Women’s rights in Saint Lucia

March 8th is recognised as International Women’s Day.  The United Nation’s official theme this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” It is based on sustainable development goal number 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower women across the globe by 2030. Our progress as women should not blind us to the struggles women face around the world, especially in underdeveloped nations. There is also another campaign theme; “Pledge for Parity.” It is a call for all of us to do whatever is within our power to close the gender gap, promote gender equality and empower women in our communities and around the world.

When I think of the state of Women’s rights in Saint Lucia, I am proud to say that some of the factors which block the entry of women into the workforce have been eliminated. In particular, the advent of Universal Secondary Education (USE) ensures that all girls have full and equal access to secondary school education. The vocational courses offered by the NSDC have also been an excellent avenue for certification in areas such as cooking and nail design for young ladies who are so inclined. I am also encouraged by the number of women who are now entering traditionally male dominated fields such as science and engineering. Likewise, the high number of female managers in Saint Lucian businesses, and the fact that there are currently three sitting female parliamentarians (one of whom is the opposition leader) is inspiring. Last week the Director of Gender Relations stated that she had received unofficial reports of cases of gender-based pay disparities. However, she indicated that equal pay for equal work was indeed the general practice in Saint Lucia. Excellent news! Despite these advances in access to education and equality in the workplace there are other important issues which affect the social standing of Saint Lucian women.

Many researchers have conveyed that Caribbean women are more likely to be single parents than other groups. More resources should be poured into supporting these mothers and programs that foster their economic empowerment. The SMILE (Single Mothers in Life Empowerment) program was a project which successfully targeted marginalised single mothers and provided them with educational and work opportunities. Additional programs that follow this model are well needed. In farming communities, micro-financing can also be used fund agricultural projects taken up by single mothers to improve their livelihoods.

More rigorous social campaigns are also needed to offset the proliferation of the abuse of women in our communities. It is essential for law enforcement and the family court to co-ordinate activities aimed at protecting female victims of domestic abuse more efficiently. This is also true for victims of rape. The current increase in the reports of violent rapes committed against women is very disturbing. This has generated much anxiety amongst Saint Lucian women and I would like to see the police provided with all the resources needed to solve rape cases swiftly. We must also tackle the problems that affect the speed of our justice system in prosecuting alleged rapists. These efforts have to be backed up by stiffer penalties for convicted rapists or else they will be futile. I know of rape trauma counselling being provided to some rape victims and this is definitely a step in the right direction. Aftercare services are essential for victims.

Personally, my anxiety is further heightened by the relentless cat-calling, taunts and threats that come my way on a daily basis walking the streets. I can only equate some of the things I have experienced to sexual harassment and assault. There are some corners in this country where this sort of threatening activity is rampant. Our girls are particularly vulnerable because many of them must pass through these areas on their way to and from school. I am asking for intensified community policing around popular “blocks” where this sort of activity takes place. We must all do what we can to stunt the growth of rape culture in our society.

There are two somewhat controversial rights issues I would like to address this International Women’s Day. Firstly, the conditional legalisation of abortion in Saint Lucia has put the health of many women at risk. The dangerous black market for abortions needs to be dismantled and avenues should be open for all women who choose to have abortions to do so safely. Abortion may not a choice that some of us would make and it may also go against some of our religious beliefs. Nevertheless, we must all respect every woman’s choice and right to have full autonomy over her own body. I must also highlight the plight of our sisters in the LGBT community. Their basic human right not to be discriminated against based on their sexual preference or gender identity is not protected by the Saint Lucian constitution. This is a grave injustice that any unbiased and impartial government would correct immediately.

Yes, we still have work left to do for the advancement and improvement of the lives of women in Saint Lucia. However, we must also reflect and celebrate how far we’ve come. This International Women’s Day I celebrate the strength, endurance, ingenuity, uniqueness and versatility of all women. I honour all Saint Lucian women who have made significant strides, and who continue to motivate and inspire others to realise their own success. Please do go to www.internationalwomansday.com  to make a pledge today. I pledged to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Happy International Women’s Day to all!

By Kermisha E.J. Francis of  https://www.facebook.com/thebrigandsblog