Ask Him More: Gender Bias in Recruitment

“Do you have any children or plan on having children anytime soon?”

Stop asking me when I plan to have kids in a job interview!

It’s bad enough I have to deal with this question at get-togethers, conferences or with people who haven’t seen me in ages. But now I have to deal with this question in an interview for a JOB.

I have been told that I’m not allowed (yes allowed) to get pregnant during in my 1st year of employment – the company frowns on such a development. At another interview, I was told that I would not be allowed to get pregnant during my employment at the company.

However, I am pretty certain that very few of my male colleagues need to answer these questions in an interview room. Do they get questioned on when they plan on settling down? Or have they developed a project management schedule for making children and consequently the risk management matrix to hedge against complications at work?

I’d like to propose a list of questions that we ask the MEN to level the playing field a bit:

1. “How does your wife feel about your career? Does she think that it will get in the way of your role as a husband and father?”

2. “Kwame, are you in a serious relationship? When will the two of you be ready to start a family? Having kids could be a sign that you are no longer focused on your career.”

3 . “Three children are quite the handful. How do you intend on balancing your responsibilities as a father and a manager?”

4. Both you and your wife work. Who is going to watch the kids while you are at work? Or if they get ill and can’t attend school?

5.  So Bruce, you are unmarried but you have children with how many women? The company tends to frown on men who have multiple families. It shows instability.

When employees walk into the office, they bring with them their entire context – experience, emotions, family and life responsibilities. This affects how employees perform, how they relate to others in the workplace and how they view the company. However, it is only women who are bombarded with sexist, irrelevant questions in job interviews. These are not the kind of questions that men get asked and by asking women these questions, it reveals bias against mothers.

It can be said that most people (men and women)  are working so that they can provide a better life for their families. So why is it then, the family isn’t taken into consideration if companies value their employees?  There are going to be times when work comes first and other times, when family takes precedent.

Creating policies around flexible working arrangements or remote working helps workers fulfill their parental responsibilities and carry less guilt into the office. And by creating such policies recruiters would be focused on a woman’s skills, talents, productivity and ability to meet deadlines, rather than her timeline for having a baby. 

M. Analise Kandasammy is an expert generalist in the field of business and has branded herself an ‘organisational architect’. She believes that the path to a meaningful life first begins with accepting and loving your authentic self. She has a deep passion for developing entrepreneurial visions that are community-based and creative plus she is fascinated with how culture shapes societies and as a mixed woman, a diversity enthusiast.

Do you agree with Analise? Should we ask men some of the same questions women are asked around family issues? Have you ever experienced gender bias in the interview? Tell us!

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What Was She Wearing?

“Does this top look good on me?”

Does this color compliment my skin tone?”

“Are these pants appropriate for the event I’m going to?”

These are some questions I ask every time I get dressed; but these are not the only questions I ask.

“Is this too revealing?”

“Are men going to make rude comments about me if I was walking down the street?”

“If I was assaulted would this outfit make people say I deserved it?”

Whenever I get dressed, I can’t help but have these questions cross my mind. I have read so many stories and comments where a girl, a woman finds herself at the hands of a man with ill intentions and the top comment questions why did she wear that? Why did she go to that place? Comments suggesting that this woman was somehow responsible for the actions of another. I sometimes wonder whether the people who make these comments spare any thought for the women in their lives. Their daughters, sisters, mothers. Have they ever put their loved one in the position of the woman in question?

I have spoken to many female friends and acquaintances. Every single one has a story about being catcalled on the street, being followed in public, being touched by a stranger, receiving unwanted photos online, lewd comments on their social media. This has become the norm. Some with even worse stories than these.

This is what is considered normal. People will stand by on the street and watch a woman being harassed and say nothing. People will stand by while a woman is told that her clothes caused her attack. People will stand by while a woman gets catcalled across a street. We all stand by and let these things happen and so long as we stand by, this will continue to be the normal.

This cannot be our normal. We need to stand up, step out of the shadows and make it known that this is not acceptable. And all it takes is a simple choice. Choose to change the narrative. Choose to set the bar higher. Choose to reject the old normal and create a new one and eventually those questions about clothes go back to just being about what you like and not about your life.

Sydney Joseph is a 19 year old aspiring photographer with a passion for local activism especially in relation to women’s rights and youth development. She is currently pursuing a Computer Science course based through the HarvardX Program as well as volunteering with many local organizations like the UNVolunteers and TEDxPortofSpain. She is looking forward to continuing her volunteer work and hopes to continue speaking her mind about the important issues being faced today. Sydney’s website will go live on August 5th.

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about whether you will be blamed for something you wore, if attacked? How does society’s victim-blaming hurt women? Tell us your thoughts.

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Marriage and Tradition

“You can’t date till you’re an adult! No boyfriends allowed!”

*sneaks around*

“You can’t do that in my house! Not under my roof!”

*“Okay, well I’m 21 now, I wanna get my own place!”*

“Move out?? Why do you want to leave??? Do you hate me????”

*finally leaves home at 24 after finishing school, etc*

“You’re 25. Why aren’t you married yet??? When will I get grandkids?”

Do these scenarios sound familiar? If it’s something you’ve experienced, I empathize. I am Indian. From the Caribbean. Specifically, I’m West Indian with East Indian roots. These are my parents. Overprotective, overbearing, strict, traditional, conservative.

I know as far as Indian families go, the pressure for daughters to get married before they hit 25 is mainly because of societal pressures. Indian parents seem to care a lot about what society thinks. It is seen as something shameful to have a daughter who is over 25 and not yet married. And even to this day, this line of thinking still exists. I suppose tradition is hard to let go of.

Personally, I have been dealing with that harassment from my mother recently. She often asks about when I plan to get married. I’m only 25. All I can say is, “not any time soon.” But she wants to know when. She wants to plan the wedding. She wants to save up for décor and food. I can understand for her (and many other parents), I’m the only daughter. In this culture, weddings are kind of a big deal. Not marriage. Weddings.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the fantastical Indian wedding. It lasts for weeks, almost. There are countless events, ceremonies, and rituals. It’s a big party for everyone. Not to mention, it is incredibly stressful for anyone involved in planning it. But it is tradition. And so my mother hopes I can tell her from now, so that she can save up enough by then to throw me a huge wedding.

Why are you breaking tradition? Do you have no respect for your culture?

Because that is what this is all about. Weddings, marriages, babies. These things follow a strict tradition of – finish school, get a job, get married, make babies. There’s no – finish school, get a job, travel the world, find yourself, stay single, enjoy life. That’s breaking tradition. And although your own parents might support that, society doesn’t. So those parents who don’t want to ‘look bad’ might pressure you into following tradition. I assure you, they do it out of love. They just want what’s best for you. And that’s what they know as being “best”. They mean well.

So the next time you hear this from your parents, tell them how you feel. And if that doesn’t work, then just play along like I did, and give them a random number. “In 5 years, mom.” When 5 years gets here, who knows? I might just say it again.

“Julie Mango is an internet enthusiast, and a Trinidadian. She spends most of her time writing words down. You can find some of those words at “
Do you think young women are still pressured to get married? What does society value more: tradition vs. women’s autonomy? Tell us what you think.


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Failing Our Families

We repeat it so often, “it takes a village to raise a child”, and while we know this is true, Trinidad and Tobago has forgotten to include this in our nation’s social and economic policies.

Everywhere we go there are children, mothers and fathers. Yet despite how much of our population consists of families with children, the Maternity Protection Act as it exists today is near useless to the majority of our nation’s families.

For the mothers for whom the stars align, a short 14 weeks of partially paid leave (roughly 60% of earnings) is offered. However, there are qualifying restrictions. A woman must be formally and continuously employed for a minimum period of 12 months within which time she must have worked a minimum of 150 days.  Also, she must not have used the maternity leave allowance within the past 2 years.

But what happens to those who are not formally employed? Informal labour, the work of parenting, care and self care, remain unrecognized in our nation’s policies. Care work is still work, and children cost money. Still, the largest issue with the policy is a lack of inclusivity. Not granting leave to fathers pushes the work of care to mothers alone. Also, in a nation that has not yet accepted gay marriage as a right, same sex
parents are as invisible as fathers in this “protection” act.

The failures of our policy are widespread. Our children suffer when they are denied the care and bonding they need from their parents who are forced to be otherwise occupied with paying bills and buying formula. When the standard recommendation for breastfeeding is six months, what does a 14 week leave imply for the health of our children?

Employers are forced to deal with a dramatic loss in productivity when parents are forced to permanently leave a job in order to care for children. And of course, when parents are forced to give up earnings to care for children, poverty can creep in just as fast as the bills do, carrying with it the potential to extend to our children as they carry into their future, which is our future. A new policy for our nation needs to provide benefits regardless of employment status, and must implement paid leave for a minimum of one year.

Policies such as Sweden’s are exemplary. It provides a flat rate monthly maternity payment, regardless of employment status, calculated using average cost of living. For the formally employed, 80% of earnings are paid for almost 56 weeks, and a flat rate paid for another 13 weeks. Trinidad and Tobago should implement such a program calculated at our own cost of living, implementing a maximum payment cap the way Sweden has, in order to keep the policy sustainable. Additionally, it should lengthen the leave period to at least 30 weeks to provide for the minimum breastfeeding recommendation.

Paid parental leave isn’t a cushy benefit, it’s a necessity. We, all of us, need a parental leave policy that provides support to ALL families. New policies need to recognize that parenting isn’t just for mothers; it is for fathers, children, society and the workplace.

After all, it takes a village.

Asha Maharaj is a full time post-graduate student and an even more full time parent. With a background in International Development and a long pursued specialization in Gender and Development, Asha has chosen to pursue her dream of bettering the lives of women here in Trinidad and Tobago. After living and studying in various continents, her love for her home country may have something to do with the joy that comes from roadside doubles. You can find her exploring the joys of Feminism and Doubles at

Asha shared her wishlist for maternity/parental benefits; what would you add on your wishlist?

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Your Story Women’s Writing Workshop at Bocas Lit Fest 2017

The WomenSpeak Project conducted its first writing workshop on April 30th, 2017 in partnership with Bocas Lit Fest.

Twenty women participated in the event. Some were already writers and activists but many were just women who wanted the opportunity to tell their stories and learn some of the strategies to getting what was buried in their minds and bodies onto the page.

The 3-hour workshop was led by author and teacher Monique Roffey who took the women through meditative and free writing exercises to get them to unlock their stories and put them down on the page.

This was a closed event where women were free to express themselves and talk about their lives. Additionally, Akilah Riley – a clinical social worker – was also on hand to provide some words on self-care.

Comments from participants:

Enjoyed it tremendously!”
“It is one of my most memorable moments to date.”
“It was over all very informative and touching. It was good to meet so many like minded women.”
“Very therapeutic. Was much needed for me.”
This workshop was very valuable for me. I came away with more questions than answer but for the first time, I feel they are the right questions, the ones that will result in real changes for me going forward. I particularly liked how Monique took the comments from the participants, drilled down further into those issues and translated them into actionable steps and further questions to work on.”
Simone Leid – Curator of The WomenSpeak Project in conversation with Monique Roffey and Akilah Riley


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Lorna Goodison

The Womenspeak Project will be hosting a writing workshop for women entitled “Your Story” at @bocaslitfest on 30th April 2017 10am to 1 pm at National Library, Port of Spain. Register at to reserve your spot. Cost $100.00. Spread the word! It’s going to be a transformative event.


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Disruption vs. Organisation


On January 6th 2017 several Trinidad and Tobago NGOs gathered at the Hyatt Waterfront Plaza at Parliament headquarters for the “Side by Side We Stand” rally against crime. The event was organised and initiated by a group of concerned citizens who came together in response to a call from Sunity Maharaj – a well known journalist and political commentator- to plan an action in response to the murder of Shannon Banfield and the spiraling crime problem in the country.  Over the course of approximately 3 weeks the group met with other NGOs to stage the event carded for the January 6th, 2017 – the day of the first sitting of parliament for the year.  

I did not attend the event but managed to pass by and take a quick look. I also followed the videos and comments on Facebook and various media coverage. Several questions emerged for me as someone interested in building knowledge around civil society and governance issues.

1. Message and Branding

The impetus for the action stemmed directly from the recent murder of yet another woman – Shannon Banfield. Yet the January 6th protest/rally/solidarity event seemed to lack a specific focus. Instead many civil society groups came together to protest? crime. But there were talks of procurement bills, posters calling for banning fireworks and getting help for the mentally ill. It seems that the various civil society groups came together to show support for addressing crime but there did not seem to be a clear message or policy action as the basis for the action.

Unlike the protests in Feburary 2016 re the Asami Nagakiya murder, there was no specific action or ‘ask’ as the basis. The protesters at the Feb 2016 event wanted something specific – for the Mayor to be fired.  And the reason was clearly articulated – because his comments promoted rape culture and blaming the woman for crimes committed against her. It was not just a vengeance action but one that identified the importance of the state’s responsibility in communicating messages that unequivocally denounce violence against women as a key policy premise.

At the Jan 06 event there wasn’t a specific rallying cry behind which all civil society groups could get behind. Yes, there are million problems wrong with the policing and criminal justice system in Trinidad and Tobago, but a protest should have a specific purpose, if not for  sake of creating a really good chant. A good chant is important for so many reasons – It conveys a clear message about what you want, it unifies people, and it brands the event. Which brings me to my second question

2. Disruption vs. Organization

What exactly was the civil society event? Was it a protest? Or was it as reported in the media “a kick off” of a larger series of activities to be initiated by civil society to fight crime. If it was the latter, I think an opportunity was lost.

What brought people together in the first place was Shannon’s murder. And it is less useful  to try and figure out why this murder and not the many others was a catalyzing force than to seize the opportunity to galvanize people to action. The newspaper reports (sadly) that the plan is for civil society to come up with a DOCUMENT (insert womp womp music here).

Listen, organization is good and necessary to be able to implement well thought out plans. But there are hundreds of very good documents all over Trinidad with some of the very same recommendations that this group will also come up with. What we need is a shift in the policy space. And that doesn’t often come from nice orderly negotiation. It comes from disruption. Governments are unmoved by emotional pleas but if something gets in the way of them conducting business as usual, they will be forced to listen.

I note that the Minister of National Security was invited to attend and made a nice little speech where he told those gathered that it was the community who were best placed to fight crime, totally absolving himself and the state of responsibility. He came, had his say and proceeded to make his way out when he was confronted by a few persons who asked him directly what was he doing to stop crime. This for me was actually the most important thing that happened because it put the focus back on the state and its accountability. However, in the interest of moving things along smoothly, those shouting at the Minister were told to quiet themselves so the next speaker could come up and give a prepared speech. Don’t get me wrong, what civil society leaders have to say is very important but I question whether that was the time to do it. My understanding was that this event took place in front of parliament to ‘disrupt’ their proceedings and make them answer to the people. But that didn’t happen. Every Minister came and went cool as cucumber. Nobody asked them for anything and the Minister of National Security came, blamed the people, grinned, shook hands with folks and coast out. Meh.

3. Data and Monitoring

I think there should have been a specific policy ‘ask’. You eat a whole cow piece by piece but there needed to be at least one immediate action that civil society should have asked government to put in place. Perhaps something to do with police accountability.

I think one really good way that civil society can impact the policy space is by monitoring and data collection. Evidence based policy is most effective in addressing the root causes of societal problems. I note the introduction of the CSAFE App – a collaboration between the NGO Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT) and the Ministry of National Security. This app seeks to map crime and involve citizens in identifying where crime occurs. I wonder though, if for civil society it may not be more important to map police response to crime. One of the biggest issues citizens have with crime is that the police do not respond, do not take effective action in a timely manner to stop crime or resolve investigations. Wouldn’t it be great if we had an app where citizens could document when they reported a crime, type of crime, police station, response from police and whether or not they got justice? Wouldn’t this tell us so much more about the challenges experienced in policing? Wouldn’t it make police stations/ districts more accountable?

4. Civil Society and Partnerships

As civil society moves through the process of collaborating with state agencies and the private sector, I would like to caution that it can be so easy to get co-opted and lose sight of your purpose and the interests you serve. We can’t get very far without collaborating with the state but very often offers to sit on various boards and advisory committees find civil society representatives assuming the values and objectives of the state while losing sight of the interests of their constituents.

Similarly, branding your civil society action with that of a private sector partner could be misconstrued as partisan and elite. While the private sector should contribute to civil society actions, they should ‘add’ their own voice to the policy space rather than speaking in the voice of civil society.

Finally, hindsight is 20/20 and every action we take is an opportunity to learn and advance our cause. I applaud the action by civil society and especially find the amount of collaboration and networking to have been a formidable achievement. I think it’s a great start to a new phase in our collective consciousness as a society where the continuous work of civil society over the years will bear fruition.

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Who does violence against women affect? Everyone. We invite you, your team, network and community to join us on March 8, International Women’s Day as we discuss violence and what we can do about it in our communities, workplaces and on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Town Hall starts at 7:00 pm at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, but we encourage you to join us at 5:00 pm in Woodford Square (opposite City Hall), where we will be gathering for a vigil to honour the women whose lives were taken last year, as a result of violence.

Some of the issues we will be looking during the town hall are:

  • What is violence against women?
  • What is gender based violence?
  • What local and international laws do we have that protect women and children against violence?
  • What are some of the gaps in policy and who do we need to talk to to improve them?
  • How do we build grassroots organisations that can protect vulnerable community members?

The Town Hall starts at 7:00 pm at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, but we encourage you to join us at 5:00 pm in Woodford Square (opposite City Hall), where we will be gathering for a vigil to honour the women whose lives were taken last year, as a result of violence.

Who are we?

Women. Men. Teachers. Psychologists. Actors. Journalists. Fashion Designers. Farmers. Photographers. Home-makers. Students. Mothers. Office workers. Concerned citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

We all have a part to play in creating a safer society for women and children.

For more information – please contact the coordinators of the “Say Something” group – Angelique V. Nixon Jacqueline Morris Khadija Sinanan Tillah Willah Stephanie Leitch Amanda T. McIntyre

Email –

For Press and Media, contact Stephanie Leitch or Jacqueline Morris or email us at


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