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Few female senators not issue
Lecturer at the University of the West Indies’ Centre for Gender and Development Studies Dr Gabrielle Hosein, the sole remaining female independent senator Helen Drayton and MP for Couva North Ramona Ramdial say President Anthony Carmona’s appointment of four new independent senators last week will not affect women’s issues, nor were they an instance of discrimination.
The appointments of Prof Harold Ramkissoon, Dr James Armstrong, Corinne Baptiste-McKnight and Dr Lennox Bernard were revoked to make room for the new appointees. In their places are Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir, Ian Roach, Anthony Vieira and Daniel Small. This means the Independent bench is now composed of eight men and one woman. Women, Drayton said, made up a little more than half of the population and should be well represented in Parliament.
Asked about the importance of the gender dimension to the Independent bench, Drayton said: “Parliamentary representation by females should not be seen solely from the point of view of the Independents. “It is time women lobby at the political-party level to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to be represented in Parliament through the elections process.”
Women, she said, saw things differently. Citing crime as an example, Drayton said: “During the first quarter this year, there was a report that about 200 children were sexually abused. Many of those children will be seriously scarred, emotionally and physically, for life. Some will lead lives that may eventually cause their deaths. “Yet we tend to see crime solely from the point of view of gangsteris. Some of these gangsters were once badly abused children and now wreak havoc on society.
“Every minute of the day a woman is battered. Some lose their lives. Yes, the current murder rate from gangsterism is terrifying. “But when last you heard the police authorities and national security calling an emergency meeting on child abuse, incest and domestic violence? “So yes, the female dimension is important.”
Women did not require different professional skills to be a part of the decision-making process, she said, and there was an abundance of women qualified and willing to do so, given the opportunity. She said while the focus is on women’s representation, “My own view is that the real crisis now is the marginalisation of young men of all social groups.”
Drayton said she would miss her former colleague Baptiste-McKnight for her “vast knowledge, quick intelligence, her sharing of ideas and her very deep care and concern for the welfare of her country,” and it was a privilege to have sat in the Senate at the same time as Baptiste-McKnight, Ramkissoon, Armstrong and Bernard.
Hosein supported Carmona’s decisions, saying: “The move to show leadership is to be applauded,” and approved of his approach based on areas of expertise but she encouraged all state appointments to “make the question of gender equality central” to decision-making. Talking about the difficulties women faced in moving ahead in the realm of politics, Hosein made it clear that she did not see the Senate replacements as an instance of discrimination.
She said, generally, “women find it harder to achieve senior positions and stay there in the party structure,” but stressed that she did not want to “blur” the two conversations. She pinpointed the issue as being at the institutional level, with sexism not being dealt with through structural solutions, and the onus being placed on individual women to attempt “breaking the glass ceiling,” possibly with male support.
“When you get a critical mass of women in politics, not just one or two, but 40-50 per cent,” she explained, “policies are more friendly to women and take into account transforming gender policy.”
Asked how this gender disparity might affect society in general, she said the structure “mirrors the gender disparities in all positions of power in society: religion, politics, men as the head of the home. It is a manifestation of an overall status quo of gender, and it is up to those in office to recognise that it takes real leadership to challenge this status quo.” Ramdial said Carmona explained that he made the appointments based on certain fields and dealing with subject matter as opposed to gender.
She said she did not believe having only one woman on the Independent bench is going to affect gender issues, and Helen Drayton, in whom she has the “utmost faith,” was “vocal and competent.” Ramdial said there had been an increase in female representation in both the Upper and Lower House over the years.
Asked why political parties had strong women’s arms and yet women were so under-represented in contesting seats, Ramdial said as the director of the United National Congress academy, she tries to encourage young people, including women, to go into politics. She knew for a fact, she said, that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar “is accommodating to young women entering politics.”
She said many women were traditional by nature and preferred other avenues to make a social contribution, adding there are other factors which may hinder women from entering the political arena, including the perception of politicians.
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