Woman Must Cry

The Caribbean Is One Nation.
             Woman Must Cry 

Now that the Prime Minister’s Minister of Finance has delivered the last budget in this Government’s current term, there is overwhelming evidence that the nation’s mother, grandmother and now fairy godmother has done nothing substantial for Trinidad and Tobago’s women and children.

Through historical fact and biological lottery, Kamla Persad-Bissessar will always be T&T’s first woman prime minister. Her awards will remain with her too: the 2013 democracy medal conferred, we were told, because “her rise to power is testament to the progress of women both here in the region and around the world” and her 2010 Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year award because her work, we were told, was “an inspiration to women and girls everywhere.”

Chromosomes aside, however, what has the Prime Minister done to move the country towards protection of children, equal pay for equal work, protections and transitions for victims of domestic abuse, sustainable self-sufficiency for young mothers, protection of the elderly, a national gender policy, rehabilitation of male and female minors who are wards of the State, support for parents and guardians, prevention of child marriages and extension of industrial relations laws to include domestic workers?

Answer: free laptops, Children’s Life Fund, Baby Grant, CEPEP work, armoured personnel carriers and a Child Protection Task Force.

The ministry responsible for women and children’s affairs has been the most shuffled in the PM’s Cabinet: Mary King, Bhoe Tewarie, Verna St Rose Greaves, Ramona Ramdial, Marlene Coudray, Clifton de Coteau and Raziah Ahmed. The last two, current office holders, are among the least competent and most unimaginative in the Cabinet, so much so that Ahmed argued recently against consultation in the Senate and on a CNC3 programme labelled this country’s children “a new breed” and while reducing discussion of the welfare of minors in State institutions to the construction of a fence at St Michael’s Home for Boys.

More than four years as a decorated first woman prime minister and as yet no comprehensive plan has been rolled out to address all the vulnerabilities of women, fathers and children on a phased basis. A package of legislation from 2000 gathers dust: the Children’s Authority Act still partially proclaimed; Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, Children (Amendment) Act, Adoption of Children Act, Children Act 2012 not proclaimed; Status of Children (Amendment) Bill 2009, which would replace blood tests with DNA analysis to ascertain parentage, and the Family Court Bill 2009, which would vest all family and juvenile matters in the Family Court, still have to be re-introduced to Parliament.

Under the PM’s watch, her Government’s 2011 report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) listed free laptops and the Children’s Life Fund as its lofty achievements in protecting the welfare of children.

The Gender Policy remains where it has been since it was submitted to a previous administration so under the first woman prime minister, T&T remains without a gender policy that speaks to economic self-sufficiency for families and a host of other recommendations that are considerably more progressive and sustainable than a baby grant.

There is still no national children’s registry and no alternatives to abuse of children in the four non-government children’s homes. The Children’s Authority has crept only inches closer to realisation; the country paid for those inches with the life of Keyana Cumberbatch. A wholly unnecessary Child Protection Task Force continues to replicate work that has been done over decades; that too owes its existence to the bed on which this child was raped and the barrel into which she was stuffed.

Now, in the last year of her term as PM, I see budget allocations from the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) for a remand home for child offenders, modernisation of St Michael’s Home, refurbishment of St Dominic’s Home, a transition home for those leaving orphanages and the construction of four assessment centres.

This is the context in which the Baby Grant can be understood. It is an empty gesture of raw politicking. Where is the data on needy mothers? Where are they located and what created the need? What other at-risk factors exist? What of needy mothers with disabilities, in situations of domestic violence? And what data, Prime Minister, leads you to conclude that poor mothers are deficient parents so they must take parenting classes as a condition in order to receive the grant? Show me the data. And while you are at it, show me the data that tells you that well-to-do powerful ladies are so better at parenting that they could go and tell poor women how to raise their children. Or advise poor women not to have children at all.

Not satiated with simply political exploitation of women and children, the PM and her coterie of chosen females have thrown those most in need decades backwards. Seven years after her gendered “No Woman No Cry” speech, the PM has, with this baby grant, disrespected her own humble beginnings. I doubt her mother needed parenting classes and there would have been no record of Kamla Persad-Bissessar if her mother was advised to tie her tubes because she was too poor to have children.

From the Trinidad Express Thurs. Sept. 11, 2014
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