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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