Tuesday 8 March marked International Women’s Day worldwide and this year was a special anniversary as it marked the 100th year since countries around the world began to officially observe Women’s Day.
In Cayman, the whole of March is Honouring Women Month, with the theme being “Celebrate. Connect. Commit.”
For women who feel that they have equal opportunities, International Women’s Day might go by unnoticed but Tammy Ebanks, Government’s senior policy advisor for Gender Affairs, says it is still important to celebrate the strides that women have made toward gender equality and also to recognise there is still work to be done. “It provides a platform to raise awareness about current issues that contribute to the gender gap, such as equal pay for equal work and the low number of women at the highest level of decision making.”
Here in Cayman the two most significant legislative changes to create equality over the last 100 years have been the right for women to vote and hold public office.
However, Ebanks notes that the changes have also been cultural, “the most notable change is the movement of women from the private sphere of homes and family run farms or companies into the public sphere to become employees, supervisors, business owners, and leaders in a wide range of industries.”
While women have moved into the work place, it has not meant that they have been treated fairly in terms of equal pay and promotions, Ebanks says. “The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics and women are the predominant victims of sexual harassment.”
The Gender Equality Bill, which is in its final stages and will be brought before the Legislative Assembly this year, will go some way to addressing some of these issues. “The Bill offers protection against gender discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status and pregnancy. It covers issues such as protection from gender discrimination in employment, training and recruitment; promotes equal pay for equal work; and protection from sexual harassment in the work place.”
“Once this piece of legislation is in place, the Cayman Islands Government can then make a request to the UK for CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), an international bill of rights for women, to be extended to us.”
The legislation will go some way to sending out a message that discrimination will no longer be tolerated, but some women feel that it will take longer to change a culture, that, according to Catherine Tyson, “Forces women to stay in their place.” Human services manager and motivational speaker Tyson says, “I know a lot of men will not like to hear this, but our society is very much still a boys’ club and women are still looked at as the weaker, less qualified and less capable gender.” She said men get top jobs over more capable female colleagues. “We are often passed over and if a man rides in on his white horse with half the qualifications and experience but the desire and quasi-capabilities he is lauded, cloaked and mentored by the men while the educated, capable female worker who has been there the whole time now becomes practically invisible, except when the boys are in need of coffee and tea and the female with the Masters degree is available to fetch it for them.”
Both Ebanks and Tyson believe that there has to be a cultural shift in both men and women. She points out that there is only one female representative in the Legislative Assembly, but for women to enter into Government, “First women have to be willing and able to put themselves in such leadership roles as well as having a solid understanding of how the political system works, both formally and informally.”
They then have the further hurdle of changing public perceptions at the polls, Ebanks says. “Perception amongst both male and female voters has to reflect that they believe women are capable of taking on such a leadership role.”
So while legislation helps, as has been the case in other parts of the world, it seems women have to work harder to prove themselves and to change the way people view them to get the top jobs.
Tyson encourages women to educate themselves and get more skilled or equipped to take on the important jobs. “I think it is better to be equipped and knock out the many excuses that can be used against you than not be equipped and have no leg to stand on, if and when this job comes up.” Her advice is to “be proactive, innovative, get equipped and give them no excuses to pass you over. Then, and only then, can we be able to stare the discrimination straight in the eyes and attempt to do something about it.”
While women’s lives have changed outside the home, for some equality still has not come within the home. Domestic abuse still occurs, though many women never report or bring charges against their abuser. For Miriam Foster, programme facilitator at the Family Resource Centre, The Protection from Domestic Violence Law 2010 has brought in much needed changes to help women in these situations. “The new law allows victims to access protection orders without the Crown having to pursue criminal charges. Previously, restraining orders would have to be individually pursued at the expense of the victim,” says Foster. There are also now various protection orders in place that can give victims immediate relief due to their accessibility. The new bill also allows all types of abuse to be recognised.
While women realise there are still many obstacles to equality, this month is seen as positive. Ebanks says, “the theme Celebrate, Connect, Commit was chosen because it is the 100 Year Anniversary of International Women’s Day.
We are celebrating women’s and girls’ accomplishments, connecting with the youth and committing as a community to continue our efforts toward the advancement of women and girls in all areas.”