Friday, June 14, 2024

Embracing equity

    • Celebrating International Women’s Day with the Penal Debe Regional Corporation on Saturday 4, March 2023.

By Kamla Persad-Bissessar

This year, we are being called upon to “Embrace Equity”. It is disheartening, to say the least, that in 2023, women are still fighting for equality and equity.

Yes, there have been significant strides over the years. There was a time in some states in the USA where it was legal to beat your wife. There was one condition, the stick used to beat her had to be no thicker than the judge’s thumb.

So yes, women have come a long way. [Today], more women are CEOs, directors, business executives, Entrepreneurs and actively engaged in the media. Our women are also challenging the status quo, pursuing fields and occupations that were previously male-dominated, and excelling in their chosen ventures.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we have had a woman prime minister, we currently have a woman speaker of the house of representatives and soon the second woman will be sworn in as president. And we have a female Leader of the opposition which I have the privilege to be.

These women leaders serve as inspiration to girls and women to push themselves towards their own goals. The field I am in, the path that I have chosen – politics, is still male-dominated. I am pleased that there are more women coming forward to serve in this capacity; to work to improve the lives of people.

Right here in this corporation – Penal/Debe, we have five brilliant, hard-working women local government representatives – four councillors and one alderman. I commend all of them, and indeed all members of council have been working hard for their burgesses.

As you know, I started my political career in local government, serving as an alderman in the then Saint Patrick County Council, which later became the Siparia Regional Corporation.

In those days, women representatives were few and far between. Of course, that was almost four decades ago, and since then more women have come forward. Indeed, in the last local government election, we saw 55 women out of 168 candidates – about a third – seeking to represent citizens on behalf of the UNC. This year local polls are due, and I expect that number to increase.

But it’s not just about getting numbers up. It’s about getting the best people with the right skills who are ready to take up the challenge and play their part in rebuilding the country.

That’s why the government I led, and the party I lead today remain focused on creating opportunities for young people especially. We cannot have a conversation on embracing equity if we do not talk about access. And that starts from early childhood all the way up. Children and young people must have access to opportunities in order to grow and thrive.

This government has removed many avenues, including reducing the number of scholarships, shutting GATE for students seeking tertiary-level education, and refusing to complete school construction. We must all-men and women-be committed to striving for a more equitable society, where not only a privileged few can access the pathways to success and prosperity.

After all women hold up half the sky. This is why.

UNC works to empower people

In my term as prime minister there was a strong focus on education and job creation. It was a People’s Partnership government that achieved Universal Early Childhood Care and Education. We built over 100 schools and distributed over 100,000 laptops.

We expanded the GATE programme to include Technical Vocational skills, and moved to transform social programmes such as CEPEP to develop skills and channel people into better incomes and better jobs.

With regards to empowering our women, during my term as prime minister, we advanced our commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women by promoting gender equity enforced by equal opportunity legislation. We established a ministry of gender, youth and child development, and drafted a national gender policy.

I appointed women to strategic ministries, and envoys for women and children. We set a target of 40 percent of women on state boards.

We implemented social protection programmes to alleviate poverty, and worked to introduce a gender-responsive budget and enhance gender-responsive national development planning that will support the allocation of funding to all ministries and sectors, as a fundamental step to the achievement of gender equality.

We ensured equalization of wages between men and women in the wage structure in the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP), correcting the disparity that existed there.

UNC’s plans for young people

As I have noted, the UNC believes that in order for our country to thrive, we need to empower citizens, and as leaders, it is our job to ensure that citizens have access to opportunities for them to achieve their potential. We have all seen the rapid advancements in technology and the impact that it has on our daily lives.

Who would’ve thought we’d see Artificial Intelligence being utilized to complete tasks, in some cases technical ones. I saw that AI is even writing legal contracts! I wonder if lawyers will one day be obsolete! No, I don’t think it is something to be concerned about. I think we are yet to see what AI can do. What I do know, is that we have to prepare our young people to take advantage of the Fifith Industrial Revolution.

When we return to office, we will look at ways to increase the use of technology in classrooms, and improve the curriculum with the addition of new subjects in the areas of information and communication technologies (ICT), coding and other digital skills at all levels.

We will develop and roll out a Comprehensive School Curriculum from the pre-primary to secondary education level influenced by respect for multiple intelligences and focused on a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) approach.

We will introduce life skills and basic financial training as core parts of the syllabus.

To better prepare our citizens for the future of work. A UNC government will undertake the following:

  • Align GATE funding to economic priority areas and labour market needs. The government assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) Programme has played a pivotal role in raising the overall tertiary participation rate in a variety of areas, but sustainability of funding is a key issue.

We will align GATE funding to our economic development priorities, job creation and labour market needs, so that persons can acquire the additional skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

In particular, we need to build a workforce for jobs in the highly skilled fields of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, genetics and biotechnology.

Key to strengthening the GATE Programme is an equally strong and efficient administrative and regulatory body.

We will improve the operations and efficiency of the administrative body of the GATE Programme – the Funding and Grants Administration Division (FGAD).

  • Foster a business environment that is conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation.

We will take all necessary steps to minimize corruption and anti- competitive behaviour, reduce crime, ease the burden of bureaucracy, expand the services of the Single Electronic Window (SEW) for trade and business facilitation, streamline procedures for starting a business and improve the regulatory framework for insolvency. We will also establish incubator parks which link firms to research in key areas and help create a culture that favours innovation and adaptation.

The state of Trinidad and Tobago today

Let’s face it – we have suffered for the past eight years under a PNM government that does not have your interests at heart. Look at where we are today. People are struggling. Crime is rampaging out of control. In this region and in many others across the country roads are in total disrepair, with potholes and landslips cutting off communities in some cases.

As a result of the incompetence of this government, life for many in our nation has become harder. Indeed for women we have seen how dangerous life has become under this present government.

Since 2017 I have been calling for pepper spray to be given to women so they can at least defend themselves from an attack yet till today, none of us can access that self-defence tool. Crime has become the single greatest threat to everyone today with us as women, as always being the most at risk.

We see how little investment is made into the shelters to support and protect our vulnerable women in society and even how little attention is paid to our young girls who remain in the state care. It is clear to see where we as women stand under this present government when we look at their investment priorities.

Human trafficking

The trafficking in persons Act, 2011 (Act No.14 of 2011):

The Act gives effect to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Definition of Human Trafficking as stated under the 2011 act Section 2:

2011 Trafficking in persons Act defines human trafficking as trafficking in persons” means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power, the abuse of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation; “trafficking in children” means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation, irrespective of the means used so long as the purpose is the exploitation of the child. A large part of human trafficking concerns the violation of especially women and girls.

Let us understand what is usually described as human trafficking: According to the US Department of state:

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use the following methods to lure victims into trafficking situations:

  • Violence – Manipulation – False promises of well-paying jobs – Romantic relationships

Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

Traffickers look for people who are easy targets for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Psychological or emotional vulnerability;
  • Economic hardship;
  • Lack of a social safety net;
  • Natural disasters;
  • Political instability.

The US TIPs (Trafficking In Persons) Reports make very serious allegations about TIPs in Trinidad and Tobago.

Yet this government sat on their hands doing nothing with respect to the serious allegations made in the US TIPs 2020 and 2022 Reports. Due to their inaction, we were downgraded to the Tier 2 WATCH LIST.

And when the prime minister was questioned by MP Charles in parliament on Friday 24th March about his government’s action in this regard, his pathetic response was he and his government could do nothing. He descended in common mauvaise langue to deflect blame from his and his government’s inaction.

So, we welcome the TTPS investigation called for by Trinidad and Tobago’s first woman COP. This is long overdue. I trust that this investigation does not get bogged down with he say, she say, they say – hearsay which is not substantiated by proper evidence. Instead, the TTPS should ensure that they investigate the serious human trafficking allegations made in the US 2020 and 2022 Reports, which state: 

“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action, and the government did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in human trafficking.”


As I close, I wish to warmly congratulate the 21 women in PDRC region who are being honoured today. I have looked at your work and achievements in varying areas – entrepreneurship, volunteerism, community development, and education.

It is indeed tragic that Alisha Ramdeen is no longer with us, as she, unfortunately, passed away from Covid-19 last year. Our condolences to her loved ones.

As we celebrate the achievements of our women, we must be mindful that there is still work to be done. So whilst women have come a long way, some of the same challenges and hurdles exist today.

While some are breaking barriers in their own right, there is still discrimination in some fields, and a lack of representation. Women also face harassment, violence, and pay inequality.

I give my assurance once again – the party I lead is committed to protecting and empowering our nation’s women and girls and our men and boys.

I call on all gathered here to play his or her part – because we need our men to be our allies in the fight for equality and equity. Let us recommit ourselves to the goal of achieving equity for all women.

Let us work together to build a society that is fair, just, and inclusive for everyone, regardless of gender or any other characteristic. Only by embracing equity can we truly achieve equality for all.



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