Statement by the Honourable Minister of Social Transformation and Human Resource Development, Youth, and Gender Affairs, Samantha Marshall on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019
Since 1911, March 8, International Women’s Day, has been regarded as a day to honour the strides made by women all over the world individually and collectively towards achieving gender equality. The Ministry of Social Transformation, Human Resource Development, Youth, and Gender Affairs, through its Directorate of Gender Affairs is pleased to join the global community in this celebration today.
However, International Women’s Day is not just a time to celebrate. It is a time when we reassess what women’s empowerment means for us, looking at where we have been and where we need to go next. It is a time to brainstorm strategies that will help us create the kind of world we want to live in; one where all people, especially our women and girls are free from the physical violence that threatens our lives, and from the stigma and discrimination that stops us from living up to our fullest potential.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change. It is a call for us to shift our mind-sets and dream up new, dynamic ways to dismantle the status quo and create an equitable society.
As we move towards the year 2030 and aim to fulfil the sixteen Sustainable Development Goals thinking equal will become words to live by. The United Nations has identified the goal of gender equality as indisputably necessary to the achievement of all the other goals. In short, in order to ensure the sustained existence of our planet, and by extension the human race, we must begin to not only see women and men as equal contributors to society but to also treat them as such; providing the same rights, opportunities and protections to all.
Often, it becomes all too easy to allow the gains of the past to lull us into a false sense of security. There are some who would say, “Look how far women in Antigua & Barbuda have come! They can do whatever they want now. There are no laws to stop women from participating in leadership. Gender equality has been achieved. Surely, the women’s movement has done enough.”
Yes, Antigua and Barbuda’s women’s movement has indeed come a long way since 1981 when the Women’s Desk was first commissioned within the office of the Prime Minister. Antigua and Barbuda recently concluded its constructive dialogue with the committee for the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. As a nation, we had the opportunity to reflect on our successes, challenges and opportunities for the past 20 years. Indeed, we have come a very long way.
Today there are more women in Antigua & Barbuda who enjoy the highest level of political representation in our nation’s history with more women in the Senate than ever before. And, yes, more young women than ever are pursuing higher education and attaining advanced degrees in all fields, even those that are traditionally male-dominated including the science, technology, and engineering.
These are notable achievements and it is for reasons like these that we gather to celebrate on International Women’s Day. But there are still cultural and social ideologies that serve to limit the ideas of what is and is not appropriate, acceptable, or achievable for women and girls. Women still occupy lower levels of employment than men and must navigate issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. These and other issues remind us that we must keep pressing towards the mark of gender equality. There is always progress to be made and new glass ceilings to shatter.
We have no clearer example of that than the story of Antigua & Barbuda’s very own Island Girls. From a country of 108 square miles and approximately 100 000 people, four young women of African descent have become the first team of black women to successfully row across the Atlantic Ocean. Their story is one of courage, resilience, and strength; and it is these attributes that we will all need to draw upon to do as they have and reject the traditional expectations placed on us by both our race and gender in order to forge a new and different path. This International Women’s Day we are proud to celebrate Team Antigua Island Girls, and their achievement which has catapulted not only them, but our entire nation on to the world stage and into the history books.
The Ministry of Social Transformation, Human Resource Development, Youth, and Gender Affairs remains committed to building its capacity to serve the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable in new and creative ways. Gender-based and sexual violence remains a prevalent issue within our communities, predominantly affecting our women and girls, and is one that my ministry considers to be of the utmost importance. As such, we continue to work towards innovative methods to respond to, and prevent it, using the resources we have at hand and with support from partner agencies all over the world.
In the past year, in collaboration with the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project, the government of Canada, the Caribbean Court of Justice, and a range of other local stakeholder agencies, we have assisted in launching the Sexual Offences Model Court. The Sexual Offences Model Court or SOMC, will improve the handling of sexual offence cases by the local judiciary by reducing trial processing times, increasing coordination among the agencies involved in the handling of sexual offences,[Type here]
and improving the psycho-social support offered to survivors. We have also integrated the services offered by the Antigua Barbuda Support And Referral Centre through the Directorate of Gender Affairs into the Court. Vulnerable witnesses, including minors, will now be able to give testimony in sexual offence matters remotely through the use of video conferencing technology. This type of forward-thinking innovation for change has revolutionised the handling of sexual offence matters in Antigua & Barbuda, which we hope will set a new standard for the rest of the region.
Women’s voices are powerful. We are often the backbones of our community, silently and sometimes not so silently organising and advocating for the needs of others. The passage of hurricanes Maria and Irma within the past two years have brought the realities of climate change to our doorstep. It is even more important for us to find solutions to the most pressing problems of our time that will not merely provide a temporary stop gap but will ensure the survival of our planet. Build Smart encourages us to look beyond what we have done before and devise new ways to take care of our communities, our environment and each other.
This year’s International Women’s Day awardee, Ruth Spencer, is an entrepreneur and environmentalist whose work around the environment, sustainability, and grassroots community activism has garnered a great deal of recognition and support throughout the region as well as internationally. From installing solar panels at her guesthouse to reducing her energy bills, to becoming the National coordinator for the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, Ruth has been able to bring environmentally sustainable, climate resilient solutions to the community and is a living example of what happens when we seek to “Build Smart”. Today we celebrate Ruth with the inaugural International Women’s Day Award.
We also take this opportunity to salute all women across Antigua and Barbuda. Women have made significant contributions in this nation in various fields such as; education, health, social development, finance, in the private sector, in churches and communities just to name a few. Today we celebrate you and we honour and recognize your commitment to national building.
As we reflect on the achievements of our women, let us also reflect on the global theme: “balance for better.” Let us strive to achieve gender equity and equality between our men and women. Let us join together to break down the negative gender stereotypes and cultural practices that lead to further inequalities. Let us work together to create a better society for all.
It is my hope that as we move through today’s celebrations and events across our nation, we can all draw inspiration from each other and that we will be inspired to recommit ourselves to think equal, build smart, and innovate for change in our own lives today and every day to come.
Thank you and God bless.