INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated last week. The global celebrations focused on innovation and technology as means of helping countries to achieve gender equality.
It is believed that focusing on innovation and technology helps to increase access to educational opportunities and allow women to access career opportunities that, perhaps, were previously unavailable to them. It is also believed that technology can facilitate more flexible work arrangements better suited to women (though this inherently speaks to women’s other- often unpaid- responsibilities).
Indeed, innovation and technology can be viewed as tools to help empower women and enhance their participation in economic life, but this is just one of the numerous matters that must be addressed to generate greater levels of equality and equity.
As the IWD message from the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Dr. Carla Barnett, reminded me, women and girls (especially those living in developing countries like states in the Caribbean) grapple with issues of inequality in many spheres.
“… we must not lose sight of the many issues that stand in the way of achieving women’s equality, such as women’s political participation, unpaid care and domestic work, impact of climate change, and gender-based violence, which is a public health crisis in the Region,” Dr. Barnett said in her statement.
First, I think we should all be able to appreciate that issues are intersectional. Individuals and groups are affected by overlapping issues that affect them in varying, often increasingly disadvantageous, ways.
If we look at just one issue, violence against women and girls, there are overlapping factors to consider. Those include gender inequality, gender discrimination and an overarching system of patriarchy. Race and class are other factors that can contribute to violence against women.
Based on official figures, violence against women and girls in the Caribbean is a major concern. The SG further noted that one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime, usually from an intimate partner, based on the global average.
She said prevalence surveys conducted between 2016 and 2018 in five Member States in the Caribbean region indicate incidence rates as high as one in two. Though I am unclear if she was referencing Guyana as one of those Member states, I know that in Guyana, it was found that every one in two women experiences violence.
Statistics help to easily describe how prevalent an issue is, but behind every statistic, is a woman who experiences violence. And doing right by each woman should be crucial.
What’s needed is an interrogation of what structures and norms continue to perpetuate or facilitate those factors that contribute to violence against women. That means recognising where prejudice, discrimination and inherent inequalities exist.
It also means addressing archaic laws and practices that are just not helpful, even if they aren’t enforced. And it requires new laws to provide better support to women and girls.
There are other things that are necessary. Education, for example, helps people to understand their rights and how they can access support. It also helps to empower women by supporting their agency. There is also economic empowerment which helps with achieving financial independence and poverty alleviation. In all of this, community support is fundamental.
Of course, it is super easy to acknowledge that focus on each area is necessary, but it is a much taller task to interrogate what exists, correct shortcomings and facilitate empowerment.
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