(New democratic party weekly column )
Friday 8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. The New Democratic Party (NDP) salutes our women for the tremendous progress that they have made over the years. However, there are areas that are caused for concern. When it was office, the NDP played a critical role in the advancement of women’s agenda and will continue to do so when it returns to office.
During the former NDP administration, a number of achievements were accomplished. For instance, the Department of Women’s Affairs, was created. Its mandate was to address issues of discrimination, covert and otherwise, against Vincentian women. There was a minister with responsibility for women’s affairs and the non-formal sector of education, in the person of the pioneering Yvonne Francis Gibson.
The mechanism served as both policy advisor and implementer to the government on gender and development issues and it worked in very close collaboration with the National Council of Women. Not only did it work in very close collaboration the national organization for women, but both a subvention and office were provided for the office through the government agency.
One aspect of the mechanism was the National Commission for Gender Equity and Equality, which cushioned the work of the mechanism by providing guidance and support since it constituted representatives from private, public and NGO sectors. An amended draft national policy on women was developed, as well as a domestic violence policy. Those policies, which were drafted in 2000, were supposed to have been tabled before Parliament in 2001, the first year of the first Unity Labour Party administration. To date, there is still no adopted policy on women or domestic violence.
Under successive NDP administrations, the CARICOM model was adhered to with the enactment at the local level of legislation based on the CARICOM model. Under the NDP, Women’s Affairs was part of an inter-ministerial committee that worked to develop and implement programs for education, youth, sports – which promoted efficiency, transparency, good governance and got rid of duplication and wasted human and financial resources.
Today however, every department works in isolation. The role of government is to get out of women’s way; I refer to the excellent example set by the NDP administrations from 1984 to 2001, when Government cleared the obstacle of unequal pay through the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Also during that period, the NDP administration attempted to level the playing field through land ownership quotas. Women raised their status by taking advantage of the 38% women’s ownership quota in the distribution of lands at Orange Hill and the provision of 8%-interest mortgages to women at the National Commercial Bank. Another obstacle to women which the NDP removed under the direction of women was the Coutts Agreement, which required women teachers to resign upon pregnancy.
Under the NDP, for the first time, married women could file income tax independently. It was the NDP that introduced the tax-free allowance, which today stands at $18,000 per annum. Under the NDP, NGOs wrote their proposals and sought funding directly from funding agencies. Now it is all done through the government and therefore blocked, mishandled and/or stymied by this administration.
Today there is a Gender Affairs Division with staff and allocation under the Estimates, which appears to have no on-going programs. Issues are treated on an ad hoc basis. For example, the anniversaries of the CEDAW Convention and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women are cause to host events, but there is no sustained program of activities or interventions by the Division, so nothing happens. Although there is more staff at the Division, the capacity and output are far from adequate.
By building upon its past successes, secured through women’s direction of women’s affairs, the NDP will get out of women’s way by:
1. Reforming sections of the police force by: (a). Training all police officers, especially in district police stations, to address domestic violence and rape allegations; (b).Making it mandatory that all allegations of abuse be recorded and acted upon; (c). Providing CID and district police stations with templates for the interview, advice to and follow up of domestic violence and sexual violence complaints; and (d). Requiring the presence of a female officer at all times at all stations to receive or be physically present at the receipt of complaints of sexual violence.
2. Revising and broadening the police training manual to include training for all police recruits in domestic violence and human trafficking.
3. Implementing the mandatory use of rape kits in medical examinations of rape victims at all district clinics and hospitals.
4. Reviewing the functioning of the Family Court and all legislation connected with Domestic Violence and violence against women to, among other things, increase the power of the Family Court to include the imposition of criminal sanctions for domestic abuse.
5. Passing legislation to criminalize sexual harassment and to make it illegal for a husband to rape his wife and amending existing legislation by removing the requirement for the victim to bring evidence to sustain a criminal charge against men who commit statutory rape
6. Making mandatory the reporting by all medical personnel of births to minors at hospitals and clinics or wheresoever that birth may take place.
7. Implementing the collection of data relative to domestic violence, and violence against women nationally including its dissemination to the public.
8. Instituting and enforcing a code of conduct within the public service at all levels that provides for protocol on reporting sexual offences including sexual harassment in the workplace. Respect for the women and girls in our society MUST be a part of how this government conducts itself. We must set the example.
9. Implementing the Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter to provide women and children with proactive opportunities at the community level; and
10. Making API, GIS, public and informal education programs, and public social media programs available to NGOs and social stakeholders.