

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How do you feel about a man “tiefing a wine”? Do you feel obliged to let him or do you say “step off”

Avi: It depends on the man’s approach, and on the man. Not everyone is liable to get my cooperation.
Mars: If you are not comfortable…do what feels right…I’m not adverse to a little ‘tief wine.’
Knycky: If his approach is respectful I have no problem. I don’t appreciate an actual thief. Thou I’ve been known to steal 1 or 2. Lol.
Tanya: It depends, if its on the road and u come correct u can cause “It’s The Road!”
WomenSpeakPro: I want a definition for ‘come correct’. When does a little ‘tief wine’ become overbearing/offensive?
Tanya: To put it simply ‘not a ram-attack approach’
Mars: I think if it’s disgusting and nasty…just too sexual…not a dance but a grind…
Trini: It disgusts me which is why i prefer to avoid situations where it is prevalent.
Womenspeakpro: So, your feteing decisions are greatly influenced by your wanting to avoid ‘tief wine’? Do you find it unfair?
Trini: I do find it unfair. I don’t fête, as all encourage/accept women’s bodies as an open contact zone. It’s not for me.
Angel: I’ve never liked ppl touching me or invading my personal space. I’m a weirdo. 🙂
Trini: Nothing weird about that 🙂 It’s just something many girls are socialized to ‘get over’.
Womenspeakpro: I think lots of women feel like that, then they drink to loosen up and that’s more trouble.
Tanya: I prefer to dance with ppl I know but I still try not to be over stush about it.
Womenspeakpro: Nobody wants to be the sour girl in the party, but do women do things they don’t like just to be nice?
Trini: I think too many do. I could care less about being seen as sour, nerdy or ‘stush’.
Womenspeakpro: Its important 2 set ur own boundaries and not let the culture dictate what u should accept.
Trini: Couldn’t say it any better! 🙂
Mars: Agreed…again it’s what you feel comfortable doing…and it’s ok to say no.

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