A SIMPLE money bill – appropriating additional sums to various heads of government – on Monday in Parliament became the backdrop for consideration of the plight of women in this country.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, 51, and Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit, 31, sparred over whether the Government was doing enough to help women recover economically, given the pandemic.
Referring to funding for the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, Ms Mohit argued the Government had left women and mothers to take to the streets to beg and had failed to advance gender-sensitive budget measures. She said this has led women to ask whether they are invisible.
But Mr Al-Rawi fired back, suggesting the funding before the House earmarked for the judiciary – including the Criminal, Children and Family Divisions – was proof of the Government’s commitment to helping women, particularly those who are subject to the trauma of domestic violence.
“Visibility is to be found in the very expenditure we’re looking at now for the provision of contract salaries as it relates to justice for women and the vulnerable,” the Attorney General said. “Visibility of domestic violence is to be found in a courtroom at midnight on a laptop, where a judicial officer can provide a protection order.”
Mr Al-Rawi is wrong if he feels these are things to boast about.
Women may disproportionately rely on the court for enforcement of protection and maintenance orders, but the provision of basic court services is something all citizens are entitled to.
To cite the payment of court staff in rebuttal to a critique about inadequate social-safety net funding is not only a stretch, but scraping the bottom of the barrel – even factoring in the circumscribed nature of Monday’s proceedings.
Both sides of the House, as well as the presiding officer, repeatedly pointed out to one another that a far-ranging debate of policy matters was not allowed, given the narrow remit of the legislative reappropriations.
Still, the AG’s rhetoric fell woefully short, especially as the nation this week approaches the first anniversary of the murder of court clerk Andrea Bharatt, 23.
Mr Al-Rawi may take comfort in the Government’s laudable moves to bring the judiciary into the 21st century through virtual access to hearings, judge-alone trials and abolishing preliminary inquiries. Improving the whole system helps deter crime.
Nonetheless, if a woman has been killed, how is she to take advantage of any of this?
“An anaemic submission” is how the AG described Ms Mohit’s presentation. Actually, that is how many might characterise Mr Al-Rawi’s thinking.
More meaningful would be progress on measures such as the use of electronic monitoring, wider access to pepper spray (for women, not just the police) and better attempts to address the root of the problem: the misogyny of our society, from top to bottom.