I offer my salute to the women of this nation as they prepare to celebrate yet another International Women’s Day (IWD) next Monday. We in St Vincent and the Grenadines have been observing this most international of global activities since the year 1974, being one of the first in the Caribbean to do so consistently.
Over those years, IWD has met our women facing all sorts of challenges, but in terms of impact, perhaps none as deep-seated as this one in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Not only have there been dangers to health and life, but the disruption in the economic and social life of our people has been severe. Working mothers have been particularly hard hit with lay-offs especially in the hospitality industry and reduced incomes or in many cases none at all save for state assistance.
There is also the social problem of the enforced closure of schools, even pre-schools and day-care centres, leaving mothers with the additional problem of trying to take care of their children while seeking alternative employment or sources of income.
While it is true that fathers have, in the last decade or two, become more supportive and cooperative in handling such domestic problems, there is still a high degree of irresponsibility on the part of men in our society. Those who claim almost a divine right to leadership must understand that it carries with it the weight of responsibility. It is no wonder that the themes for this year’s IWD revolve around issues of challenging and leadership.
International Women’s Day is not about platitudes congratulating women and then back to square one on March 9. It is true that the position of women in our society has improved over the years. Women are now prominent in leadership positions in many areas of public life. But the real test of the progress of women is that such advances on a personal or organisational level must begin to generate an upliftment for the status of all women. The society itself can only benefit if those at the bottom are uplifted for they will raise the entire society with them.
Those who are privileged to earn leadership positions must themselves become advocates for those at the bottom of society, be the voices for the voiceless. They must use their positions of influence to shed light on the continued discrimination against women as a whole, to draw attention to the plight of women and girls in deprived communities, rural and urban. Women who occupy important positions must use the levers at their disposal to trigger mechanisms for firm action to end the scourge of violence against women. We cannot be satisfied with just marches and rallies on November 25 each year, we NEED ACTION NOW!
Disrespect and disregard of the rights of any woman must become an affront to all women. The campaigns against the sexual exploitation and harassment of women must be given the full, public and enthusiastic support of women in influential positions and organisations with considerable influence. We must begin to challenge those responsible for the dispensation of justice for the relative leniency sometimes shown towards sexual offenders and perpetrators of violence against women. And, “women of substance” must begin to demonstrate their mettle by treating their domestic workers with respect and dignity, ensuring that they too can lead decent lives for themselves and their families. We will all be better off because of it.
These are some of the challenges before our women, and by extension us all as we mark IWD next week. The challenge for an end to inequality and injustice, crimes which affect women in particular, begins with us on a personal level and goes right up the society. We have much to celebrate on IWD 2021 but we must acknowledge that we have a long way to go and commit ourselves to staying the course.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.