With the mid-afternoon sun bearing down their backs, women and members of at least 19 social justice organisations departed City Gate, Port-of-Spain, yesterday and poured onto the streets of the city, leaving behind their homes and jobs to amplify their calls on the authorities to end gender-based violence on International Women’s Day.
According to Samantha Juman, co-founder of the group An Act for Change, while the day celebrated the achievements of women, it also cast light on many languishing issues which continue to pervade society.
“The first one is the call for safer transportation for women, the second one is calling for the national strategic plan to end gender-based violence, this is actually a UN-endorsed strategic plan and we are one of the countries that haven’t implemented a similar plan and the third one is really for social reformation programmes, especially in schools,” Juman told Guardian Media during the event.
Juman said with 11 domestic violence-related murders for the year so far, swift actions were needed from policymakers to safeguard women.
The sentiment was shared by Deborah Lewis, who was among the crowd.
“We want to walk free, we want to be able to walk on the streets freely without being afraid all the time. We have to do something about it, it is time,” Lewis said.
The voices of nearly 200 women and men echoed from Independence Square to the Parliament, as they shouted a message punctuated by the commemoration of International Women’s Day.
Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) deputy general secretary Sharsa David also seized the opportunity to lobby the Government to ratify treaties adopted to protect the rights of domestic workers.
“We’re calling for the authorities to put things in place to protect us and this march today, where we called on women to leave where they are and walk out, a few of us walked out from our workplaces in solidarity with the movement.”
Radesh Heeralal, co-founder of the group Leave She Alone, said recent activism had put the spotlight on a lot of challenges meted out to the female population and it was necessary to continue to advocate for change.
“I left my job to be here, we must change the way we view women and behave towards them, they must be respected and protected. Too many things happening and people not taking action, we must all do our part.”
With this year’s campaign theme being Choose to Challenge, demonstrators again applied the pressure. “We choose to challenge the Government for the security of the country,” one female participant said.
Another added, “I’m choosing to challenge parents who are raising young women and men to think differently, teach their girls to be strong and comfortable and their boys to be respectful.”
One elderly woman pointed out, “We generally need to change our attitude and our culture defines us. We have a horrible culture as it relates to women’s rights and gender issues and we need to change that.”
According to participants, gender equality must also be at the heart of post-pandemic recovery.
The demonstration culminated at Woodford Square, where the crowd continued to agitate for a gender-equal society.