The current political system makes it difficult for women to “get their agendas on the table,” far less to succeed, though they have tried to advance in governance and implement policies, says Hazel Brown, founding member of the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women.
She said a certain level of preparation, mental and otherwise, was necessary when a woman intended to offer herself for political service because she does it at great risk.
The first challenge, she said, was to be nominated; the second was to get the support of their parties and other women on any position.
Brown says the reason why some women may not risk taking difficult positions is because they know they will not get the necessary support.
“As far as I’m concerned, two things are important.
"The numbers are important. So we need to put them (women) there. Support for the women who take the risk and get in there is important.
"I have said to people, ‘You cannot take women and drop them into a system that is male-dominated and working against them and expect them to succeed without the support of other women.’”
She said the conversation should not be about what female politicians achieved, but what everyone achieved by supporting those women. Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar tried to make changes, she said, but did not get the support she needed from other women to be successful.
This non-support, she said, has led some female politicians to adopt the values of the system, and say and do “non-woman”-type things. She recalled a recent incident when a female candidate made veiled statements about a male candidate’s sexuality, calling it an “unfortunate statement.” But she said it reflected on the woman and not anyone else in the party.
“If that is what succeeds, what you would do?
"The system rewards that kind of unkind, unnecessary behaviour. Both the men and the women in the system reward that kind of behaviour. So that’s why she would continue with it.
"If there was a price they had to pay for that kind of behaviour, it wouldn’t happen.
"The thing is, everyone has to change, not just men.”
Women make the difference
Brown believes with women participating in decision-making, better decisions would be made for women, children, families, the elderly, the disadvantaged and others, because of their empathy and an understanding of “the real situation on the ground, in the house, on the street.”
She points out: “Men are not bad people, you know. They just don’t know any better. How do they get the clues?
"It comes back to women again. It’s mostly women (mothers, wives and other women in their lives) who are grooming them to be the kind of men that they are.”
She said if not for the participation of women, the country would not have seen changes in legislation such as child marriage, domestic and gender-based violence, social and health care services for women, and more.
“It isn’t that we haven’t achieved anything in respect to women. But there are still things to be done.
"And they can only be done when women come together, and so we have been promoting women coming together across parties, because the issues that affect women are the same for Pennelope (Beckles-Robinson of the PNM) as they are for Kamla (Persad-Bissessar).”
She said many male politicians from different parties would lime together or were friends, but “the women are restrained from having that kind of relationship and that kind of caucusing across parties” by men.
Why? To limit what women could achieve and to restrict their access to power. She said men shared power among themselves and did not want to “give it away.” They only did so if they were forced to, or their own success required it.
“If you noticed, the numbers of women who were nominated were high, but the number nominated in winnable seats is not so high. And who makes those decisions? It’s not the women in the party who makes those decisions.”
She said over the years women continued to support each other on the local-government level, but on the national level, greater power and resources were available, so things change.
He for She – men supporting women
Brown said the numbers remain encouraging as women comprised 30 per cent and more of the candidates in both local government and general elections since 1996. The numbers were important, she said, because the idea that a woman’s place is in the home is still prevalent in TT. And it was necessary to change that thinking and change the system to suit.
That was why, in the early 2000s, the Network of NGOs’ created the Put A Woman campaign with its slogan, A Woman’s Place is in the House... of Parliament.
Among other things, Put A Woman encourages people to vote for female candidates, made financial contributions to the campaigns of female candidates regardless of their political affiliation, and brought up the issues of campaign financing.
She said no man got the support of all men: he just needed a sufficient number to get the majority vote. In her opinion, no party performed better for women than any other, so she encouraged people to find a woman whose policies they believed in, vote her into Parliament, support her, and make her aware of the support.
She added that the success of the Put A Woman campaign was evident with 44 women running in the election. She also congratulated the women who had the courage to put themselves up for the election.
Another Network of NGOs project was He For She. Brown said some men were empathetic to the causes of women, and sometimes men found themselves with the same disadvantages that women face.
He For She engaged men in positions of power and authority to support women’s agendas. In this way, she said, the system will change, which would affect change in society. She recognised this change would take a while to happen, saying it would come one generation, one election, one party, or one person at a time.