Today we commemorate International Women’s Day, and it is with tremendous pride that I wish my fellow sisters “Happy International Women’s Day”.
We have made significant strides in the last few decades in particular and we ought to applaud the efforts of those who blazed the trail for others like you and me.
But there are hurdles that we have yet to overcome. Perhaps the greatest challenge before us is the need to unlearn some of the habits, practices and beliefs that are so deeply embedded in our psyche, culture and organizations that we have come to see them as “normal”.
Many fail to appreciate the discrimination or prejudice inherent in much of what we say or do, completely oblivious to their ramifications for gender equality.
My heart goes out to those women who battle with institutional sexism every day, having to defend their womanhood as if it were a burden or a curse.
These women have had to prove their mettle in very hostile professional spaces, having to be several times better than their male counterparts to attract the same level of compensation or recognition.
The war on gender inequality may not be won today, but every battle won, takes us one step closer to victory; one step closer to gender parity.
Society owes a special debt of gratitude to mothers who have had to mother and father their children under very trying circumstances. Theirs is no easy load to carry, and yet they do it with pride. We must double our efforts in reaching out to these women, offering both moral and material support whenever we can. These women display a dignified strength that is immeasurable.
There are women (and girls) among us who have been stripped of the dignity of their womanhood, some irreparably damaged by the scourge of domestic abuse, violence and sexual assault.
Today we remember the victims in a very special way. May we join the cause to restore these women to wholeness and show empathy and compassion. May we multiply our efforts to erase the social and economic ills that breed the perpetrators of horrendous crimes against women and girls.
May we be compelled to speak out and to act as we seek to stem the rise in the number of incidents of crime against our women.
We should not have to wait to act when the crime comes to our doorstep or when it hits home! By then, it may well be too late.
There are many women who brave the storms of life and suffer in silence, rendered voiceless by the insensitivity of those in authority, denied the freedom of expression for fear of the avalanche of insults that is sometimes quick to follow, afraid to speak up because there is no one to listen or to care; women whose pain is so crippling that they cannot muster the courage to voice that which they feel; women frozen into silence, afraid of losing their economic sustenance, today I renew my commitment to you to raise my voice in your defence and to do all that I can to minimize your pain.
I urge all women (and men) who can, to speak out and to act on behalf of those who have been rendered voiceless for one reason or another.
In a very special way let us reflect for a moment on those who have been forgotten, who have lost their dignity, their pride and their strength. May the agitation, the advocacy and the strides that are being made give them new hope. And may those who have lost their lives rest in perfect peace, and we pray that their lives were not lived and lost in vain.
For those women who continue to sacrifice their own lives so that others may have a better tomorrow, may you be imbued with the wisdom, dignity and strength to continue the good fight.
For the men who have stood alongside us women; who hold our hands on difficult days, who offer a word of encouragement, who cheer us along and challenge us to become better we thank you as we celebrate a partnership that is divinely ordained.
Susan B Anthony (1820-1906) said it best, “… The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be perfect comradeship, the ideal union between sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race”.
Happy International Women’s Day.
(Message from leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Doctor Gale Rigobert)