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Wednesday 26 September 2018
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Gender Affairs Minister's messageWomen must fight sexism

CAROL MATROO

Today we celebrate International Women's Day and it is with pride that we do so. Women have struggled over the years to overcome so many obstacles which seem commonplace and a right for men.

Women have fought for equality in social, financial and political spheres, a battle that is still ongoing.

For Gender Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy, women have the right to everything that men feel they are entitled to. But, there is still a bias against women who would have achieved a lot and continued to excel in different areas that prevented them from achieving their full potential.

Webster-Roy, member of Parliament for Tobago East, wife and mother of three, continues to juggle her busy schedule with her ministerial duties, her motherly obligations, her spousal support.

But, it was not always easy, and she was very passionate in her views about women and the role they played in society today as she spoke with Newsday on Monday at her office at Tower D, the International Waterfront, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain.

"I saw Black Panther for the first time yesterday and I saw when women had the opportunity to explore, challenge themselves, think outside the box and what they were able to achieve. I saw the role of the woman depicted in a different environment. I saw woman as the leader, the nurturer, as fragile. I saw a balance and I feel that is what is lacking in Trinidad and Tobago.

"We are more than the housewife. We are a somewhat complex creature and we can do anything and achieve anything. Coming out of the movie again and applying it to TT today, we see women and girls achieving we still see men taking up most of the leadership roles.

"In Black Panther it was the little sister who was the creator and the innovator and that is something I want to challenge girls and women in TT, that is an area that is left unexplored. Yes, there may be some glass ceiling we may be trying to get through, but there are certain areas where we need to challenge ourselves more and we need men to allow us to go into those spheres," she said.

Webster-Roy said women needed to push forward more because sometimes when women tried to achieve more, men felt threatened.

"To me that manifests itself into domestic violence that we are experiencing in TT because they are not able to understand us in our individual worlds. We could manage the homes, but we could also go out and earn a higher income than our husbands and boyfriends, but they feel threatened, a threat on their manhood," she said.

The minister said women needed to support each other more, and be their sisters' keepers.

Drawing on the negative comments on the photo of soca artiste Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez and her toes, Webster-Roy said most of the comments were from women.

"We need to stop that. Why can't we on the journey of advancement support each other. There is a strong brotherhood, but us women when a young lady is getting some money, some national recognition and she is beautiful, we fight her and that is one of the challenges in politics.

"If you are young, pretty and achieving in politics people sometimes equates that to sex. I was criticised for receiving a house in Tobago, but it was an entitlement as a minister. They said it was because I slept with the Prime Minister and that hurt me to the core. I have had comments made to me on social media. We need to support each other more, we need to be our champions.

"Sometimes I can't get over when you are advancing in life, a young woman, and it was only then I thought I was pretty because that was the comment because 'all she have is the face'. That's when I thought I was actually pretty. It was not about what I could contribute or my experience as a community development worker, as a mother, a young Tobagonian, a person who has studied to advance herself. We have to be our biggest role models and champions. It is a role for the advancement of women," she said.

Addressing the issue of violence against women in TT, Webster-Roy said women need to teach their daughters to pick up the signs and leave at the earliest inclination that something was going wrong. But, she said most importantly, women as nurturers, needed to teach their sons to be good men, who could love a woman enough to let her go.

"I say to my son all the time if you don't want it done to your mummy, don't do it to your sister or anybody else. The way you run and hug me, run and hug yours sisters the same way. I say when I look like I want to cry, you hurt. You don't want to bring that hurt on to another women when you grow up. I talk to him constantly and that is something that we must do as women in our homes," she said.

She said as policymakers women must insure that they push in all sectors of society, in schools and outreach programmes for the youths. She added that the country's leaders must raise their voices and show responsibility.

"We have to teach our boys to respect women for who they are. If you are in a relationship she is not your property, she is your companion and your helpmate. If your girlfriend or wife is progressing more than you, build yourself, motivate yourself to learn more skills.

"At high school level we are seeing that gender-based violence is something that is real. We have to tell our girls that they are worth more than 'if he don't beat me, he don't love me.' You have to put more worth in yourself than that. Because he loves me he would not beat me, but because he values me he would want to see me grow and that is how we have to start changing the mindset in TT," she said.

The minister said the message must be that the cycle of abuse must be broken and was not acceptable, not only on this day, but every day.

On the issue of intimacy between couples and a woman's right to say no.

"Once sex is forced it's rape. If I tell my husband, darling not tonight, and he forces himself on me, it is rape. Those are the boundaries that you have to set early in your relationship. No is no and that has to be respected whether it is your husband, or visiting partner. Even though he is your husband you still have a right to your body," she said.

Webster-Roy said when young girls sought out older men, offering their bodies for money or other material gain, sometimes they were looking for a father figure that was missing in their life.

"Some girls are promiscuous because they do not know what genuine fatherly love is and she is searching for that. We as peers have to help her find that reaffirmation that she is worthy. This is where we have to go back to the concept of the village raising the child. I remember growing up in rural Tobago and you may go through your hurts but it was the community that supported you and made you feel that sense of worth. Some boys also go out and try to find that motherly love with older women and find themselves in a sexual relationship and they don't know how to get out of it," she said.

To her two young daughters, Webster-Roy said her advice to them was to value themselves.

"Love yourself, don't look for love in anybody else and then you could better navigate the world. I tell them whenever life knocks them down to get back up and fight. I remember I came last in test and decided that I wouldn't stay there. I cried, my dad cried, he was a teacher. He made me go around the neighbourhood with my report book. I tell them today might be a bad day, but tomorrow is going to be better. I encourage them to stand up and speak for themselves and not be anybody's floor mat and that is something I want to tell all the girls of TT, always be brave enough and stand up and speak on your behalf," she said.

Webster-Roy praised her husband for his support as being the primary caregiver in their home.

"When I decided to enter into politics my husband decided to work from home and he became the primary caregiver. He would cook and clean. Sometimes I would come home tired and he would have my clothes ready, but I also respect the fact that he is my husband, he is the head of my home. He is the head of the house, the king of his castle and I respect that. He does not encroach on my professional life. He is not there to advise me how to do ministry work, but we can discuss how much money we have this month, what are we going to do with that. We have that kind of relationship," she said.

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