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By Kadeem Joseph

Amid ongoing discussions on gender equity and attitudes towards women in politics and leadership roles, a member of the National Youth Parliament Association believes that a law should be enacted to stimulate the inclusion of women in positions of leadership and improve equality.

Samantha Simon, who serves as the National Youth Parliament’s representative for St John’s Rural East, believes that legislation promoting gender parity “forces the boys’ club to go to the same women that they have been locking out of the system, women who are qualified and can perform, or outperform, the males even”.

“It is not a case where a woman is getting her position just because she is a woman, but because she is a woman they are no longer able to lock her out because there is a system in place preventing them from doing so,” she explained, pointing to Rwanda where women must hold 30 per cent of elected positions constitutionally.

Simon also believes that there is a greater need for women to access educational opportunities in career fields that are seen to be traditionally for men, noting that there have been cases in Antigua and Barbuda where females experience prejudice in their learning institutions when seeking to access such courses.

“We need to create spaces where women can learn not just female roles but more roles that are traditionally male (that would) allow us to have an equal playing field,” the youth parliamentarian said.

However, Minister of Agriculture and Member of Parliament (MP) for St Mary’s South, Samantha Marshall said there needs to be a sensitisation and education campaign before new legislation is considered.

“Sometimes, especially with a matter as sensitive and critically important as this, you want to ensure that everyone understands what we are speaking about, and what we are advocating for is what people want… not just the women,” she said.

Marshall said once this is achieved, then legislation can be considered, warning that legislative measures that may have worked elsewhere may not be the best fit for Antigua and Barbuda.

“…You have to have the political parties on board and you have to have the people on board,” she cautioned.

The St Mary’s South MP also noted that women are the ones in the political parties that “fight and campaign for who they believe in” and they too must be made aware that they can occupy greater roles.

She is hopeful that society will get to a place “where we stop looking at a woman doing a man’s job but rather look at this competent individual working or serving in a position”.

Meanwhile, Senator Shawn Nicholas is calling for more mentors for young women.

“Whatever area we are in, we need to find the time to mentor those who are looking to us for guidance,” she said. “Sometimes you come across young ladies and something as simple as writing a resume they do not know.”

On the issue of enacting legislation that would improve gender parity by mandating that a certain percentage of women occupy specific roles, Senator Nicholas warned against tokenism.

“For me, gender parity balances out and comes down to tokenism. Do not take an individual and put her in position because she is a woman. For me, she must earn the position; sadly it is not happening on the other side,” she explained. “I think that a lot of men are in positions because of, as they say, the boys’ club.”

The contributors were speaking on Sunday’s Big Issuesshow.

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