What a month!
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
March 31, 2023

What a month!

We have come to the end of another month, but just not “another”. This historic month of March had its own special moments which we will remember, hopefully for a long time to come.

Starting with International Women’s Day (IWD), then wading through the International Garifuna Conference, National Heroes Day and the historic Garifuna pilgrimage to Balliceaux, and concluding with the celebration by the governing ULP of its unprecedented 22nd straight year at the helm of political power, we have had enough in one month to last us for many more. A few comments on some of these will occupy my attention this week.

First, limitations of space did not allow me to make more than brief comments on IWD. So I take this opportunity, while congratulating the efforts by those organizations and individuals to hold celebratory activities, to urge our women and their representative bodies to make an objective assessment of the progress achieved here over the last half century as a basis for their activities in the next decade at least.

No one can deny that where women’s rights and the thrust for equality are concerned, we have made significant progress. We now have a female Head of State, a woman presiding as Speaker over our Parliament. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is headed, for the first time ever, by a young female; the Public Service right up to the rank of Permanent Secretaries is female-dominated and even in the private sector women now hold important leadership positions. That is also the case in the media where women, once only visible as typists, are today not only in leadership positions but significantly in ownership as well.

Yet while we applaud these achievements, we must not be blind to the fact that we all have much further to go.

Impressive achievements at the leadership level must not blind us to the tasks for achieving broader collective advances in both equality as well as quality of life, security and well-being for all our women, particularly in the lower income bracket.

When we applaud our women as Governor General, as Speaker etc. we must not ignore that successive administrations have continued to place men in charge of a still scaled-down Ministry of Gender Affairs. Why this continues to be so, and the Ministry not given its proper status under female leadership continues to baffle me. The very fact that each year women have to stage demonstrations to demand an end to violence against women, tells us much about unfinished tasks, yet we do not seem to have these on the front burner.

Our education system itself, our religious teachings, are they designed to promote women’s equality and rights?

The big weakness in the coordination of the work of the myriad of women’s organizations, under a vibrant, enlightened and committed National body is a major contributory factor. We have too many influential, educated, and dedicated women to allow this situation to continue. Or is it that our women of influence and in leadership positions think that, in local colloquy, “we reach wey we gwine”?

In raising the issue of women’s role in the society and the need for an active, focused national coordinating body of women, one cannot but help recognize that this is a problem facing our entire civil society today. The impressive demonstration of civil society leadership and organization, halted repressive legislation in 1981 and brought about the downfall of a government in 2000. It was manifested in the unprecedented step of this country being the only one in the Caribbean, not just to recognize the important role of civil society, but to pass legislation in 2003 to provide for legal representation of the National Educational and Social development Council (NESDEC). Where is that today, and what has caused its virtual demise is another separate matter to which I intend to give attention. Suffice to say that we have regressed, on all fronts in this regard.

I have stressed through this column, again and again, that while there has been undoubted material progress, politically and socially we are far less conscious than a not so educated populace of the 70s and 80s. It therefore heartened me to hear the Prime Minister admit his party’s weakness in regard to political education and the need to address it. It is an important admission, for he himself is always lamenting our lack of social conscience and the “me me” mentality so prevalent today.

We will never be able to sustain our achievements in the long run if a minority continues to benefit at the expense of the majority, and in turn those not benefiting strive to get ahead on a personal level. Political and social consciousness are necessary but we must be under no illusion that PM Gonsalves alone or his party in isolation can do it. There must be a collective effort to lift the consciousness of all our citizens, whether they support the government or not. It will be to our collective benefit.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.