What is the big deal about Gender Affairs

On Friday 11th September, 2015 when the new Ministers of Government of Trinidad and Tobago were announced, there was a noticeable absence of the Gender Affairs Ministry. Later it was revealed that Gender Affairs will now fall under Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.

“What is the big deal about having a Gender Affairs Ministry anyway?”

Since 1993, the portfolio for Women’s Affairs was recognised and prioritized in the naming of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Women’s Affairs. Then in 1998 Women’s Affairs was changed to Gender Affairs in recognition that many of the issues affecting the status of women were structural, and based on the institutionalization of societal and cultural norms that impact the way men and women are valued and treated. It was recognised that in order to change the position of women in society that gender perspectives needed to be mainstreamed in all sectors so that we could analyse and examine the ways in which women and men were treated differently and impacted differently by various policies, programmes and development strategies. There also needed to be an examination of the ways in which men and women related to each other in the public and private sphere and how the exercise of power and prescribed roles impacted individual freedoms, rights and responsibilities.

The Gender Affairs Division is a focal point for this work. It is charged with influencing, monitoring and developing the mechanisms necessary to ensure that a gender perspective is present in the work of ALL Ministries. It is an arduous process, as all transformative type interventions are. We are asking people to change the way they view the world and their place in it. We are asking people to dig deeper and recognise that actions are not neutral – they do not occur in a vacuum. They are the result of centuries of messages about how we view and value men and women as well as masculine and feminine attributes, roles and behaviours.

“Gender Affairs never do nothing. Just give them Women NGOs a set a money to eat ah food.”

Social transformation is a complex process that involves not just legislative change but change in the minds and hearts of people. Much of the work of the Gender Affairs Division is accomplished by partnering with NGOs who work at the local level to highlight what is taking place in homes, villages and communities. Through the hard work of Women’s NGOs, which for the most part operate based on volunteer work, several gains have been made.

  • Establishment of Women’s Domestic Violence Shelters, Counselling and other services for women and children who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and poverty.
  • Legislative reform and expansion of laws relating to domestic violence, rape, rape within marriage, age of consent, property and citizenship rights, rights of workers, maternity leave, cohabitation recognition and child maintenance.
  • Provided data and insight for reporting to international conventions to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory including CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). Trinidad and Tobago’s development status and ratings on the international level are augmented based on our ratification of such agreements as gender justice is seen as a key indicator of national development.

“We have one set of women in Ministerial positions. That will take care of gender.”

Women in positions of political power have the platform to put forward issues that affect women and encourage the Cabinet to reflect such in its strategies. However, the mere presence of women doesn’t mean that they will choose to take on an advocacy role on issues of gender or that they will gain the support of the Cabinet if they do.

What ensures that gender issues receive priority is the explicit promotion and implementation of policy regarding gender as well as the required and adequate, technical and financial resources allocated for programmes and strategies across ALL Ministries and the strengthening of the Gender Focal Point – The Gender Affairs Division – to lead and monitor the process. It also requires that the NGO sector, who bear the burden for much of the service delivery functions related to women’s social and financial needs, is also prioritized and resourced so that they can more effectively do their work.

“Gender means both men and women. Gender Affairs only interested in helping women and not men in society.”

Since 2000, the Gender Affairs Division has run programmes for men including:

  • Gender Sensitisation Workshops for Males in First Form schools
  • A Male Issues Forum which addressed issues of men’s health, drug abuse and domestic violence
  • Training of male counsellors for Drop- In Centers to help male perpetrators of domestic violence
  • Defining Masculine Excellence Programme
  • Food Preparation and Home Management for Men and Boys

Many of the issues dealt with still focus a great deal on women, because women are still disproportionally affected by poverty, child care burdens, domestic and sexual violence, unemployment, wage discrimination and reproductive issues.

There is also a recognition that issues affecting men impact on women and vice versa. It’s not a competition. The end goal is a better quality of life for men AND women and this means redressing some of the structural and social issues that cause an imbalance in the ways in which men and women are treated.

“Gender Affairs just want to promote homosexuality and abortion.”

In the past the Gender Affairs Division has not dealt with issues related to sexuality and abortion. While these issues were highlighted in a draft Gender and Development Policy, several reiterations of the document have excluded addressing the matter.

You can put your head in the sand but the issues will not go away.

Several women’s and LGBTQ interest groups have voiced their desire to have these issues addressed. While we may all have our own personal or religious views on the matter, these are issues that are present and real and impact the health and well-being and freedom of many of our citizens. As our society evolves, so must our institutions.

Persons in the LGBTQ community are part of YOUR community. They are your neighbours, your children, your doctors, your garbage men, your grocery cashiers, your Bank managers. They are not going anywhere and they need to be protected from discrimination in jobs, health care and must be able to avail themselves to the protections that all members of this society are entitled to.

Women have abortions. You may not agree with it but they do. Rich women, poor women, educated women, young girls, older women, married women, mothers, victims of rape. Women who do not have access to integrated sexual and reproductive health care and education are at risk of having more unwanted pregnancies. And those who are able to afford proper healthcare will pay for it here or go abroad. And those who have no resources, options, or support will have abortions done by unlicensed persons and some will end up in hospital with life-threatening infections.

It’s something we need to address. And we do not have to have all the answers today, but we need to start talking about it. We need to explore what are the policy options.

“Yes, well if these Women NGOs want the Government to do something about the Gender Affairs situation, why don’t they get off their butts and say something.”

Women’s NGOs have always taken the lead in pushing forward for changes in the position of women in society – issues that invariably also relate to children and families, health-care, care giving for the elderly, environment and food security.

These are issues that affect us ALL. The status of women and gender considerations do not only affect women. Whether a mother can work and care for her children affects the health, well-being and academic performance of our future generations. When men in rural communities cannot find work because of a lack of industry and infrastructure, they leave the family, make new families in other communities leaving wives and children destitute. When boys are seduced by images of masculinity that promote aggression and lack of empathy, we have young men engaging in violence and crime. When we have no comprehensive sex and reproductive education and services, we find young girls and boys becoming parents, having unwanted pregnancies, risking sexually transmitted diseases, and establishing dysfunctional relationships.

So everyone in civil society needs to make Gender Affairs their business. And they need to support Women’s NGOs, who work tirelessly, with little resources, to advance a better quality of life for all citizens. Make Gender a priority in Trinidad and Tobago.

Simone Leid

The WomenSpeak Project

It can be challenging for young Women’s NGOs to find their footing. A great way to avoid some of the pitfalls is to learn from others. The WomenSpeak Project is piloting a workshop that will encourage Women’s NGOs in their nascent years to come together to share experiences and learn key principles around building a solid foundation for accomplishing their work. If you are interested or know someone who may be interested please share this introductory video and drop me a line at womenspeakproject(at)gmail.com.

I am disturbed

I am disturbed

Call to Action: Everyone has a right to be

Call to Action: Everyone has a right to be

Street Harassment Twitter Chat Tonight!

Tonight – June 26th 2013- is the first #catchafyah tweet-up on #streetharassment in the Caribbean. Join the conversation on Twitter at 8pm Eastern Caribbean time. Have you ever experienced street harassment in the Caribbean? How did you react? What can be done to change things? What does street harassment look, feel and sound like in the Caribbean? What does street harassment say about Caribbean gender relations?“

Follow me at @WomenSpeakPro as well as other #catchafyah Caribbean twitterati who will be participating like @redforgender @sheroxlox @malaikaBSL  @JahageeSisters @sablikatriumph @BlakkaEllis

Check out some our posts on Street Harassment on WomenSpeak tagged #streetharassment and let us know your thoughts tonight. 


Poster developed by Tracey Chan and Stephanie Leitch

An Open Letter to Caribbean Men from Caribbean Women

An Open Letter to Caribbean Men from Caribbean Women

Poem – Gender Equality

I have traveled far
but where have I reached?
I have adapted to roles
that have changed like tides of sea.
I give you all,
you take all from me
yet won’t place me where I am meant to be,
wont give me what is due to me.
Not only you,
all of humanity.

It started when I was a child,
even as toddler it was instilled in me,
with dolls and delicate toys
that evoke

As I grew older I saw your dominance
all around.
Enforced by society
with labels
placed on me
when I’m ‘scantily clad’,
if I am with more than one man,
if my kids have different dads.
Fear of being labeled
keep me in line
not all but a lot of the time.

Even media uplifts you
implying you’re better,
the heights all wisdom,
leaders of nations.
Let me tell you a few things
you know nothing about,
child birth, lactation.
Educational factors handicap
indirectly teaching me
economic dependency.
In the workplace
is a glass ceiling
that I’ve cracked
but can’t seem to break.

I see your dominance in every institution—
except the home.
Here, suddenly I know whats best.
Even if you’re there,
you’re marginal
children fatherless.
So after work I come home
clean everyone’s mess—
Life’s a plantation
I’m a house slave.
End of the day, tired as hell
still sexually available to you.
When you plant your seed
I bear
and again
building nations that you will rule,
nations that will disregard me
like you did,
like you still do.

Your masculinity enforced
through religion and myth too.
In the Church
You always preaching to me.
Why can’t I give a word to you?
Don’t feel so bad when I recognise
The inequality isn’t only in my house
its in the Lord’s house too.
You preach that God gave Adam’s rib to Eve
and said in Genesis 3:16
that you should rule over me.
You don’t interpret it with guidance and love
which is the way God rules over us all
but with dominance and aggression,
treating me like a mere possession.
I’m so much more.
Your other half—is me.
Spiritually broken,
can’t fulfill our true purpose,
or what were meant to be.
Man and woman both incomplete,
never to be whole,
until we stand abreast,
as two bodies,
two minds,
one soul.

If all other enforcement tactics fail
forms of harrasment and violence
is an ever present
and effective way
in which you intimidate me
You feel even more powerful
seeing me bent head and lowered eyes
or back bent and on my knees.
Its not enough that you own me
You must ruin me too.

All these factors
over time
internalized by me
developing a temperament and sense
of inferiority
that wont end
its a cycle you see
I’ll continue to instil it
in the ones that come after
it will become a part of them
as much as its a part of me
How will I ever break free?
I don’t have the answer,
it was not taught to me.

I have travelled far
but where have I reached?
I have to adapted to roles
that have changed like tides of sea.
I give you all,
you take all from me
yet won’t place me where I am meant to be,
wont give me what is due to me.

Until then in God I abide,
praying for the day
you pull me from underneath you
and place me at your side.
If not in this one
then in my next life.

Spoken by: the voice of past and present dutiful daughters, mothers, and wives.

© G. Emmanuel 2009


Ask WomenSpeak

“Hey simone interesting post and no I’m not a Woman but a Man. I agree with what your saying, since believe me or not have self-control. Anyway since we both are qualified in Sociology at the tertiary level let me ask this question. There is as you know a psychosocial relationship between the sexes. So is it that if a woman wears a short skirt she herself thinks its sexy or is that men like to see more skin and they think its sexy? in other words is a woman’s thoughts on what is sexy based on men”

You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur. 
― Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride

Dear Anonymous,

I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean by “psychosocial relationship” but I do know that the relationship between men and women is influenced by many factors: physical/hormonal; cultural; social.

So, it may be perfectly natural to want to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex, but perhaps the way one determines what that looks like, depends on our cultural definitions of what is ‘sexy’, as well as social ‘gender scripts’ about how women should behave towards men, and men towards women.

Certainly, we know that all modern societies are still greatly driven by the ‘male perspective’. So that the way both women and men come to view the world is based on a male-centred value system. Therein is the conundrum faced in the above quote by Margaret Atwood.

Were you alive when baby-doll dresses were all the rage? I loved me some baby-doll dresses. My boyfriend hated them. Loose and shapeless; not what he thought of as sexy. So maaaaaybe when I was going out with him, I miiiiiight have maybe put on something else. Or not.

What am I trying to say? Well, just that it’s all mixed up and although we are all influenced by these various cultural, social and biological factors, each individual may be more, or less influenced by one factor over the others. In turn this will therefore differently determine the way we relate to men or women, or the choices we make about how we want to present ourselves – in dress, in attitude, in demeanor.

What is important to remember in the context of gender equity and justice is that regardless of a woman’s choice of dress, and for whatever reasons she has made that choice, it does not give others the right to infringe upon her human rights to safety, freedom of movement and freedom from harassment – verbal or physical.