“Make It Happen” – The theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2015, to be observed on March 8th, is short, but powerful. It is simple, direct and addresses the many complexities inherent in the challenges we face in our ongoing agitation for gender justice in our respective societies.
Its candor can be deemed as a clarion call for more decisive action and captures the frustration and fatigue with which some of us have come to regard the struggle. Twenty years after the signing of the historic Beijing Declaration of 1995, the struggle for gender justice continues notwithstanding the gains which have been achieved in some of the more progressive countries which have accepted and embraced the fact that women have significant contributions to make at a leadership level in the development of societies.
This year’s theme echoes Nike’s familiar slogan, “Just do it!” These three words evoke a sense of ownership in all of us – ownership of the problem and of the solution. It says to all that gender equality and women’s rights require concerted action; not talk, not excuses, not platitudes! It succinctly highlights the fact that society has the tools, the information and the ability to make it.
Observed as a holiday in many countries across the world, IWD requires us to be more introspective, insightful and investigative regarding the social, economical, political and cultural health of our women and girls. The day is intended to celebrate and protect the gains made in the quest for gender equality and similarly, to expose the injustices and artificial constructs which still plague women and girls in our society.
While women have made measurable gains since 1995, far too many remain trapped in the vicious cycles of violence, poverty and rigid cultural stereotypes which have stymied their holistic development. When the socio-economic dislocations occasioned by the global economic recession were tallied, the statistics revealed that women were disproportionately worse off than our male counterparts. In fact, most of the persons living in poverty here in Antigua and Barbuda are women who head the majority of single parent homes. Further, our women and girls are more susceptible to sexual crimes, intimidation and violence and women still struggle for respect and gender justice in the professional and political fields.
The time is now for us to reverse these trends in a real way! It is an imperative and we must recognize that our nation’s advancement is inextricably tied to the advancement of our women and girls which at its core, are issues of national security and national development.
Therefore on the occasion of the 104th anniversary of IWD, I remind our society and policy makers that these years have revealed that the complex economic and social problems facing our women and girls cannot be solved by applying a “gender-neutral” approach. Neither will they be solved if we disregard the fact that gender specific issues require a comprehensive approach to addressing them. Government and society must invest in programs which recognize the role of women as primary family care-givers as well as, the long-term effects of domestic violence and the negative impact of rigid gender stereotypes. Our women need greater responsive social services and policy makers who are committed to driving these advancements.
On this occasion, I take the opportunity, to request again that the Government withdraw the recent amendments to the Criminal Law Amendment (Amendment) Act 2015 recently passed in the Lower House and which will be debated in the Upper House this week. This law will have the draconian effects of penalizing and criminalizing women who need critical intervention from the State. Arguably, while the legislation may have intentions of curtailing one particular type of social challenge, it is myopic and shortsighted and does little to address the real socio-economic challenges being faced by these women and their families. I caution the Government to seize the opportunity presented here, and not further marginalize and discriminate against our women, but to uplift and advance them.
Let’s make it happen! Let’s invest in programs designed to uplift women and girls! Let’s amend and modernize laws addressing domestic violence and give women greater protection by the State! Let’s join forces with labour unions and advocate for equal pay for our women! Let’s all recognize that our collective and individual successes will be measured by how we regard and treat our women, girls and other marginalized groups. These are all moral and social imperatives which will determine how we advance as a nation. Make it happen!