Statement by Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris on International Women’s Day

The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis celebrates March 8th, International Women’s Day 2016, which is being observed under the theme Pledge for Parity to promote gender equality.

Empowering women and achieving gender equality are front-burner issues for St. Kitts and Nevis, where, according to the last census (2011), females account for 51% of the total population of 47,196 and 43% of the total number of 15,680 households are headed by females.

It is Team Unity’s mandate to work diligently every day to empower all of you, regardless of gender.

Every day, all across our beautiful land, countless citizens and residents demonstrate their pledge for parity. Astute employers encourage, train and promote their productive, dedicated employees, regardless of gender. Loving parents instill discipline in their children, as well as the feeling that they are worthy of being treated with dignity, regardless of gender. Dedicated teachers inspire their students to strive for academic and personal excellence, regardless of gender. So many people in our community chip in to ensure that our children have the emotional and physical resources to blossom and excel, regardless of gender. That generosity of spirit is why I am so proud to lead this country as your prime minister, and I am counting on all of us to step up our level of engagement for the benefit of our children who look to us for moral guidance.
Two important agents of childhood socialization – the family and school – provide our daughters and sons with equal opportunities to thrive, but they face increasing competition from the mass media, such as music, TV, movies and video games, which are influential socializing agents that too often perpetuate gender stereotypes and negative images of women for sheer shock value, entertainment and monetary gain. It therefore is incumbent on our families, churches, schools and communities to stand up for women and provide redress for those who are marginalized and violated.

Step It Up for Gender Equality, the slogan of the UN Women’s Planet 50-50 by 2030 campaign, is a clarion call to all of us to unite for women’s rights. Civil society and women’s groups, such as the Business & Professional Women’s Club of St. Kitts (BPW St. Kitts), are heeding the call by implementing mentorship programs to build girls’ self-esteem, help them achieve their ambitions and improve their life outcomes, making them less susceptible to being taken advantage of by pedophiles.

The Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force’s Special Victims Unit, which will turn four years old on April 1st, has seen increased reporting of statutory rape cases involving the unlawful carnal knowledge of girls under the age of 16 years old, the legal age of sexual consent. So as we make a Pledge for Parity on this International Women’s Day, it is important to affirm that rape is rape. My Administration will work to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society, including children, are protected from exploitation and abuse. This is a very meaningful pledge to make on International Women’s Day, as children are an extension of women. Children embody their mothers’ and fathers’ hopes, aspirations and potential. Our children’s triumphs are the community’s triumphs, and their tribulations are our own.

This is why, when contemplating a rosy future for our daughters, no sons should be left behind, or worse, left out of this vision of progress. Furthermore, honour to God, as well as to family and nation, must be inculcated in our offspring, to ensure that, in the words of our lovely National Anthem, “His blessings shall forever to posterity extend.”

On this front, the Department of Gender Affairs has increased its staff over the past year and it now employs two males, one of whom is responsible for launching a new initiative that will focus on boys. This Boys Mentorship Program is receiving buoyant interest from civil society, and meetings are being held to discuss avenues for partnership. The increased staffing of the Department of Gender Affairs also has expanded its capacity to meet the reporting requirements of CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), which St. Kitts and Nevis ratified on April 25th, 1985. Having ratified the Convention, St. Kitts and Nevis committed to submit national reports at least every four years. National reports are expected to outline measures the country has taken to comply with the treaty obligations. St. Kitts and Nevis submitted its last country report back in 2002. My Administration therefore pledges a renewed commitment to adhering to the reporting guidelines of CEDAW.

My Administration’s commitment to women’s empowerment is not merely lip service. We understand that harnessing the talents, abilities and potential of our female population is not only an imperative, but also an action that history will judge well as one of Team Unity’s transformative legacies. Posterity will remember Team Unity for having kept faith with its promises to all, including, importantly, our womenfolk.

We are proud of our accomplishments as they relate to women, namely that:

(1) Women have been appointed to all statutory boards.

(2) The Chairpersons of several boards, such as the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board (Ms. Maritza Bowry) and the St. Kitts & Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (Dr. Robertine Chaderton), are women.

(3) For the first time, a woman, Mrs. Josephine Huggins, holds the post of Cabinet Secretary.

(4) A woman, Senator Wendy Phipps, is Minister of State with responsibility for the vital Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender Affairs and Social Services.

(5) Ms. Merclyn Hughes is a member of the police high command. She serves as Assistant Commissioner of Police with responsibility for the Administration, Resources, Technology and Intelligence Directorate.

A special tribute is due to our teachers, particularly the females who make up the majority of the teaching profession. We give thanks to our female principals for their wise leadership and instruction to the country’s youth. A special tribute is due also to our nurses, particularly the females who dominate the medical profession. The excellence of your service is well known and admired everywhere.

We also salute women in the arts, culture, media and entertainment industries. I encourage you to use your foothold in those industries to reshape and recast the gratuitous images and derogatory roles that too often are relegated to women. For instance, tell your creative team that you want to show a woman buying or driving a car instead of posing next to one because women in St. Kitts and Nevis buy cars too and they have a lot of purchasing power. We salute women who work in hospitality and tourism, real estate, trade, law enforcement and legal services, banking, accounting and finance, as well as construction and affiliated services such as architecture, and the list goes on to include caregivers, homemakers, business owners, and women who pursue other worthy endeavours.

On International Women’s Day 2016, my Administration pledges to continue to foster a dynamic environment that will accelerate the economic, educational, social and political advancement of women in St. Kitts and Nevis. The rights of all women shall be accounted for, irrespective of their social class, age, educational attainment, country-of-origin, political affiliation and other demographic factors.

Today, we step up to the plate and make a pitch for gender parity in every sphere of life.

You might also like