DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN:  OFFICIAL AND INFORMAL

In my country there is a saying in our Kweyol language which goes: “Soufrance yohn famm sey soufrance tout famm.”    The translation is:  “The suffering of one woman is the suffering of all women.”  I would make bold to say that women all over the world share this view for, while the level of discrimination against women may vary from country to country, I have not yet heard about any country in the world where no discrimination exists.
Discrimination takes on many guises and disguises.  And what may on the surface appear to be benevolence by way of “protection” of the fairer sex, when the skin of reality is peeled away, it is merely another form of discrimination.  I am particularly referring here to the practice in many jurisdictions that purports to shield womenfolk from the cut and thrust of politics by simply banning them from taking part.
And consider the position of women even where no such “protection” exists: yes, we can join the (political) party and, yes, we will be permitted to run for elections; but where is the funding coming from to do so?   How many women who run for elections receive as much funding as their male colleagues?
And how many women are fortunate enough to be permitted to run in “safe” seats?
But discrimination is not only to be found in politics. I personally think the worst possible area of discrimination against the female occurs at birth.
Will we ever know how many babies are destroyed at birth every year in so very many countries simply because they are female?  And what about those that do survive the slaughter?  What is their quality of life like?
Discrimination against females in education is not much different.  The uneducated female in the 21st century is condemned to a particularly low standard of living and such poverty from which she is unlikely to be able to escape. Even here the discrimination may be manifested in very subtle ways.  Have we not heard or read of young girls who after puberty are forced to miss school because they cannot afford sanitary pads?  Have we not heard, too, of the many young competent women, armed with their excellent secondary qualifications, being passed over for scholarships in favour of males who are considered more likely to serve their country in the mistaken belief that the females will marry and have families that will compete for their attention?
But, even where women are fortunate to live in countries where equality is constitutionally guaranteed to everyone, we hear of the glass ceiling.  This glass ceiling is not a figment of the imagination.  It is real and I am one of the many women all over the world who shout with joy every time we see or hear of a new crack in that glass (sometimes I feel it is more like unbreakable Plexiglas!) ceiling.
And nowhere has that glass ceiling seemed more impenetrable than the one hanging over the benches of courts of the Commonwealth and beyond.  I am well aware that at the University of the West Indies, female students have outnumbered male students in the Faculty of Law since the early 1980s, yet the female cream simply would not rise.  I believe it was stymied by the “Old Boys’ Network”.
I am pleased to report, though, that things have improved so well in our part of the world that two years ago in Antigua, the full Court of the East Caribbean Court of Appeal comprised of three female Justices of Appeal.  Hallelujah!  One glass ceiling appears to have been shattered.
The corporate world, too, has not been any kinder to women.  Certainly in that arena the saying “women have to work twice as hard to get half as far” is never more true.  From time to time we do hear of women heading the top conglomerates; but these are mere cracks in an otherwise solid ceiling.
And then, too, there is the issue of women getting less pay doing the same work as men.  And why do the jobs such as nursing and teaching, traditionally held by women, attract such low pay?
There are still many countries within and outside of the Commonwealth where women are not permitted to own land, to seek a divorce or to avail themselves of social services which are readily available to men.
Even in sports and entertainment there seem to be elements of discrimination.  Can anyone tell me why the male tennis champion gets a more expensive trophy and a larger purse than his female counterpart?
And what about artistes, actors and other entertainment personalities?  Thank God for television star Oprah Winfrey?  That’s one way of seeing her billionaire status.   But cynics may take the view that she was permitted to rise so as to appease the gods within the female and black milieu, killing two birds with one stone as it were.
Various religious sects cite their sacred texts for their stand on the status of women within their organizations and do not see this as discrimination.  So be it, but at the same time one must acknowledge the fact that while some sects remain static in their view, others are slowly relenting.
I have said all of this to point out that much of the discrimination against women that exists in the Commonwealth and the rest of the world today is capable of being “legislated away” if only there were more women in Parliaments ready and willing to bring these issues, including the informal or unofficial discrimination, to their Parliaments.
Women Parliamentarians, I know that you are suffering along with your sisters and feel their pain.  I appeal to you to do what is readily within your power to ease that pain.  This, of course, includes encouraging more women to join your ranks in Parliament.  The suffering women of the Commonwealth are waiting on you.  DO NOT LET THEM DOWN!!!