I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
The powerful lyrics of Helen’s Reddy’s I am Woman belted out more than four decades ago still reverberate around the globe today just as it did at the height of the feminist movement in the 1970’s.
Women have been roaring loudly of late and thankfully the world has sat up and paid attention.
In 2017, we witnessed the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements on social media change the conversation on the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
Barbados and the region have not been far behind.
A year earlier bold Caribbean women raised their own voices via the #LifeInLeggings movement which also heightened awareness on gender based violence.
These developments and others give this year’s observance of International Women’s Day (IWD) more meaning.
In fact they were the impetus for this year’s theme – #PressforProgress – encouraging people to fight for greater equality.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in his statement to mark the occasion, underscored that “achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world”.
Since the first IWD was celebrated exactly 110 years ago to press for women’s right to vote, work and end gender discrimination, there’s no mistaking that women have made admirable strides on virtually every front.
Barbados and the Caribbean can be justifiably proud of the achievements of its girls and women. Certainly in education, women are at the top of the class and, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, Barbados and Jamaica have achieved parity and another six countries are on the verge of doing so.
Women have also broken new ground in politics, media, medicine, engineering, technology, research, agriculture, on the bench, in the classroom, boardroom, on the track and even on the cricket pitch. For the second time in its history Barbados has a female Governor General and the possibility of it having its first female Prime Minister looms.
There is much to celebrate.
Today, this media house as part of its tribute to women in its annual Women’s Day publication featured the stories of phenomenal ladies who are making a big difference in their chosen careers. It’s a must read.
The overwhelming themes emerging are that our women are strong, tenacious, intelligent, compassionate, relentless, fearless and resourceful. Our homes, our societies, our country are much better off for providing them with the opportunities to live full, productive lives and by extension impact overall development.
Yet for all our advances, there are glaring gaps that must be closed.
Too many women have to endure the horrors of abuse – sexual, emotional and physical, sex trafficking, forced marriages, genital mutilation, rape, and ridiculous laws and customs.
In Barbados, we have a long way to go in terms of eliminating violence against women and girls. There have been too many occasions where women are bullied and beaten by their male partners.
And then there are other challenges, including discrimination and harassment on the job. Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts when it comes to the issue of pay and are more likely then men to live in poverty.
Hence, beyond today’s celebrations there must be greater effort to turn the tide.
Building a modern Barbados demands that both women and men are at the table.
Ensuring women have equal rights has nothing to do with the ridiculous suggestion that women are out to become superior to men.
Our men are critical to the conversation and need not remove themselves from the fight for gender parity on behalf of their wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and colleagues, not just on IWD, but every day.
As the curtains come down on today’s organized marches, workshops and other events, let us recommit to building an even better society for our women and girls to live, work and play in.