International Women’s Day Message From Senator Shevern Lewis-John

Today, March 8th, is celebrated globally as International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, and political achievements of women around the world. It is a day that reminds us of the continuing struggle for women’s rights and inspires people to fight for gender equality.

The theme for this year is “Women in Leadership, Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World”. Over the years, significant strides have been made globally with respect to women in leadership positions, showing that the glass ceiling may slowly be breaking. However, women have not achieved gender parity and much effort is needed by our government to ensure that women are well represented at leadership levels and are given authority and autonomy at the highest level in decision making. Our democratic values can be sustained and enhanced only when women participate equally in decision-making.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of issues that must be addressed in order to achieve gender equality. First, there has been an increase in poverty in most countries and women have been worst affected. Although women have been elevated to senior positions in government ministries and in the leadership of the Covid-19 Task Force, there is still a large majority at the lower strata of society whose social and economic lives are largely unaffected. The increase in poverty means that our women now earn less, save less, and have little or no financial security. It is important, therefore, that government establishes a social safety net to support financially vulnerable women.

Moreover, in light of the closure of schools and some businesses, there has been an increase workload for women, who must now ensure that they sustain themselves and also do the domestic work, for which they are not paid. As a result of the unpaid care work, our women are bearing the strain of the economic fallout from the pandemic. This creates a mental strain on the women. This requires immediate attention from the government. However, the government has shown it is not adequately prepared for the task.

Secondly, the pandemic has also caused women to be more frequently exposed to all forms of violence. The fact that women and their partners are at home together, more, during the pandemic has led to an increase in domestic violence.  Our police and social services are not adequately prepared to deal with this increase in domestic violence. As a result, many reports are left unanswered or are acted upon very late. This exacerbates delays and increases difficulties in accessing support. Further, there is a need for more shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse, as the one existing shelter is insufficient to meet the increase in domestic violence cases. The New Democratic Party continues to call for more and better shelters for women who need shelter from domestic violence.

Thirdly, many women continue to face sexual harassment in the workplace. There is no apparent plan by the government to deal with this problem. Combating sexual harassment requires all stakeholders to be actively and continually engaged. This includes an urgent review of the legislative framework. Regardless of social status, measures must be put in place to deal with all offenders who abuse their positions of power to sexually harass women in the workplace. There must be dialogue that will focus on systemic change, accelerate progress, and empower women.

We will create an inclusive society only when our women have equal opportunity to make their mark and to take decisions without being fearful. They must “Choose to Challenge”. They must be like Elma Francois, who was born in Overland, migrated to Trinidad and Tobago and has been credited with forming the first notable gender-neutral space for political activism. She was declared a national heroine of Trinidad and Tobago. I encourage all women to continue to stand strong and to be bold in whatever you do so that we can create a better future for all of us.


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