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Women Continue the Struggle For a Fairer Deal
By Wesley Gibbings, IPS, 8 March 1999
PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 8 (IPS) - Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Gender Affairs and feminist organisations made sure International Women's Day did not go unnoticed Monday, but few ventured to say the event will make any kind of dent in the struggle to earn a fairer deal and a safer social environment for women.
A four-year old World Bank study found that the wages of men exceed women's wages by 18 percent; only 45 percent of the female labour force have jobs, while 76 percent of men are employed and female-headed households account for one of the largest blocs of impoverished households in the country.
Women head 26.5 percent of the nation's households and 31.3 percent of such households exist under conditions of poverty.
Head of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies, Rhoda Reddock, describes the situation as requiring "work on equity in relationships (and) households, challenging patriarchal ideas of women's and men's places."
She also contends that increasing violence against women results from "a backlash" against the strides being made by females in the society.
Reddock says a change is taking place in which the ideologies and assumptions of masculinity and femininity are being challenged.
"Many men are becoming increasingly threatened and uncomfortable with this situation and women and children are paying with their lives," she said.
Police figures over recent years have recorded persistent growth in the number of women being murdered, abducted and raped.
Feminists here are also anxious about the role of women in the decision-making process.
Speaking in Dominica last week, Trinidad and Tobago Legal Affairs Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said there is a direct correlation between the presence of female legislators and a nation's attitude toward women.
"Political institutions are male dominated and therefore tend to attract more males than females," she said.
Persad-Bissessar is the only elected female member of the Basdeo Panday administration. After becoming the first woman to hold the post of attorney general in 1995, she was within months replaced by the incumbent Ramesh Maharaj.
"Those who hold power do not readily just surrender that power," she told Dominican women9s groups. "It is not enough for women to say that they have been bypassed or are being bypassed and expect political office to be handed on a platter to them.
"Men have fought long and hard to attain political office and will not give that up to any man, far less to a woman," she said.
Recent figures prepared by the Inter Parliamentary Union suggested that legislation produced by parliaments with a great number of women often tended to reflect favourably on the plight of women.
"I believe that until we do something to increase the pool of women candidates, women will remain effectively disenfranchised since it is clear that we cannot wait for others to do so for us," she argued.
Persad-Bissessar has been widely praised for her introduction of a new Legal Aid Act which, among other things, provides for legal assistance for the victims of domestic violence.
Gender Affairs Minister Daphne Phillips says the problem of violence against women "requires both legal and community-based measures for prevention and attention."
"The physical and mental health of women affects their ability to function in the duties socially entrusted to them - particularly the important task of guiding the development of children who, by themselves, may be traumatised by the experiences, the fear and the frustration associated with violence in the home," she said.
The Ministry is this year focusing on young women and their role in the society of the 21st century.
"Young people and children, both male and female, must be guided in addressing notions of gender equity, positive gender relations, respect and honour for the opposite sex," she said.
Under Phillips, a former activist associated with the local feminist movement, Gender Sensitisation and Gender Awareness have been introduced into the school system.
"We all need to be trained in the several ways of relating between the sexes on mutual bases and without discrimination," she said.
United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said in his message on the occasion of International Women's Day that the world community had "identified violence against women in its various forms as a clear violation of women's rights".
Phillips recently announced the opening of 22 emergency centres for the victims of domestic violence throughout the country.
Origin: Rome/POPULATION-TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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