THE non-governmental organisation Working Women for Social Progress (WWSP) has congratulated new Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on the tone of his victory but yesterday expressed concern over the disappearance of Child Development, Gender and the Environment as Government ministries.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister this week, the WWSP commended him for maintaining “dignity in the face of personal vilification”, pledging commitment to the devolution of power, a spirit of inclusiveness and the absence of triumphalism in election victory speeches and on the number of women and young people appointed to Cabinet.
“At the same time we would like to make known our concern with some of the signals we see regarding social policy,” the WWSP stated in its letter, which was also forwarded to the media.
“We support your move to reduce what had become a bloated Cabinet. In the restructuring of ministries, however, three very important pillars of national development have disappeared from view: Child Development, Gender and the Environment.
“It gives us no comfort to be told that they have been put away somewhere in some ministry. These are portfolios that must remain fully visible for at least another generation, if not longer, since the work to be done in these areas has only just begun. And there has to be progressive thinking within the political directorate if this work is to change our society for the better.”
It has taken decades of advocacy, from the women's movement and other organs of civil society, for successive governments to wake up and “stumble willy-nilly” towards ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to amending the Children Act, to setting up a still limping Children's Authority, the WWSP said.
“Meanwhile large numbers of our children continue to live in painful circumstances from which they have no escape, suffering, among other wrongs, daily violence in the name of discipline, sexual abuse, neglect, and child marriage. Too often, corporal punishment, this sanctioned violence against children, ends in death,” the group stated, adding that even today, many of people still think that beating children is a normal, acceptable part of family life.
“There is need for a strong ministerial portfolio that pursues and directs the optimum development of children, our best insurance against a collective future of violence and crime,” the WWSP said.
The struggle is also not yet over for gender equality, the group said, and the issues still at large include inequality in women's wages, the high incidence of poverty among women-headed households, domestic violence, sexual harassment, high rates of maternal mortality (women dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth) and infant mortality, thousands of unsafe backstreet abortions (out of which an estimated 3,000-4,000 women per year enter public hospitals with complications) and the under-representation of women in decision-making and governance.
Gender equity bears on every aspect of national development and Trinidad and Tobago's National Gender Policy, still in limbo after decades of advocacy, provides a framework for action on a wide range of issues in, for example, health, education, economics, planning, agriculture, trade and industry, leadership and sexuality, the WWSP said.
Human Rights issue
“It is a human rights issue which can no longer be shunted from one administration to the next. Nor is it an issue to be resolved by “consultation,” for this means asking the rest of the population to decide whether a minority group deserves to be recognised as equal under the law. Would any government consult the public on whether one of our minority ethnic groups should enjoy equal human rights?
Sexual orientation is only one of the gender issues on which an enlightened government would lead, and for this there has to be a Gender portfolio charged with facilitating public education,” the WWSP said.
Sustainable planning and management of our air, water, and other natural resources is also an essential government portfolio and this country needs to be concerned about rising sea levels and the protection of seashores, deforestation and its consequences — landslides, flooding and the silting of rivers and solid waste management, among other pressing environmental issues.
“A responsible government would also be expected to decisively tackle the environmental issue of everyday, widespread noise pollution in our country. The current provisions for addressing this problem are manifestly inadequate,” the group stated.