First among equals

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Some would say that the time is about right that the prominent women of the Caribbean stand up and stand out for their sisters who do not sit in the privileged positions that they do, and who need someone to articulate their cause at the highest echelons of power where decisions are made.
We were more than heartened to learn of a new organization comprised of the spouses of the leaders of the Caribbean along with the First Ladies, who have banded together to form a network with the acronym CARIFLAN/CARISAN.
The idea was born out of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals No 5, which has as its overarching goal the empowerment of women and girls. Among other targets, this goal seeks to end all gender inequality, particularly discrimination against women and girls. It seeks to ward off all forms of violence against them both in the private and public spheres and eliminate all harmful practices against them.
Additionally, the aim of the UN is to have countries pass laws which demonstrate they recognize the value of domestic work; ensuring women fully participate and are equally represented in all levels of national leadership and decision-making in economic, political and social aspects of leadership; and that there is easy access by women and girls to reproductive and sexual rights. Countries are also expected to formulate and execute social reforms to grant women equal ability to access economic resources, financial services and ownership and control of properties such as lands and homes.
When the women of the region met, on Friday, they had a blueprint and had no need to reinvent the wheel. It was left to group to agree on priorities and to come up with strategies to implement the programme of work needed to achieve the goal of “Every Caribbean Woman, Every Caribbean Child”.
The women had enlisted the aid of the Clinton Global Initiative, and the resources of the initial meeting were donated, such that the wives of Guyana, Belize, Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago met and identified challenges and discussed solutions on the way forward.
And herein lies the rub. Too often we have heard voices lament that Caricom decisions are only written on paper and there is a deep gulf between policy making and policy implementation. We can only hope that the women’s efforts are not still born, for many of the issues they have identified as being in need of remediation are dependent on the men to whom they are married.
Case in point. The forum, using data from Jamaica and Caricom, illustrated the gaps in adolescent access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; the impact of sexual abuse on health; the social consequences of teenage pregnancies; the legal and social mechanisms for sanctioning and preventing violence against women and girls and the policies and programmes for treating and preventing women’s health issues, such as cervical cancer.
Not a bad start for the budding organization. What is instructive, however, is that there was data, which they used to inform their discussions. This, too, we can only hope will be the case going forward. The dearth of quantifiable data on which to arrive at conclusions has been a besetting sin in this country from time immemorial. Anecdotal accounts have their uses. But when it comes to determining policy, we need more, much more.
Our lawmakers must take a hard look at legislation already on the books to decide whether they address today’s realities re the issues identified in the forum. For example, because of the nature of our business, we cannot help but notice the legal and social mechanisms for sanctioning and preventing violence against women and girls need a serious relook. The message being articulated by the Gender Affair Department appears to be falling on deaf ears.
We recall the efforts of US First Lady Michelle Obama, who used her time in the White House to champion the cause of women and girls. Her “Let’s Move” campaign encouraged the nation, especially girls and young children, to exercise and to eat health. She made eating vegetables sexy, and on account of her efforts was able to make significant changes to school lunches.
Then there was “Let Girls Learn,” in which she addressed the challenges which prevented adolescent girls from attaining a quality education which would empower them to reach their full potential. Additionally, she brought together several departments of government in the  ‘Joining Forces’ initiative to provide veterans and active service members and their families with access to education, employment and wellness programmes.
If one First Lady could have accomplished this much, we certainly expect that our region, with our 15 Caricom First Ladies and that many spouses, can make a difference on the way to achieving the goals they have set out to achieve.

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