Waiting has become an international vocation.
After decades of hearing about pay equity, breaking the glass ceiling, the urgent need to end sexual harassment on the job, classroom and the sporting arena, the importance of eliminating domestic violence and human trafficking of women and girls, countries everywhere, including the United States, its neighbors in the Caribbean and partners in Africa and Latin America women are waiting while justifiably agitating for a better day.
And as countries celebrate women’s history month some thing is clear: although women have made significant strides in the past quarter of a century it’s also true that more needs to be done and must be done to attain the elusive goal of equal opportunity in real terms.
Just last November, the U.S. ignored a golden opportunity to elect Hillary Clinton as its first female commander in chief. Instead tens of millions of voters in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands chose Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman without any experience in government service to be their president. And only for the second time in its 200-plus years of sovereignty, the country elected a Black woman with Caribbean family roots, Kamala Harris to its Senate, the upper chamber.
Interestingly, three Caribbean nations –Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in that order – beat the U.S. to the punch by choosing a woman
to head their respective governments. Liberia, an African state did the same thing when it elected a woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be head of state. Four Latin American countries – Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and Brazil –have placed women in charge.
The coastal state and island-nations in the Caribbean freely and without any trauma have, in separate elections put at the helm –Janet Jagan, president of Guyana; Portia Simpson-Miller as head of the People’s National Party who became Jamaica’s first woman Prime Minister and Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago’s People’s Partnership, a coalition, was also made Prime Minister.
Just the other day, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women around the world held a special session in New York where heads of government or cabinet ministers spoke eloquently and with passion about the need to accelerate the pace of gender reforms that would give more women the opportunities to direct their respective countries economic and social fortunes.
As the representatives at the UN painted pictures of progressive strides being made in the fields of education, health, employment, the economy and the private sector, it became painfully obvious that there was what Melanie Griffin, the Bahamas Minister of Social and Community Development, accurately described as the “disconnect” between women’s success in education and women in leadership, much like what has happened in the U.S.
For in a country where women accounted for 70 per cent of the graduates of the University in the past decade, Bahamas has only women occupying 18 per cent of its government leaders and less than one in five women in the echelons of private business. And that occurred in a Caribbean country where women account for half of the labor force.
A similar picture can be sketched of the situation in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America but only slightly better in the U.S. Nowhere in the world is there pay equity, meaning that women generally receive the same salaries and wages as men for doing the same job. In New York, one of
the most progressive states in the union, there is a pay gap of between 16 and 18 per cent.
Another nightmare is domestic violence which remains a global scourge with women as the prime victims and men the culprits. In country after country, according to what we heard at the UN and what the U.S. State Department outlined in its annual human rights a few weeks ago domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean.
Undoubtedly, far too many rich, emerging and poor nations, the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, Jamaica, Canada, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago among them are paying lip-service to the need for gender equality and respect for the human rights of women.
The U.S. and its North American and Caribbean neighbors for instance must demonstrate leadership by securing an enabling environment that recognizes the importance of the continuing struggle for women’s human and civil rights, be it on the job, in the community or grappling with violence against women and girls.