Government has announced its intention to review the idea of establishing an Office of either Gender or Women’s Affairs.
The proposal to set up a Women’s Desk was first agreed to by Legislative Assembly over a decade ago.
Speaking about the issue recently, Health and Human Services Minister Anthony Eden said policy decisions on the matter would be made at the end of the financial year on 30 June.
These, he said, would include ‘the expansion of the ministry’s name to include the subject and the establishment of a structural mechanism within Government to strategically address the subject of Gender Affairs.’
He added that ‘…the first priority of my Ministry in this regard is to clarify the various elements and issues related to the subject area of Gender Affairs.’
Mr. Eden also advised that some of the original functions of the earlier proposal were already being undertaken by the Women’s Resource Centre.
His response followed a parliamentary question by MLA Lucille Seymour on government’s intentions in this regard.
The original proposal came from the current Speaker, Edna Moyle, in 1995 when she called for the creation of a Women’s Office to allow women in Cayman ‘every opportunity to grow and contribute to their full potential.’
Her Private Members Motion 1/95 foresaw a wide yet complementary remit for such an office.
She saw it acting as ‘a clearing house for education and information and education making… women aware of where necessary services can be found and advocating on behalf of women on the issues which affect them.’
The motion also envisioned the office raising awareness and increasing consciousness about ‘…the various aspects of women’s issues and to highlight those areas in legislation, health and safety which need work, so that the status and quality of life of all women in these islands can be improved.’
She said an equally important aspect of its job would have been the advancement of women through education and training.
A report subsequently commissioned by government in 1996 from women’s rights activist Magda Pollard gave implementation recommendations.
That report included several suggestions, one component of which being the setting up of a Women’s Resource Centre.
And while a Women’s Resource Centre was opened in late 1997 with responsibility for the practical day-to-day aspects of issues that affect women, government did not establish a Women’s Desk – with the remit to devise, implement and promote gender sensitive policies at all levels of government.
Instead, an administrative officer was assigned responsibility for the subject area of women’s affairs.
The issue of women’s/gender affairs office was revisited in 2004.
At that time, Dr. Frank McField, as Minister of Community Services, Youth and Sport, spoke to the government’s proposed gender equity policy.
This led to the Cayman Islands National Policy on Gender Equity and Equality’s acceptance by the LA.
Despite its adoption the policy it was never implemented. And despite the renaming of the ministry to include the subject, a gender affairs office was never formed.
Furthermore, the office was not included as a responsibility after the last election.
Judging by the wording of the latest ministerial response, it seems likely that any new office will take on the wider, strategic functions of a Gender Affairs desk.
This would signal a commitment to promoting the empowerment of women alongside gender mainstreaming. The latter is a proactive strategy for incorporating gender issues into the existing policies, programmes and activities of government and using a gender perspective for the development of policy and practice.