International Women’s Conference at the Barbados Hilton Hotel: B’DOS PRESIDENT’s SPEECH – Andrea C. Taylor
I am pleased how Barbados was chosen to host the first ever Young Women’s Leadership conference. For those who may be visiting with us for the first time, let me assure you that Barbados is very familiar with organising great events despite our smallness. In fact, it was former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan who said that as a nation we “punch above our weight“. So rest assured that our team on the ground will deliver a quality product and ensure an enjoyable stay for all delegates over the next three days.
These aspiring women work tenaciously to mobilise economic and physical resources, to ignite the passion and talents of volunteers, to mobilise the Barbadian community to build this charitable organisation which today enjoys the respect of our social, political and business leaders, but more importantly provides a hope for our women and girls to educate, empower and enable themselves to be the best that they can be. We are particularly please that the patron of our organisation during this embryonic stage, Dame Nita Ruth Barrow went on to become the YWCA’s World President for the period 1975 – 1983.
The YWCA Barbados has over the past six decades work with thousands of families. We continue to provide meals to over 1000 children daily through our breakfast programme, to train and build the skills and capacity of young women through our gardening and sewing programmes, to lobby for a legislative environment that provides parity for our women and enables them to equally contribute and equally benefit from our economic and social development.
Though we have made great strides over the decades to advance the plight of our women and to encourage the empowerment of our young girls, I wish to posit this morning that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Here in Barbados, like so many of our territories, the battle is far from over. The United Nations Development Programme in its 2013 report stated that Barbados was number 38 in 187 countries, and number one in the Caribbean relative to its human development. We laud this achievement. However in the area of gender inequality, the report also showed that Barbados was 61 out of 148 countries, which means that despite our overall human development, our level of education and social progress, our women still continue to struggle for equal treatment among our peers.
90% of our women have reached secondary or higher education compared to 88% of our men. Yet we fail to see the positive correlation in the number of women sharing equally in leadership in our country. We hold less than 20% of the parliamentary seats in the House of Assembly, and women earn some 30% less than men for doing the same job. Ladies, these are areas that we cannot be proud of. These are statistics that must remind us that the fight is not over; the glass ceiling is still very much a reality.
A recent survey in Barbados indicated that domestic violence is a problem in our country and whereas I am aware that our men are victims of this type of violence, the prevalence based on the research is among our women. More than 20% of all homicides in this country are as a result of domestic violence and despite the number of unreported cases, it is the view of many that nearly 1/3 of Barbadian women will be victims of domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
The United Nations and World Health Organistaion conjectured that gender-based violence represents a major impediment to the achievement of sustainable growth as it denies women and girls equality, security, self-worth and their right to enjoy fundamental freedoms. UN Women confirmed that this is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights all over the world and must be eliminated.
Our task therefore in this conference is to address these issues and more specifically to recognise that our women continue to struggle for basic human rights. We have a responsibility today to our sisters here in Barbados, the region and the world over to use our communincations apparatus to lobby, educate and empower our girls and women with the tools to improve their circumstances.
This inaugural Women’s Leadership conference represents the opportunity for us to cement our efforts as a hemisphere to build stronger societies through strengthening the backbone of our society – our women. I urge you all to ensure this is not another talk shop – the issues retarding our progress are too deleterious to our lives and that of our children. Let this meeting of minds be recorded in history as the time in this century when the Young Women Christian Association resolved to ensure that our fight for women’s advancement was taken to another level.
We may have to agitate more, think outside the box and be prepared to go against the norms if necessary to ensure a better tomorrow in education, health, justice, economic and social development. I believe it was Marilyn Monroe who said that ‘well behaved women rarely make history‘. Let this conference therefore be historic for us; let us create a new paradigm; let us impact our world and change for the better, the environment for our women and girls!