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Advocacy group wants focus on child development

Saturday, September 26 2015

ADVOCACY group, Working Women for Social Progress wants the portfolios of child development, gender and the environment to be reinstated as visible ministerial portfolios in the new Cabinet of the People’s National Movement-led Government.

The group has recommended that gender and child development be placed in the Office of the Prime Minister, and has called on Government to continue to work on the 2012 draft of the National Gender Policy.

In an open letter dated September 15 to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley congratulating him on his assumption to office following the May 7 general election, the group supported his move to reduce “a bloated Cabinet,” but that it gave the women “no comfort” to learn that the three portfolios were put somewhere in a ministry.

Applauding Rowley for the number of women and young people he has appointed to the Cabinet, the group noted that the three portfolios “must remain fully visible for at least another generation, if not longer, since the work to be done in these areas has only just begun.” The group said it has taken decades of advocacy from the women’s movement and other civil society bodies, for successive governments to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, amend the Children Act, and to set up a “still limping” Children’s Authority.

Meanwhile, the group said that many children continue to suffer daily from “violence in the name of discipline, sexual abuse, neglect, and child marriage.” Noting that many people still think that beating children was a normal, acceptable part of family life, the letter said, it was also a matter of grave concern that “some members of your government applaud and advocate this practice” and that “such a position within the political directorate undermines all good intentions with regard to the care, protection and healthy development of children.” As leaders, the group said Government must provide information and guidance, and take positions based on international human rights principles, “rather than caving in to misguided views inherited from our violent history.” On the issue of gender and sexuality, the group said, much progress was made with gender equity, but unresolved issues remain.

They include inequality in women’s wages, high incidence of poverty among women- headed households, domestic violence, sexual harassment, high rates of maternal and infant mortalities, unsafe back street abortions - out of which an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 women enter the public hospitals with complications, and under-representation of women in decision-making and governance.

The group noted, TT National Gender Policy, which provides a framework for action on a range of issues including health, education, economics, planning, agriculture, trade and industry, leadership and sexuality, was still in limbo after decades of advocacy.

“The perspective on sexual orientation presented in the original 2006 version of the National Gender Policy is one of the reasons why it was rejected by the PNM government under which it was developed,” the letter said.

The letter noted that to date most local politicians have ignored or condemned the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community’s struggle against criminalisation, discrimination and prejudice.

The struggle was a human rights issue that can no longer be shunted from one administration to the next, the group said, and it was not one to be resolved by “consultation” as this means asking the majority of the population to decide whether a minority group deserves to be recognised as equal under the law.

The environment, which covers sustainable planning and management of air, water, and other natural resources, the group said was an essential government portfolio given concerns about rising sea levels, coastal protection, deforestation and its consequences, and solid waste management.

The group expects Government will tackle widespread noise pollution as current provisions to address the problem were inadequate due to deficiencies in legislation, enforcement, and public education.

It has volunteered its experience and expertise to assist in the areas they highlighted

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