Address by Sen. Hon. Tessa Mangal
on the occasion of International Women’s Day
8th March, 2007
Theme: Women, Political Power and Leadership
As the Minister responsible for Gender Relations, it is my honour and duty to wish each and every Saint Lucian woman a warm, uplifting and motivating International Women’s Day. I also salute all our women for your outstanding contributions to humanity both visible and not so visible.
Our theme for the observance of International Women’s Day this year is: “Women, Political Power and Leadership.” In bringing this theme to life, I must take the opportunity to salute our grass roots women who have struggled and continue to struggle to break down the barriers of sex discrimination and are now beginning to blossom in positions of power and authority. Achievements abound all around us and I am indeed elated that we are making significant strides in almost all spheres of society.
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year by women and women’s organisations around the world. In many countries International Women’s Day is designated a national holiday in recognition of the immense contribution that women make to development and hopefully someday soon as our level of consciousness increases it will become a national holiday in Saint Lucia. International Women’s Day celebrations have also developed the tradition of honouring mothers, wives, girlfriends and colleagues. Indeed in some countries, International Women’s Day is afforded a status equivalent to Mother’s Day. For now though, the struggle to sensitize our people is still a challenging one and we must continue to endure and persevere.
The new millennium has witnessed a significant attitudinal change and paradigm shift in both women’s and the society’s perspectives on women’s equality and emancipation. This shift has resulted in the celebration of International Women’s Day moving from being a mere reminder about the negatives, to a celebration of the positive strides made by women. These positives include an increase in the number of women in business and elective politics, more women in the boardrooms, greater equality in the legislative rights and increasing prominence of women as role models in every area of human endeavour. Indeed these are just some of the achievements that inspire women throughout the world to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day the latest research in the USA has revealed that the majority of Americans “believe that a woman President would be as good as or even better than a man at handling issues of foreign policy, homeland security and the economy.” I am sure the same applies to women all over the world and specifically Saint Lucia where women have for centuries been effectively and efficiently managing and securing the primary sovereign unit of society, the family.
Women leaders have also been bringing their voices, their vision and their leadership to the decision making table alongside men, and making the debate on issues more robust and the policies more inclusive and sustainable thereby making institutions, businesses and government more efficient and truly representative.
There is widespread consensus that women, especially those of us who have emerged from the grass roots level to positions of political power, are designing some of the most innovative social policies in micro enterprise, inclusive health care and accountability measures for the safety of our children. Again, this goes back to our central role in shaping and sustaining the society through a process of social reproduction which is often overlooked.
Our achievements however do not dwarf the dark and depressing situation which confronts many of our women in Saint Lucia and the world over. More than 70 per cent of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world are female. Women work longer hours than men carrying 53 per cent of the total burden of work compared to men’s 47 per cent, with the gap even wider in rural areas. Women comprise 50 per cent of the world’s population but only hold 6 per cent of seats in national cabinets and 13 percent of the seats in world parliaments. On average women represent less than 4 percent of the world’s political leadership.
Therefore, when we speak of “women, political power and leadership” we must of necessity examine the above issues and their implications. To what extent can women maximise their leadership potential in the face of these statistics? What mechanisms must we as a society put in place to facilitate the mainstreaming of women in politics? What types of partnership must there be with ‘the male centres of power’? If we are serious about true representation of women in politics, then we must aim to develop an equation to reduce the level of under representation of women in political power and leadership positions.
But today we are celebrating the positives. We are proud that women have demonstrated considerable leadership in community and informal organisations and in public office. We now need to extend and expand those gains to decision making positions in the arts, in culture, in business, in sports, in the media, in education, in religion, in law and most importantly in the family.
We must therefore consider with pride the strides made by Saint Lucia in mainstreaming women in the leadership spectrum of the country. Today, we see women taking up distinguished leadership positions at the levels of Governor General, House Speaker and Senate President. We have also had women political leaders and Women Ministers of Government. No doubt these achievements are impressive and we celebrate them as positives. However, when we look at the total ministerial, legislative and executive picture compared to men women are still significantly underrepresented and this is a situation crying out for redress.
The under representation of women is undoubtedly related to the preponderance of patriarchy in our society. In the Caribbean it has been found that the structure of patriarchy with its strong sexism maintains certain established relationships of domination and violence against women. Globally, at least 1 in 3 women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, and usually the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her. One wonders what is the impact of such abuses and atrocities on women’s aspirations to leadership. It would be interesting to know what the research says on the relationship between violence against women and their under representation in positions of power and political leadership.
It is against this background, that I make reference to one of the most atrocious trends facing the St. Lucian society today. The anecdotal data from the Department of Human Services suggests that many a young girl or woman who is subjected to sexual abuse does not get justice that the perpetrator remains at large through a mechanism known as “wahnj-ma” while the victim perpetually endures the psychological trauma of the abuse. I want to pronounce “wahnj-ma” as a mortal sin against womanhood and to denounce the degrading and dehumanising part it plays in destroying potential women leadership. As Minister with responsibility for Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations, I will work to ensure that nothing “wahnj ma” or otherwise stands in the way of our girls and women in their quest for education, edification and full exploration of their potential, for these are the platforms on which we have to build political power and leadership for our women.
In our quest for empowerment we must not be blinded by the glare of partisan political power. We must ensure that we build the blocks of true empowerment by providing leadership to our children in the home and the family first and foremost. We must also celebrate the successes of our colleagues rather than falling into the trap of women pulling down women. True empowerment demands partnership, it demands commitment, it demands diligence, but most of all it demands unity and a sense of purpose.
May your International Women’s Day Celebrations be blessed with advances that will last you the entire year to the next observance, and may the women of Saint Lucia continue to excel in their endeavours while at the same time eradicating the scourge of abuse and violence which continue to be endemic.
LONG LIVE THE WOMEN OF SAINT LUCIA
I thank you.
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