PORT OF SPAIN – The elimination of violence against women must be one of this country’s main areas of focus.
This was the view expressed by Sharon Rowley, wife of prime minister Dr Keith Rowley, yesterday, as she said the physical and mental abuse of the nation’s women had now become a national plague.
Delivering the feature address at the official opening of a week of activities marking International Women’s Day at the School of Education, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Rowley said she longed for an end to the headlines of horror in the daily newspapers.
“Many women and girls struggle alone. They fight alone. We cannot leave them alone. There must be an end to the headlines of horror such as, ‘Last Words of an Abused Mom’, ‘Teacher Killed During Domestic Dispute’ and ‘Grief in Coalmine’,” Rowley told the gathering at the event, which was titled Press for Gender Justice.
“Domestic violence, coupled with the physical and mental abuse of our women, is now a national plague. And it matters not who you are or where you come from. You can still be a victim.”
Rowley said all must play a part in ensuring the society is safe and secure for all.
“We have an important role to play in positively influencing the minds of our children, so that by their actions they can contribute to the eradication of gender-based violence and injustice.
“We must guide our sons and daughters on the importance of gender justice. We must teach them that every boy and girl must be treated equally. We must teach our sons to respect our women. We must teach our children to respect themselves.”
Referring to her husband, Rowley urged all men to be equally visible and vocal in the quest for gender equality.
“I am married to a man who holds fast to the belief of equality of the sexes and we have raised our two daughters to accept that belief in gender parity,” she said.
Emphasizing that T&T’s Constitution acknowledges the equal and inalienable rights of all citizens, Rowley said currently there are 13 women in the house of representatives and nine in the senate, inclusive of house speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and senate president Christine Kangaloo.
“We have been gender-inclusive in our politics since the 1960’s. We may not have reached the 50/50 mark, but we are on our way there,” Rowley said.
She added, however, that the unfortunate truth is that there are still too many women in T&T who have no idea what gender parity is about.
“There are still too many women here in T&T who struggle, who don’t know about equal pay for equal work, who have to deal with sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence,” she said.
“There are children who, because of the antiquated practice of child marriage, now abolished in T&T, had their childhood ended, education curtailed and economic opportunities minimized.”
Rowley remembered names from past parliaments to the present, including: Isabel Techier, Olive Walke, Muriel Donawa, Marilyn Gordon, Camille Robinson-Regis and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, T&T’s first female prime minister.
“All of the above women are examples of empowered women. They show us that if we wish, we can have economic, social and political empowerment. It is my firm belief that we all can be similarly empowered,” Rowley said.
“We can be all we can be. But let us not be lured into complacency thinking that we have gained true equality. As we witness the presence of more women in the boardroom and in parliament, as we witness an increased number of women who can be seen as role models in every aspect of life, whether as doctors, lawyers or engineers, all traditionally male-dominated professions.”
Rowley also proudly recognized and welcomed T&T’s first female president, Justice Paula-Mae Weekes, who will take up office on March 19.