FLASHBACK - Participants in the International Women’s Day march leave City Gate on their way to the Red House in their fight to highlight gender-based violence against women, in March 2021.

Despite State commitments to gender equality, a lot more work is required to close the gaps, says the Caribbean Women in Leadership (CIWiL), as it reiterated its call for true gender equality in Trinidad and Tobago.

In its statement issued in observance of the 45 Anniversary of Republic Day, CIWiL notes that this country can celebrate having women at the helm of the highest offices of the land—as President and Prime Minister—but is still plagued by the scourge of gender-based violence, which has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The following is the full text of CIWiL’s statement… 

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – 24 September 2021: It is with a tremendous sense of pride and exultation, that the Regional Secretariat joins the CIWiL Trinidad and Tobago National Chapter and the people of Trinidad and Tobago in commemorating the 45th anniversary of the founding of our Republic.

In 1976, our new constitution was enacted and it enshrined foundational values and principles which were as crucial then to solidifying our nation’s sovereignty as they are today for preserving our democracy and freedom. The constitution is the mother of all laws in our country and it recognises and protects our rights as citizens to education, adequate employment, property, freedom of expression, access to justice, protection from violence, participation in public life and institutions, as well as political rights and association. We are further assured that these civil liberties are equal and inalienable and accessible to all humans without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex.

1976 was no doubt a propitious year for establishing the primacy of equality, and remarkably, not only for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Internationally, 1976 was declared by the UN General Assembly as the start of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, and it sought to reaffirm women’s rights as human rights, to promote their rights to equal opportunities and to demonstrate the importance of women’s participation in the development process to the achievement of justice, lasting peace and social progress.

During that decade and soon after, Trinidad and Tobago, as did several other countries around the world, ratified international agreements such as The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Convention of Belém do Pará, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – all of which behove us to protect and guarantee the rights of women and girls.

So guided, our country has indeed made some steps forward towards greater equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 shows that Trinidad and Tobago currently ranks at number 37 out of 156 countries in terms of gender parity and that we have made the greatest advancements for gender equality in the area of educational attainment.

On the other hand, it shows that 58% of women compared to 79% of men participate in the labour force, and the estimated earned income for men is nearly twice as high as that of women. Further, the 2018 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago reveals the worsening epidemic of violence against women and girls in the country. About 30% of women between the ages 15 and 64, with an intimate partner, reported experiencing at least one act of physical and/or sexual partner violence in their lifetime, and 19% experienced sexual abuse by non-partners. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming 140% increase in reported cases of gender-based violence.  It is thus evident that despite State commitments to gender equality, a lot more work is required to close the gaps.

Now, 45 years on from our Republican Constitution, Trinidad and Tobago can proudly celebrate having had women at the helm as both Prime Minister and President. We may be wont to assume that women’s assumption of our country’s foremost offices signals an end to gender inequality in leadership, but rather, this should only demonstrate the value of women leaders and the need for more.

A closer look at the data from the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 shows fewer women than men across the board – as senior officials, managers, legislators and government ministers. To add, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s latest (September 2021) global monthly ranking of women in national parliaments reveals that Trinidad and Tobago sits at number 79, and while women make up 40.6% of our Senate, only 26.2% of the lower house comprises women. Indeed, the Beijing Platform for Action clarifies that representation does not automatically denote gender equality. It also reminds us that the persistent exclusion or absence of women from formal politics and political decision-making negatively impacts democracy.

Today when we reflect on our journey to becoming a Republic, we must resolve to stop the scourge of gender inequality from undermining our hard-won democracy. Today, CIWiL calls upon our nation to reassert its commitments to gender equality.

As we celebrate Republic Day this year, may we heed the supremacy of the Rule of Law within our Republican Constitution and its basis in the fundamental human rights and freedoms conferred equally on us all. Even whilst we savour how far we’ve come may we also have the good faith to acknowledge and address the persistent inequalities that impede some citizens from enjoying the same rights as others.

May we be reminded that inherent in our country’s status as a Republic, is power vested in the people.

And may we thus feel emboldened and empowered, at once by our freedoms and by our responsibilities as citizens, to shape the kind of society we imagine – the kind of society envisioned so many years ago in 1976 – one where every man, woman and child truly has an equal place.