Trinidad making strides toward gender equality
When Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was young girl, she told her family of her wishes to pursue an education in London. At the time, the pervasive cultural norm for women and girls in Trinidad and Tobago was to stay home—she was told she should get married and have children instead.
Fortunately, her mother encouraged her to pursue higher education in the United Kingdom, and Persad-Bissessar went on to become Trinidad and Tobago’s first female prime minister on May 26, 2010. That same year, she was named as one of the top 10 female leaders around the globe for her pioneering contribution to politics and social restructuring and gender equality in the world by Time and Foreign Policy magazines.
Her story is a shining example of just how far T&T has come in bridging gender gaps in the cultural, social and political arenas. Research shows that the advancement of gender equality is good not just for women, but for society and the economy as a whole.
“When women enjoy equal rights and opportunities, poverty, hunger and poor health decline and economic growth rises,” said Michelle Bachelet, then-executive director of UN Women, at the June 2012 Women Leaders' Summit on the Future Women Want, hosted by UN Women in collaboration with the government of Brazil. “Advancing the equal rights of men and women creates healthier and more sustainable societies and economies.”
Over the past decade, T&T has made significant strides in making gender equality the core of its socioeconomic policy. The country recently ranked 36 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2013, which measures the relative gaps between men and women in the areas of health, education, economics and politics.
T&T’s ranking is seven places higher than it was in 2012, achieving favorable rankings of 38th for educational attainment, 47th for economic participation and 51st for political empowerment, but very low (130) for health and survival.
T&T’s highest sub-index scores included a number-one ranking for the ratio of women who are enrolled in secondary and tertiary education and engaged in professional and technical work.
Iceland has the narrowest gender gap in the world, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. The U.S. came in 23rd, down one place since 2012, scoring below Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Cuba, which came in 15th, and Nicaragua, which came in 10th. Overall, the Latin America and Caribbean region showed the biggest improvements from last year compared to the other regions.
With the government of T&T putting its weight behind initiatives to diversify the country’s economy and advance a number of gender diversification initiatives, the region presents a powerful opportunity for job-creating investments to grow. The government has recognised that sustainable development and a strong economy cannot be realised without gender equality.
Change is being pursued through legislation, policies and programs. In 2011, Persad-Bissessar introduced a gender-responsive budget and an enhanced national development plan to support the allocation of funding to all ministries and sectors. In September 2013, Finance and the Economy Minister Larry Howai announced that gender-responsive guidelines are being developed for the institutionalising of gender equality and gender-mainstreaming practices in government ministries. The guidelines will establish a sufficient financial allocation for gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has set a goal to have 40 percent female representation on all state boards. The vision is one in which women will comprise half of the country’s legislatures, local governments and private-sector board rooms, leaders in civil society and community organisations, and decision-makers in all other spheres.
In addition, Persad-Bissessar has established a new Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Child Development to provide support for family services and gender, youth and child development and has proposed the establishment of a National Commission on Gender Equality and a global online mentorship program targeted at young women leaders interested in a political career.
Trinidad has made significant strides in improving gender parity, but there is much more work to be done. Despite the fact that women are increasingly educated and employed in the labor force, they earn less than their male counterparts, even with the same level of education. A recent report, “Women, Work and the Economy,” published by the International Monetary Fund, highlights how this gender inequality in the workforce hurts economic growth.
Similarly, another recent report, “Investing in Women’s Employment,” published by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), confirms that better employment opportunities for women can also contribute to increased profitability and productivity in the private sector. Companies that invest in women’s employment often find that it benefits their bottom line by improving staff retention, innovation and access to talent and new markets.
InvesTT remains committed to advancing the equal rights of both men and women in order to pave the way for a strong economic future. Overall, better jobs for women benefit individuals, families, communities, companies and economies.