OFFICIAL MINISTERIAL ADDRESS ON OCCASION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY  BY HON. WENDY C. PHIPPS, MINISTER OF STATE FOR GENDER AFFAIRS

Honourable Senator Wendy Phipps

Fellow Citizens & Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:

Women the world over are gathering on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020 to acknowledge, to celebrate, to document, and to proclaim the role of women in global development. Women are also gathering in unity on this special day to assess the gains that our world has made in the area of gender equality, and to advocate for closure of the gaps wherever women are falling short of being able to assume their rightful place in all aspects of human endeavour. The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis joins the women of the world in observing International Women’s Day 2020, even as we pay due tribute to the women and girls of our own Federation. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”.

As the global leader of International Women’s Day activities, UN Women has recommended to United Nations’ Member Countries a number of activities and initiatives which can be implemented in 2020 in order to sensitize the public on key issues such as Gender Equality; the Celebration of Women’s Achievement; Raising Awareness against Gender Bias; and Taking Action to Achieve Equality. A number of these advocacy programmes MAY have been spawned by the publication of the 2018 edition of the Global Gender Gap Report that was commissioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF). In that study, the WEF benchmarked some 149 countries on their attainment of progress towards gender parity across four thematic indicators. These indicators were Educational Attainment; Health and Survival; Political Empowerment; and Economic Participation and Opportunity. A bonus area of study in the 2018 report was a skills gender gap analysis for the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Key findings of the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report of the WEF include the following:
 The top four spots on the Index continue to be held by the Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, respectively. Together, these countries have closed between 82% and 86% of their gender gaps.
 As of 2018, countries of the world were only able to close 68% of the gender gap; this means that there still is a 32% gap to close.
 Only 17 of the 149 countries have women as Heads of State. Additionally, only 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women.
 Women hold only 34% of the managerial positions in the countries under study.
 There are still some 44 countries in the world where over 20% of the women can neither read nor write.
 Full gender parity has been achieved in terms of education enrolment: an average of 65% of girls and 66% of boys are enrolled in secondary education. The picture is just about the same for university enrolment as just about 39% of women and 34% of men are attending tertiary level institutions.
 Only 22% of Artificial Intelligence (AI) professionals are females, compared to 78% who are males. This creates a gender gap of 72%.
 The most challenging gender gaps to close are those for (a) Political Empowerment; and (b) Economic Participation and Opportunity. It is estimated that, respectively, these two dimensions will take 107 years and 202 years to close.

Among the key areas of focus for the 2020 International Women’s Day celebrations is the pending 25th Anniversary of the landmark Beijing World Conference on Women which was held between September 4 and 15, 1995. That conference produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a roadmap of historic proportions that comprehensively outlined 12 Action Areas necessary for the improvement in the condition of women the world over. These 12 Action Areas were:
1) Women and Poverty
2) Education and Training of Women
3) Women and Health
4) Violence Against Women
5) Women and Armed Conflict
6) Women and the Economy
7) Women in Power and Decision-making
8) Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women
9) Human Rights of Women
10) Women and the Media
11) Women and the Environment
12) The Girl Child
As such, these 12 platform issues will continue to be the subject of close review throughout 2020, with the aim of assessing how far countries of the world have come in meeting the benchmarks that were set for women’s advancement a quarter century ago. Of course, the Department of Gender Affairs will engage in similar assessments in the coming months, in order to create a scorecard of our Nation’s performance in these developmental areas. However, even before officially starting the exercise, our Department is confident of the strides we have taken to advance the cause of women in our Country. Some of these include:
1) the passage of Domestic Violence legislation;
2) the Adoption of the Domestic Violence Complaints and Reporting Protocol;
3) a marked increase in the number of female entrepreneurs, and women-led businesses;
4) the achievement of having more than 50% of the workforce being female;
5) a considerable reduction in maternal mortality to the point where we recorded no such deaths in the past few years;
6) the attainment of the international benchmark of the Elimination of Motherto-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS and Congenital Syphilis (EMTCT) in December 2017;
7) a marked reduction in our teen pregnancy rate over the past five years;
8) the sustained outperformance of teenage girls over male counterparts in high schools, and in our regional Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
9) an increase in the number of females in the Federal Parliament: for the first time in our history there are three (3) such females, thereby placing the percentage of female parliamentary participation at 20%;
10) the achievement of having 69% of the Permanent Secretaries in the Civil Service being females; and
11) for the first time in its almost 71 year history, the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce finally elected a female President just one week ago. As such, I use this occasion of International Women’s Day 2020 to congratulate Mrs Giselle Brisbane-Matthews of Harper’s Office Depot on her recent election.
It is evident from the preceding list of achievements that St. Kitts and Nevis has much to celebrate regarding the advancement of women over the past 25 years since the Beijing World Conference on Women. However, there is still a lot of ground yet to be covered, and many trails yet to be blazed. One area in particular which is in need of attention is Action Point #12: The Girl Child. I say this because of the well-needed shift in the way some of us continue to raise and socialize girl children. Traditionally, the rearing and socialization of girl children is often done from the position of deeply embedded cultural norms whereby many of our parents continue to pigeon-hole our little girls into all things domestic, soft and nurturing, while giving our little boys free range to do “manly things” while forgetting that they also need to be domesticated and bolstered with critical life skills to be able to survive on their own into manhood. When this is done, they will become strong, resilient, exemplary young men who will make good husbands and fathers for our young women and the children they procreate with them. This is something we need to change and it must start now. To do otherwise would be to continue to raise our children with stark double standards. In such an environment of double standards and stereotyping we will (a) fail our boys by depriving them of good examples whom they can follow – in order to avoid a life of crime and antisocial behaviour; and (b) fail our girls by depriving them of the attainment of their fullest potential even in male-dominated careers where they can compete with the best and brightest of their male counterparts.

I should note, that although there is still room for improvement in terms of Action Item #12: The Girl Child, St. Kitts and Nevis is privileged to be in a position of not having to content with some of the barbaric practices to which young girls continue to be subjected in certain parts of the world. These practices are tantamount to an infringement of the human rights of these young girls, and include injustices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation, and denial of basic education. Every one of us has an obligation to stand in solidarity and advocacy with, and for, these young girls who continue to be abused, violated and sacrificed on the altar of cultural mores, tradition and financial gain in countries still led by strong, maledominated social structures. These young girls deserve to grow up without their development being arrested. They deserve to live normal lives. They deserve to broaden their horizons and explore opportunities through education; and they deserve to pursue their full God-given potential.

The Department of Gender Affairs has planned a series of activities throughout the month of March to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020. These activities include the following:

 Annual International Women’s Day Awards Ceremony ~ held on Friday, March 6th at the ECCB;
 Church Service at Antioch Baptist Church ~ starting at 9:30 am on Sunday, March 8th;
 Manufacturing Plants’ Visits to Kajola Kristada, Electrofab Ltd., Jaro Electronics, St. Kitts Brush Company, and API Harowe Servo Controls ~ from March 9th to 13th, with the Department of Gender Affairs’ staff being accompanied by Senator Akilah Byron-Nisbett, as well as our Communitybased nurses and district medical officers (DMOs) who will conduct sensitization talks on COVID-19 preparedness and prevention;
 Single/Teen Mom’s Conference in collaboration with the University of Medicine and Health Sciences (UMHS) ~ tentatively slated for March 21st.
At this juncture, I take this opportunity to congratulate all of the awardees for International Women’s Day 2020. These 10 well-deserving women are:
 Roberta Rawlins – Agriculture (Agro-processing)
 Bionca Berry – Environmental Advocacy
 Dwiquana Hewlett – Entertainment
 Carla Astaphan – Fine Arts
 Sharon Halliday – Health (Mental Health)
 Claricia Langley-Stevens – Disaster Management
 Elinetha Nathaniel – Public Service
 Robertine Chaderton – Human Services’ Development (Persons Living with Disability)
 Carolyn Brownhill – Law (Women in the Correctional System)
 Susanna Lee – Prime Minister’s Nominee who is being recognised for her contribution to Educational and Community Development

In closing this address, I remind all of us that International Women’s Day is a celebration for all women – be they our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, stepmothers or godmothers, daughters and other female mentors. It is also a celebration for all men – as none of us would have been here without the cocreative input of a man. International Women’s Day is not just a day set aside to honour women. Instead, the celebration must build on the gains achieved from when the movement started in 1909, just over 110 years ago. We must also remember that consistent advocacy for the advancement of women benefits all women the world over. Solidarity around the observance of International Women’s Day also helps to build a results-oriented agenda and craft the necessary global narrative and action plan that secures a brighter future for all women – each of whom has a firm stake and a key role in the ongoing development of our World. When these forces converge women can finally take their rightful place on the journey towards the maximization of human potential and endeavour.

May God richly bless every woman in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on this International Women’s Day 2020, as we endeavour to be part of Generation Equality while Realising and Safeguarding the Rights of Women Everywhere!

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